Squadron Leader & Daniele eventing at Barbury
In 2014, Dan has found a special eventing partner in ex-racehorse Squadron Leader, owned by Jane Arnold. The horse had previously raced on the flat as a two year old, before racing over hurdles and in Point to Points trained by Emma Baker. In 2010, 'Biggles' started out on a new career eventing and in 2014, Dan would get the ride. Together, in one season, this partnership have competed at Novice, Intermediate, CCI* and CIC**, have been placed in five out of seven runs, completing with a win at Wilton Intermediate on 30.8, and been awarded the RoR Elite Eventing award for 2014.
Daniele and Squadron Leader are my second #HeadstrongHeroes for demonstrating the potential of ex-racehorses when given the chance to excel in a new discipline. Here's my interview with Dan...
Headstrong Equestrian - With Squadron leader (aka Biggles) – you have achieved five top ten finishes from seven runs so you've proven to be really consistent, as well as being crowned RoR Elite Eventing champions in your first season together. What makes this horse so special?
Daniele - "He’s the kind of horse who always tries his best. I’m a true believer that if they really want to work with you and please you that’s all you need. If they want to work with you and do the job they’ll give you everything. He’s not the best showjumper in the world but he just tries so hard. He’s been really consistent, on the flat he’s a good mover, really correct and cross country he’s one of the best horses I’ve ever ridden."
Headstrong Equestrian - The first horse you bought, Dictus, was also a Thoroughbred, so you are familiar with the breed – do you think that’s why you’ve had such a good partnership with Squadron Leader this year?
Daniele - "Yeah it could be, I’ve always liked Thoroughbreds. I think they’ve got something more in the breeding for cross country in particular you just feel a massive difference. The cross country phase feels quite easy with a horse like him and that’s been the same with a lot of the Thoroughbreds I’ve ridden."
Headstrong Equestrian - Do you find it relatively easy to make the time on him with his experience as a racehorse?
Daniele - "Yeah definitely, they’ve just got a different stride and quality of canter when cantering cross country and cover so much ground. This horse in particular you don’t waste any time, as soon as you land you’re away again as fast as you want to go."
Headstrong Equestrian - What is his personality like - on the yard and under saddle?
Daniele - "He’s got a funny personality! He can be quite cheeky & spooky at times, and can be really quick & quite easy to fall off so before you know it you’re looking at the ground rather than his neck and his ears! When you hack down the road he turns and spins real quick but when he has to work normally he’s quite focused and always tries his best. Sometimes you feel he’d really like to buck or have a good canter but he’s like ok, I know I have to be good and the same at competitions really."
Headstrong Equestrian - What are his strengths and weaknesses?
Daniele - "I definitely think that cross country is of course his best phase because of his speed and how athletic he is – he just finds it really easy. Showjumping he’s not the most careful horse in the world. Like lots of ex-racehorses they have their own way of jumping - not the same way as a Warmblood say, so you just need to work with them and make them understand how to use their body and back ends.
"There are lots of different exercises which can help – gridwork is definitely really useful for technique and can help to improve the front end particularly. We noticed that the problem with this horse was timing and he was jumping quite flat behind so we spent lots of time with Corinne Bracken to help him understand timing and the best approach. I always try to ride really softly and let him feel like he can really use his back and back end and not interfere."
"It’s the attitude that Thoroughbred’s have – I’ve always loved them, they’re fighters and I always like that in event horses. If you can keep that attitude quiet in the dressage then you’ve got a horse who will show everything he’s been built for in the cross country phase, and then in three-days they’ll still have plenty of energy and come out of the stable wanting to do their best. On Cross Country when a Thoroughbred is tired he keeps going whereas some Warmbloods if not perfectly fit, they can feel quite sorry for themselves and it can be quite hard work."
Headstrong Equestrian - Any tips for other riders on how to get the best out of their ex-racehorse?
Daniele - "You need to be really consistent in how you ride them, we think we ride the same day in day out but we don’t – we might have one day happy, one day sad, one day tired or in a rush and you ask the same question in different ways even if you don’t realize it. Make sure you always ask the same questions the same way, everyday. Horses learn from consistency. In retraining them after racing, you have to teach them how to answer new questions so you have to be clear and consistent so they know what you're asking them"
Headstrong Equestrian - Do you think the RoR classes and awards are a good way to encourage other riders to give ex-racers a new career?
Daniele - "Definitely! I think it’s very good for riders to encourage them to look at ex racers as new prospects and projects, but also I think it’s very important that the racing world understands there is a second chance for these horses to go on to new careers. I want more trainers and racehorse owners to do what Jane Arnold (Biggles’ owner) did. Ok, maybe they won’t be a super star as a racehorse but they can still have a very good quality event horse. If trainers and owners have a good relationship with event riders, maybe say come and sit on this horse and see what you think, you can be sure you’re giving them every chance to excel in a new career."
Headstrong Equestrian - What are your plans for him next season and beyond?
Daniele - "I’d like to jump a CIC three-star at the end of spring, and then if all goes to plan I would like to go to Blenheim CCI three-star towards the end of the year. Next season will be a bit easier to plan as I know the horse a bit more and what to go for that will suit him, whereas last year every competition was about discovering a bit more about him.
"He’s already achieved much more than we were expecting, I just thought he was going to be a good Novice horse and now we’re talking about three-stars."
Find out more about Dan, Squadron Leader and his other horses by visiting DB Eventing or find him on Facebook and Twitter.