‘I’m the senile dressage steward’: Meet Dan Chapman [VIDEO]

  • He’s the familiar face that calls you in for your test, the calming presence on your horse in the warm up, and the one most likely to forget his own number. You’ll probably catch a glimpse of him at the centre of a whirling wheel of horses before a prize-giving, controlling everyone and everything without ever raising his voice. Meet one of Britain’s favourite dressage stewards.

    How did you get into stewarding?

    It’s Dane Rawlins and Dressage at Hickstead’s fault! When I started off I was doing everything — building grandstands, driving tractors, stewarding; everything it takes to turn a field into a showground. At one of my first events I was towing horseboxes in with a huge tractor. We soon had tractors pulling tractors pulling horseboxes — it’s probably the most scared I’ve ever made competitors. I’ve been doing it for 15 years now here [at the Winter Championships]. I’m the senile, I mean the senior, steward.

    What do you enjoy the most about your role?

    I love watching everything; the riders, the horses, the trainers, the way they produce their horses. I’m really lucky to have seen Charlotte [Dujardin] come up the levels. I can remember putting a novice rosette on her, and then one of her first grand prix ones. I still see some of today’s younger riders and think “Oh, wow!”.

    How many hours are you on your feet?

    Usually around 12 hours, but yesterday [Saturday’s gala night] I think it was 16. Comfortable shoes are a must! And the people in my team are amazing. We have certain people that come all the time, but we try to give new people the opportunity of stewarding at a championship as well. We try very hard not to be cliquey.

    What’s been your favourite event?

    The Olympics were amazing – that was an event with every facility a rider could ever need. It was brilliant for us, because whatever anyone wanted or needed, we could give it to them. When Charlotte finished her first test, hearing 20,000 people cheering above the tunnel just made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.

    What’s your dream event?

    I’m going there — and they phoned me! I’m stewarding the Europeans at Aachen this year. Ever since I worked for the Loriston-Clarke family — many moons ago — the Germans were the undisputed champions, and it’s always been a Mecca for me.

    How do you deal with emotional competitors?

    I try to give them space and keep thing simple, while giving them all the info they need. You can try to say a few calming words, but sometimes you have to just let them quietly panic.

    What’s the rudest anyone’s ever been?

    I’m Mr Discretion — sometimes people are having a stressful time, and they just take it out on the people nearest to them. It’s always going to hurt, when you just want to help someone; we’re not in it for glory. Thankfully, it’s very rare.

    What can a rider do to make your job easier?

    It’s really a case of knowing what’s going on as much as possible — reading the rules, being organised and on time. We have to be inflexible; once you’ve got a system in place it’s almost impossible to change it. We can’t make special exceptions, because we want a level playing field for everyone. It’s the only way to be fair.

    You still compete yourself — what’s it like on the other side of the clipboard?

    I make all the same mistakes. If you want to see someone forget his number, it’ll be me. It helps me with the stewarding because I understand where the riders are coming from.

    Don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine’s 10-page report on all the action from the NAF Five Star Winter Dressage Championships, on sale Thursday 23 April

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