Life lessons: Show horse producer Danielle Heath *H&H Plus*

The show horse producer on striding out for the judges, the origins of her waistcoat and why her horses are always treated to a varied work programme

  • Danielle is a leading show horse producer, judge and trainer based in Cheshire. She has won numerous titles at county shows, Royal Windsor and at the Royal International. She has won at Horse of the Year Show four times and has stood champion there on two separate occasions.

    The walk is the first and last thing the judge sees, but it’s the pace that often gets overlooked by riders. It dictates your first and last pull in the ring so when training, I work the horses a lot in walk. I got Oathill Take The Biscuit (Hovis) when he was a four-year-old and he didn’t have the best walk. I would ride him long and low so he loosened at the neck and stretched down.

    I also move my horses from side-to-side in all paces, as showjumpers often do during the warm-up. Then once at a show, they’ll lift a little and come up to sit nicely in the bridle. A horse can often have a walk that you didn’t even know about.

    Hovis, who was owned by Sally Iggulden at the time, was a Rolls-Royce of a ride. Sally had bought a foal from his breeder, Julia Anderson, so we were able to have Hovis on trial for a couple of months and I fell in love. During his five-year-old season, he won everything. He could be miserable in the stable but as soon as he was in the ring, he was push button; he loved every minute of his job.

    Feed is a key component of show horses. Feeding them the right things at the right time of year is so important. It’s okay to feed a lot, but the workload needs to be altered accordingly. I’m lucky to have personalised programmes provided by my sponsor, Saracen Horse Feeds.

    Even though our horses are not going to jump round Badminton anytime soon, they need to be fit but also look the part. Feeding is easier than it used to be with the amount of mixes and nut blends on the market, and people should take the wealth of advice available.

    “Like a supermodel”

    I am obsessed with being on time so I’m always early to a show. My team knows that we’ll never miss a class. My horses also have to be plaited before they leave the yard, even if they’re the last class in.

    I’m a bit of a fanatic about last-minute checks before I step into the ring. I like to know nothing is out of place and that we’re good to go. The horse’s legs are brushed, his mouth is cleaned and I check the markings are neat. The horse also has to look through his bridle, interested in what he’s doing. The whole picture has to capture the eye, like a supermodel walking down a catwalk.

    My showing icons are Robert Oliver and Sue Rawding. When I went to the tailor to get my first waistcoat made, I opted for pale blue, which I had admittedly copied from Sue. I used to think she had everything down to a T and her attire was perfection.

    Mindful schooling

    My mum and dad were grafters and they always told me that you only get out what you put in. They built the yard where I’m based now from scratch. When I was a child, Mum would buy ponies from the unwarranted section at Beeston horse sales. I would come home from school and wonder what would be in the stable waiting for me. We put all the groundwork in and brought all our ponies on ourselves.

    In the early days, I learnt that drilling a horse in the school is not the way to go. They need variety. You can ride round in circles for days but if you don’t keep the horse interested with hacking, jumping and farm rides, you lose that presence. I’m glad I had this wake-up call.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 25 June 2020