Stephanie Danhakl grew up in Pacific Palisades, California, riding under the tutelage of Archie Cox, picking up championships on both coasts as a junior. After taking a break from the sport for several years, Danhakl returned to the show ring in the amateur-owner hunters. With horses such as Golden Rule, Quest and Enough Said, Danhakl is a regular winner in both the 3’6″ and 3’3″ at shows like the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida), Devon (Pennsylvania), Capital Challenge (Maryland), the Pennsylvania National, Washington International (District of Columbia) and the National Horse Show (Kentucky). Danhakl, 34, resides in Boston with her husband, Peter Raymond, and is working on her history of art Ph.D.
She took us through a busy day of horse showing on March 12.
I am currently in Wellington, Florida, competing at the Winter Equestrian Festival. I have been here since January with my husband Peter, my dog Pip, and my horses.
Today I am showing “Dreamy” (Golden Rule) in the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association International Hunter Derby and “Rio” (Bright Side) and “Archie” (Baker Street) in the amateur-owner hunters, 18-35. I usually compete in the 3’3″ amateur-owner hunters, 18-35, as well, but not this weekend.
5:45 a.m. Waking up is a gradual process for me. I like being up early, but don’t talk to me until I’ve been awake for at least an hour! After eating a quick bowl of cereal and feeding Pip, I start every morning by doing the crossword puzzle on my New York Times app. Doing the crossword is my version of drinking coffee since I won’t touch the stuff. It gets my brain working. Afterward, I do five to 10 minutes of core strengthening exercises and 20 to 30 minutes of yoga and stretching to energize my body.
7 a.m. Get dressed and head to the horse show.
7:25 a.m. My trainer, Scott Stewart, and I walk the course for the USHJA International Hunter Derby on the grass derby field at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival showgrounds. Since Dreamy and I are new to derbies and have never competed at this venue, I don’t have any expectations besides striving for a smooth, accurate ride.
After seven years together, we know each other well and have built a strong trust. Dreamy competed in grand prix classes in Europe with a previous owner and the high performance hunters with Scott, so I know he has the scope! He is also nearly 18 hands, so he makes the jumps look smaller. While walking the course, I’m a little worried that eight out of 12 fences in Round 1 are off the right lead because Dreamy prefers the left. I will have to ride very straight and hope we don’t swap! I love that the course is mostly single jumps with a lot of space in between, so I can ride everything off my eye.
8:15 a.m. Round 1 of the USHJA International Hunter Derby begins. I go 16th out of 42. Typically, when I’m showing, I don’t like to watch other rounds in my division so I can focus on my own ride. I love watching other rings or other divisions, just not the one I am showing in that day.
8:40 a.m. Get on to warm up. There is no one I’d rather have with me in the schooling ring than Scott. I’ve trained with him for almost eight years. He knows exactly what to say and how to set the jumps to make me feel the most confident and prepared for the show ring. For Scott, less is more. Typically, I jump about three verticals in the schooling ring. That’s it. Since today is a bigger track than I’m used to, we do a few more practice jumps ending with a big oxer. We are ready to show.
9 a.m. Dreamy and I are on course. Dreamy doesn’t bat an eye at anything and jumps all the high options with ease—and no swaps! We have a couple light rubs but still earn a good score of 170.5. I am thrilled! We may even make the cutoff to come back for the top 12. I stick around to wait and see. We end up placing 11th out of 42 in the first round and get to come back.
11 a.m. Round 2 of the USHJA International Hunter Derby begins, and I go second. I know there are some very handy riders following me including Victoria Colvin, Jennifer Hannan and Havens Schatt, so I have nothing to lose. There aren’t many inside turns in this particular course, but I try to be forward and tidy, improving to a score of 179 for a combined total of 349.5.
I want to stay and watch the rest of the class, but unfortunately, my amateur-owner hunter under saddle class is about to start across the street. I race over on my dirt bike arriving just in time. Phew! I check showgroundslive.com and find out that our handy score moved us up to ninth place overall. Our first derby ribbon!
11:30 a.m. I try to contain my excitement and regain my focus because it’s now time to show Rio and Archie in the Grand Hunter Ring. I hop on Archie first. He’s a new ride for me. He used to do three-day eventing in England, so this is a total career change for him. We make a couple green mistakes but end on a high note with an 84 in the handy class.
12:00 p.m. Now it’s Rio’s turn. Rio is a seasoned pro and so much fun to jump. He’s very confident (bordering on arrogant) and knows his job well. We win the stake class with an 88 and earn reserve champion.
12:30 p.m. I’m done showing, so I head back to Rivers Edge Farm in Grand Prix Village to ride my horses that didn’t show. The barn is directly next to the showgrounds, which makes going back and forth convenient. When I’m able, I prefer to ride my horses myself. Every ride, whether in the show ring or at the barn, is an opportunity to develop my partnership with my horse. Not letting my horse down is what fuels me to be the best rider I can be. I am constantly learning from them and trying to listen to what they’re telling me. If your horse feels loved and trusted, he will try that much harder for you, especially when it counts.
4:30 p.m. I give carrots to everybody and prepare to head home. Dreamy gets the peanut butter and jelly sandwich I forgot to eat for lunch (his favorite).
5:30 p.m. I take Pip on a walk and watch the sunset. Going on walks helps me process everything that happened during the day since things can get hectic. Some of my best ideas come to me when I’m out walking. Pip has a knack for identifying the swampiest mud puddles and getting filthy. I call him my swamp dog. He will definitely need a bath after this walk.
For my “day job,” I work on my dissertation for my history of art Ph.D. from Boston University. Typically, I try to get most of the writing and editing done during the week when my brain is a little less fried from competing. Occasionally I have too much to do, so I sneak in some work either at the end of the day or early before I head to the barn. My dissertation explores how portraits of American actresses mediated turn-of-the-century disruptions of gender roles and shaped cultural attitudes toward modern womanhood. It’s a lot of primary source research, which I really enjoy. It’s sort of like detective work!
7:30 p.m. Peter, Pip and I have a quiet dinner at home. I make a salad and cheese quesadillas. I have neither the patience nor the talent to make anything too elaborate in the kitchen.
8:15 p.m. Watch an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm and read. I am currently reading “The Forsyte Saga,” by John Galsworthy. My family tells me I am stuck in the 19th century because I prefer old books and old stuff to new.
10 p.m. Bedtime. I’m done showing for the weekend. If not, I’d set out my show clothes for the next day. Even when I’m physically exhausted like today, I have trouble sleeping. I’ve recently discovered that the Headspace app really helps. It has “sleep stories” that basically bore you to sleep. Thankfully, tonight it works.