Amherst – There was a little doubt about Dante.
At the start of spring, the rambunctious fellow was simply a handful for Gillian Vansnick-Daniels. He was a little unpredictable, albeit playful.
And yet, there was something about him. Could he be, in fact, royalty?
The answer was yes.
Vansnick-Daniels and her horse, properly known as Dante K, are headed to Ontario in November to participate in the 95th Royal Horse Show, one of the nation’s most prestigious horse events where 1,000 entrants will compete for $950,000 in prize money.
For Vansnick-Daniels it’s a crowning achievement in her life-long equestrian career.
For Dante K, it’s a surprise.
“It was kind of a mistake,” Vansnick-Daniels said.
Vansnick-Daniels grew up in Amherst and learned to ride from the late Dr. Gillian Lawrence before moving to Halifax then Europe where she trained others and ran barns. On her return to the area, she became involved in the equine circuit, opening her own centre, V.S. Equestrian Ltd. And as she did, Dante was along for the journey.
“I started showing in Equine Canada and had been bringing this horse along since he was a baby. He’s a little quirky, he’s a little funny. So, had you asked me in April or May if I were going to the Royal the answer would have been no. Absolutely no thoughts of it.”
As summer was coming to an end, however, Vansnick-Daniels and Dante were provincial point leaders. They are going to the Royals.
The credit largely goes to Dante, Vansnick-Daniels said.
“I think truly it was him. He just started to grow up.”
Not only was he maturing, he was becoming focused.
“I competed a lot in Quebec, so each time I took a trip out of province I was asking him a new question. I was actually jumping down a line at one of the horse shows and a big truck came along with a big boon on the end of it and these giant lights – the lights would have been the size of your car. And my horse didn’t even look at. And I was like, ‘Okay. We’re getting somewhere.’”
The world of competitive horse showing is unlike many other sports. The rider has an almost symbiotic relationship with their horse. Their bad days are mutual. Their good days are golden.
“He has a mind of his own. His own personality. You have to work with that every day,” Vansnick-Daniels said. “He has own opinion about what we’re going to do each day but you can’t help but have a good day when you sit on him.”
It’s very much a mutual relationship, Vansnick-Daniels said. If she’s having a day where her back may be sore, Date senses it and gives her a forgiving training day. If she’s stressed, he can become stressed, so they work together to change things up.
Herself, Vansnick-Daniels trains most of the day, every day, as well as teaching. She rides two-to-three horses each day, with a minimum of an hour and a half on Dante. Over the summer, Vansnick-Daniels says she was away from home every weekend competing. Not every event carried the same weight for point value, but the experience getting to almost every show not only hones Dante’s skills, it kept their network strong.
On November 3, and then for the following nine days, that network will be cheering them on.
“I’m still a little surreal about it all. It’s kind of neat. I think it will all hit when I get in the car and on my way there.”
Labeled North America’s leading indoor equestrian event, to learn more about the 95th Royal Horse Show and Agricultural Winter Fair, visit www.royalfair.org.