By Lila Gendal
Portraits by Alex Scribner
Climbing to the top of the eventing world can be grueling as well as mentally, physically and financially draining. However, the sport can be incredibly rewarding, with spectacular venues ranging from the breathtaking mountains in Montana to palm trees and green fields in Florida and so much in between. Inevitably there will come a time when many professionals want to give up—and some do. Danielle “Dani” Platt is one such young rider who nearly gave up on eventing for good not long ago, but persevered to become a top rider at a five-star eventing facility in Ocala, Florida.
Considering her mother grew up riding dressage and eventing and her father was a veterinarian, Dani seemed destined for the equestrian world. “My mom rode all through her childhood and teenage years, and I think the situation she was in was very similar to being a working student where she would have to work all day for a lesson or to ride a horse,” Dani said. “My grandparents never actually bought her a horse, she always had to work for it and once she saved up enough money, she bought horses from auction houses and resold them after a couple of months and that’s how she started to buy nicer horses and produce them up the levels.”
Dani grew up in Norfolk, England, with her mother as her mentor. Her family moved to the United States in 2011, when Dani’s father was offered a job at the University of Georgia. A year after the move, Dani’s mother started her own hunter-jumper program with quite a lot of students and ponies. “My mother bought me a 12.2-hand Haflinger pony,” Dani remembered. “He didn’t know that much, and we had to teach him a lot. I think I got bucked off every other day but it taught me a lot, too—I always got back on, and I think that’s when I really got hooked on horses. I rode every single day after school until dark.”
Dani credits her work ethic now to growing up with ponies and having a strong urge to get more time in the saddle and improve. “My mentality has always been to do as much as I can and get better each day,” she said. Dani ended up showing that pony up to 1.10m jumpers—sowing the seeds of grit, determination and success she’d need much later in her career.
Hooked on Eventing
The eventing bug bit Dani when she joined Pony Club in 2013. “I had fun doing the hunter-jumpers, but it wasn’t truly for me. I remember jumping my first log out on the trails and thinking it was just the best thing ever,” Dani said. “When I joined Pony Club, I was given opportunities to school and ride cross-country, and I instantly fell in love with the sport.”
Her first eventing rally was on a small and inexperienced Thoroughbred her mom had found and the pair competed at the Novice level. “My first dressage test on him, we scored a 19, the lowest score of the whole rally,” Dani said. “That was really cool for me, to be in the spotlight, and I think that’s the feeling I always chase. I’ve always wanted to be the best and I have that perfectionist mentality.”
Fast forward to life in Ocala. Dani was 21 and had spent the majority of her life chasing the sport of eventing, but she had one foot out the door when she met international five-star event rider Joe Meyer. “I knew of Joe at the time but I didn’t know about his sales program or really anything that came with that. I saw an ad he had posted about looking for a couple of horses and one fit my horse’s description to a T, so Joe came out to the farm.”
Joe rode her horse, they agreed on a price and decided to move the horse to Joe’s farm until he could be sold. But Joe and his wife, Ruthie, saw more than just the owner of a horse for sale in Dani. “Joe and Ruthie took me under their wing, and I don’t think that’s normally something they do for a 21-year-old girl they just met,” Dani said. “But I think Ruthie could tell I was in a tough place and needed help, and I’m so thankful for that now.”
Dani began working for Joe a couple of days a week while her horse was on the market even though her plan was to leave the equestrian world once the horse sold. She found herself in a bad place mentally and was simply burnt out. “I think the stress of trying to make it in this industry when you don’t have anyone who believes in you or anyone funding you is the hardest part about this sport,” she said. But then the right people come along at the right time.
At an upcoming event, Ruthie kindly offered Dani one of their sales horses to compete. “That was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done in my life because I’m a perfectionist, and I put so much pressure on myself to do well, especially considering it was a sales horse—but that’s also the kind of pressure I thrive off of,” Dani said. “We got a 27 and we jumped clean in both phases and finished fourth at Rocking Horse. I think in that moment, I finally said, ‘Yes! This is it; this is where I want to be and what I want to be doing.’”
Dani went from nearly throwing in the towel to landing her dream job within months. Since then she has had the incredible opportunity to produce and compete a long list of horses ranging in breeds, ages and experience levels, and she admits to learning more these past two years with Joe and Ruthie than ever before. “I can never thank them enough for these opportunities because I know it’s not something that gets handed to most people,” she said. “Joe and Ruthie have got to be the most humble people that just keep on giving, and I think that’s a rare thing to find in this industry. They are both amazingly hardworking and it’s been a privilege to have two fantastic role models. It’s an incredibly supportive atmosphere, and I’m lucky to be a part of it.”
Currently, there are five to six horses occupying Dani’s time. “My job revolves around getting the sales horses out and about, helping maintain an active and current social media presence for Joe and Ruthie’s business, and just all of the fun things that go along with being Joe’s head rider,” Dani said.
Joe’s training program is split between his personal competition horses and the sales horses. “Having me in the barn allows him to focus a lot on his own string while I work with the sales horses,” Dani said. “We have clients coming in every week to try horses and I am very much a part of that process of showing sale horses.”
Most aspiring young event riders have lofty goals, and Dani’s certainly match the list. “My goals have always been to make it to the top of the sport and to have my own string of horses, and to be doing a part of that right now is something I’m very grateful for,” she said.
Dani has learned a great deal from Joe’s training and teaching philosophy, which doesn’t follow a cookie-cutter way of doing things. He offers a realistic program catering to individual needs, whether human or horse, and finds a way to adapt and adjust. “Joe has so much knowledge and so much to teach, I probably learn something daily from him, though one of the most important things I’ve learned is that all you have to do is get at least 1% better a day and then in a hundred days, look at where you’re going to be,” Dani said. “I use this philosophy all the time.”
Words Of Wisdom
For younger or aspiring riders, Dani has three pieces of advice: “First, don’t compare yourself. Comparison steals all happiness away from your current situation because there’s always going to be someone better than you, who has nicer horses or more opportunities than you. Instead of comparison, just get better each day because there are so many things you can do to be a better athlete and rider.”
Second, failure is a part of every single sport. “I think you’re going to get shot down a million times and you have to get back up and keep fighting. You have to persevere, and there are going to be great days and horrible days,” she continued. “Third, repetition—we get good at something we repeat, and if you think you aren’t good at something, you just have to work harder and keep repeating it. Everyone needs a coach—even the best riders have a coach.”
These are all things Dani has learned and uses as she works and learns at Joe Meyer Eventing. Though she hopes to compete at the FEI level in the next five years with a permanent string of horses, Dani’s proudest accomplishment so far isn’t a competition. “I am most proud of my perseverance,” she said, “because even though I did briefly give up and take a break, which I think is totally acceptable, I came back and fought for what I wanted and I’ve never been happier than I am right now.”
For more information, visit Danielle Platt on Facebook and follow on Instagram @Dpi.Equestrian
Photos by Alex Scribner, www.MipsyMedia.com, and on Instagram @mipsymedia