DANE RAWLINS: ‘Enjoy the journey’

  • 4 February 2020, 17:46


Dane Rawlins and Espoire - Olympia 2019

Dane and Espoire in action at Olympia  (Kit Houghton Photography)


This week’s STABLE TALK is with Horse Sport Ireland’s Grand Prix Dressage rider and List One Judge, Dane Rawlins. Our interview takes place at the first high-performance dressage training session of 2020 and gives readers an insight into Horse Sport Ireland’s High-Performance training programmes and the sport of dressage, one of Ireland’s fastest growing equestrian disciplines.


Sixty-three-year-old British-born Grand Prix Dressage rider and List One Judge, Dane Rawlins made his first international appearance for Ireland with Lady Harris’s Holsteiner mare Sydney (by Linaro x Calypso) at the 2011 CDI Vidauban where the pair finished third in the Grand Prix.

“I just love the enthusiasm for equestrian sport in Ireland,” Dane begins. “The speed at which dressage has grown recently is incredible”. When asked why dressage is growing at such a rate in Ireland, Dane jokes: “I think it’s because people have seen me ride and think to themselves ‘if he can do it, then I can do it.’” On a more serious note, Dane believes: “People are starting to appreciate what a challenge dressage is, it’s extremely difficult, but I think people are rising to that challenge and are falling in love with it. No matter what your age or ability – you can do dressage.”

Dane grew up in South London and recalls his sister wanting to take horse riding lessons. Dane went along to her first lesson and despite his best efforts he “got sucked into it” and the rest is history. Friend and Olympic Dressage Rider, Domini Morgan put Dane in contact with the widely respected Olympic dressage rider George Theodorescu and Dane trained with him for three years before going on to set up his own yard near the famous Hickstead showgrounds.



Dane’s enthusiasm for dressage is infectious and his career highlights include establishing the Dressage Masters League Championship at Hickstead and the British Young Rider Dressage Scheme (BYRDS), which aimed to bring young riders together to develop and train. Dane credits Egon Von Greyerz as the mastermind behind BYRDS. But what’s more evident than Dane’s love of the sport is Dane’s love of horses.

“Every time you produce a horse or help a horse and rider get to the top level, those things are all huge landmarks. Those landmarks, getting a horse to do a nice piaffe or flying change, they give me the most satisfaction and it may sound ridiculous because it’s something all Grand Prix riders do and have done a million times, but it’s just such a good feeling when the horse does it really well and wants to do it.”

“If you have a horse with real quality and talent, I believe it takes three consecutive years of training from the age they turn six to produce them to Grand Prix level and then it probably takes another three years before they become really established at that level. There will always be people who break that rule like Charlotte Du Jardin, but the reality is it takes time. If you push a horse when they are too young it can break them and I have come to learn that – it’s not all about where you arrive, it’s about enjoying the journey.”


Dane and Espoire on their way to scoring 71.425% in the sixth leg of the 2019/2020 FEI World Cup Dressage Western European League at Olympia (Kit Houghton Photography)

Just before Christmas, Dane scored an international personal best of 71.425% in the sixth leg of the 2019/2020 FEI World Cup Dressage Western European League at Olympia CDI-W in Great Britain with the then 10-year-old Westphalian gelding Espoire. The pair performed a freestyle programme to a selection of music from U2 with an introductory track from the Boomtown Rats (“I Don’t Like Mondays”) to place 13th in their debut FEI World Cup Dressage Grand Prix Kür (Freestyle to Music) class.

“This horse gives a lot back to me,” Dane begins. “He was a stallion until he was nearly six and he was a real handful. I remember two years ago, I was just riding him around at home and he set off bucking and he’s a big horse [18.2hh]. Luckily, I managed to get back control and pull him up after the second buck. Brian Cassidy was there, and I remember him saying: ‘Thank god you managed to stop him because you never would have stayed on if he managed to get in a third one!’. The horse hasn’t a bad bone in him – he is just so full of enthusiasm and he can get wired up, but he is getting better. He is just rising 11 now.

“I took Espoire to Rotterdam in 2018 and looking back now that was a mistake, it was a bit too soon for him though at the time I thought it would be alright. We were to be riding in the main arena and I thought it would be an opportunity to show the world what we can do, and Rotterdam is a lovely show, but then they changed the arenas and we were in a smaller arena where the audience were probably no more than a meter away from us!

“He was just terrified. We managed to get through the Grand Prix test somehow but then I had to withdraw him from the special – he just had a breakdown. After that we spent 18 months really focusing on building our connection as a pair. Kyra Kyrklund had been coaching me and we were very confident he was ready to trust me and deal with an atmosphere.

“My wife and daughter were concerned about bringing him to Olympia, but it had been 18 months since Rotterdam, and I had to be sure before I allowed myself to think about the possibility of an Olympics that he could handle an atmosphere.

“He warmed up like you wouldn’t believe and I went in there and the commentator there really builds everything up, so the audience let out a big yell when we entered, and he just didn’t get phased by it. During the test I did things right and I did things wrong, but it was a great step forward for us. When we did our tempi changes across the arena, I had a lump in my throat, he just felt brilliant and I was so proud of how far we had come.

The communication between us is improving, it’s still got a way to go but he really trusts me now and now it’s up to me to put a bit more trust in him.”


“The Horse Sport Ireland high-performance programme is a great help, the work I’m doing with Johann Hinnemann [Horse Sport Ireland’s Dressage High-Performance Director] complements what I have been working on at home with Kyra. It’s great just to have another set of eyes to reinforce certain things and it’s working very well. I am extremely happy.

“High-Performance training also provides a lovely opportunity to interact with the other riders, we have great fun together. The 2019 European Championships at Rotterdam was the best – the Girls in Green were just brilliant. Judy was on fire – she was exceptional when the team needed her to be. I was terrified for them, but for them to have qualified a team for the Olympics – that says a lot about how Irish dressage has come on.

“The team atmosphere was phenomenal, the team took the highs and the lows together and did it with a smile and I just remember thinking to myself that it would be a real shame if Irish Equestrianism were to lose that because I think its innate, I don’t think other countries are the same when it comes to that team spirit. It’s a very special thing for Ireland and when I look back, I think that’s the difference. It’s very special.”


At the time of writing there are 191 days left to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and Horse Sport Ireland is delighted to have a squad of exceptionally talented riders preparing to represent Ireland in the discipline of dressage for the first time in history.

“The dream is to get to Tokyo – the Olympics is always the dream. My horse is showing great talent and it’s now just perfecting the movements and please god we both stay fit and well enough to keep going. I think whoever goes will equip themselves very well. I think the squad is ready and whoever goes will give it their all and will carry that fantastic Irish team spirit with them.”

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