Following a terrible start to the year where her yard contracted Strangles which shut everything down, Dani has received the best possible news in gaining her first call up to represent Great Britain at senior level at the Blair European Championships. Dani had been hopeful that she might make the cut following her strong performances at Bramham on Smart Time and Raphael, but when the news came through it was ‘tremendously exciting and definitely a career highlight so far.’
Through the European Junior and Young Riders teams, Dani has been selected to represent Great Britain for five years on three different horses who have all been self-produced. The highlights would be the individual silver and bronze medals picked up as well as team gold. More recently Dani has gained more senior team experience through the Nations Cups which are held at 3* level.
At the age of 23, Dani is now representing Great Britain at senior level alongside long term stalwarts Pippa Funnell, William Fox Pitt and Nicola Wilson. The twelve riders selected for Blair are an interesting mix of fresh faces and more familiar ones. With Britain able to send along more riders due to hosting the championships, it makes sense to send younger riders who have proven themselves with good results, and get them more experience in a championship environment. As Dani pointed out ‘it’s a great opportunity, and I hope we can prove ourselves capable.’
The horse Dani has been selected on is the grey Smart Time. Smart Time was known to Dani as a 4yo while she worked for Tim Warren, before he was sold to his owner Luana Edge for Polly Williamson to ride. Polly Williamson produced the horse and Dani kept an eye on him throughout as she was always interested to know how he was getting on. Unfortunately, Polly Williamson suffered a devastating fall, and Dani received the phone call from his owner Luana Edge offering her the ride. Smart Time was described as a ‘very straight horse, with a great attitude and movement and jump to go with it. He is a very quiet horse and does not like a fuss but he comes out and does the job with no drama.’ Dani said the joy of Smart Time was that ‘as a rider it was wonderful to have a horse so consistent in how they come out and do the job.’
Dani also has the more experienced Raphael on the reserve list. Raphael, owned by Vanessa Watson, is an eye-catching horse and he is ‘a lot more horse’ than Smart Time especially in that he is not as consistent in how he will come out. ‘As a rider you are never really sure what you will have on that day because he can be spooky. One thing about Raphael is that he always rises to the occasion and he performs well to a crowd.’
In the background, Dani has had some very big influences on her riding career with the first being her mother. Dani has never felt pressurised into horses despite coming from a horsey family, but she and her mother would buy and produce ponies from an early age. From riding at Pony Club and doing all the normal horsey things while growing up, it seemed a natural progression for Dani to leave school and start working for her uncle Tim Warren.
Tim Warren is probably one of the premier horse dealers in the country especially for eventers. Horses that Tim has spotted and who have gone on to do impressive things include Selina Milnes’ Bodidily, Kitty King’s Persimmon, Piggy French’s West Side as well as Dani’s horses Uchin and Raphael. When Dani left school it was to ride for Tim and help break in the youngsters. Dani said working with Tim taught her an amazing amount but probably most of all ‘he made me physically, mentally and emotionally tough. You need to be tough in this sport and his experience has been very helpful.’
In 2011 Dani made the decision to go and work at the Billy Stud for William and Pippa Funnell. The experience had Dani riding lots of different types of horses and particularly the attention to detail in management. ‘The management and attention to detail at the Billy Stud was amazing for such a big yard. I don’t think there are many places better than what the team do at Billy.’ In particular Dani highlights the help that Pippa gave to her during this time. ‘Pippa Funnell’s attention to detail is incredible. Looking at the rider, the horse and the management. I learnt a lot during this time and I am thrilled to be able to have the chance to go to a championship by her side.’
Dani set up on her own recently and it was early this year that they were struck down by Strangles on the yard. ‘I did not think I was ever going to get to a three day, so to get a senior call up is amazing. Credit is due to my vets and my owners who had my back the whole time during the experience.’ From this Dani has bounced back with several good results, notably at Bramham which earned her the senior call up. At the moment Dani has several very nice young novice horses that are coming up through the grades. It is not surprising that with her background Dani is realistic in that to make ends meet it is essential to sell horses. The aim is to always have a few very smart horses for selling to run alongside horses owned by owners.
When asked what she looks for in a horse, Dani said that they needed to move, jump and have enough blood. They need to be conformationally correct but there are different degrees of it. Dani particularly likes to see a good canter and walk, because the trot can always be worked on.
Dani rides roughly 10-12 horses a day and also runs for fitness. Last year she completed a Tough Mudder though sadly it clashes with an event this year. Her working day is roughly from 6.30am until 6.30pm. Dani said that the sport is now so professional that you need to be fit and watch what you eat. ‘You don’t want a run out at the end of a course though not being fit enough to keep the horse straight.’
Dani’s head groom is Jason Picton and she credits both him and Gain horse feeds for the horses looking so incredible this season. ‘After Bramham both
horses came home looking amazing. They had a quiet two weeks and they are now back in work where it is most likely that Smart Time will have a quiet run at Aston Le Walls before Blair and Raphael will be aimed at Hartpury and Blenheim.’
Dani was asked about who she admires within the sport and like many riders the name Michael Jung was mentioned due to ‘being a class act and very modern in his riding.’ Along with Jung, Mark Todd was mentioned for ‘longevity and still being ultra-competitive despite coming across as such a chilled person.’ When asked about which horse on the circuit she rated, Dani was quick to mention Tim Price’s Wesko for being such a complete package and how great both Tim and Wesko look together.
In discussing her strengths and weaknesses, Dani admitted that her strength was that of being able to handle pressure so well. In fact the more pressure that Dani was under, the better she would tend to perform. As for a weakness, Dani felt it was that sometimes she did not trust herself enough and that she wishes she had a bit more arrogance (like some male showjumpers). Dani trains with Nick Burton on the flat, Peter Murphy for jumping and has an overall perspective with Yogi Breisner. Yogi is always there to discuss competitions and help Dani tune up for them. ‘My trainers work really well for me and the horses.’ As a busy competititor Dani does not have much time to relax but when she does it’s about catching up with her friends and being social. ‘I have a great group of friends who I try and see as much as possible. They are very understanding about my lifestyle.’
Finally Dani was asked for a top advice for riders ‘ Ride it like it’s going to jump it.’ Don’t change the way you ride because you are worried, and let the horse work out the question.