Life for Australian TWOTH competitor Donal Hancock is all about learning . . . and once you tick that box, you do it again. He’s worked with some of the best in the business but says he draws inspiration from all sorts of people. Donal has always wanted to be part of TWOTH. “It has just always been my goal,” he says. “I know I can help people understand different ways of starting young horses and bring new ideas and techniques. Great trainers have shared their knowledge with me and I would love to be able to share that with others.”…
For the 29-year-old horseman from Queensland, that’s all part of the beauty of EQUITANA. “That’s the wonderful thing about it – these events and competitions have been created to allow younger trainer to come forth and showcase their horsemanship skills and progress of their careers.”
He’s been part of EQUITANA before performing before the always appreciative crowd at Melbourne and as part of the Outback Spectacular Show as well as with the Double Dans.
Horses have always been a way of life for Donal. Growing up on a 30,000 acre cattle station near a small town in south west Queensland, he learnt to ride at five. “My first pony was a little spotty gelding called Patch Up . . . I don’t know what my father was thinking with that one! I have never been rubbed off so many low-hanging branches in my life. I have a lot of memories of long days, bad saddles, worse horses and some pretty badly rubbed legs. I think they call it character building!”
In his next breath, Donal is quick to add, he wouldn’t change it for the world. “We did have fun, and every now and then we would get to chase a pig or a dingo pup when we could.”
Living as remotely as they did, he didn’t do a lot of competition riding in any discipline but once a year would do the calf ride at the closest rodeo where he proudly picked up a second place. More latterly he has dabbled in a bit of camp drafting but prefers to focus on learning as much as he can.
It was when he was 19 and riding bulls on the Gold Coast that he scored a job as a stockman in the Australian Outback Spectacular Show which led two years later to him later joining the Double Dans as an apprentice. The next five years were spent on the road, travelling in Canada and America as well as throughout Australia. “The majority of my training techniques were moulded during my years spent training, travelling and working at Double Dan Horsemanship,” he says. During this time he also had the chance to spend time with world class horse professionals including Craig Johnson, Josh Lyons and KYB Dressage.
One of the earliest things he was told by the Double Dans still resonates with him. “They said ‘these horses carry us – we are nothing without them so it is our responsibility to look after them in every way as best we can’. I love how much a horse can teach us when there are so many times we actually thought we were teaching them something valuable.”
On return to Australia Donal decided it was time to branch out on his own and he established Hancock Horsemanship in 2015. In the ensuing years he has won accolades and awards for his work including the 2017 Total Equine Queensland Trainer Challenge which encouraged him to try his hand at TWOTH. “These events are fun and I have never been to New Zealand. I am always keen to further my experience and knowledge, so I am excited.”
He has also spent a lot of time training horses across the disciplines. He has also been involved in television commercials, stunt shows, trick riding, a wide range of shows, charities, a colt starting demo in Reno and more.
He holds horsemanship schools and clinics in Australia and further afield and his team of liberty horses have entranced many an audience. “They are a little green but we have been lucky enough to perform at some large events like the Brisbane Royal and EQUITANA Melbourne. They are slowly moving forward to bigger things and recently did a television commercial and are going to feature in a country music video.” The pride he has in his team is palpable.
He loves the stunt work. “I kind of like the adrenalin of it all,” he says of the work that includes backflips off horses, trailer jumps, Roman riding and trick riding. “I enjoy it but it does require a reasonable amount of coordination which is something I am still trying to figure out.”
His philosophy when it comes to training horses is very simple. “You need to be able to train a horse mentally as well as physically,” says Donal. “The physical bit is the easiest but if you don’t have a horse good mentally it will only be as good as your hands and feet. You always want to bring out the full potential of the animal.”
Donal knows only too well what to look out for when selecting a horse and he will be putting all his skills to the test at TWOTH. “I will be looking for a quiet horse, but there are also a couple of other things that are important to me when choosing one for this competition. Physically I will be looking for a healthy, strong horse – something that will hold up for the entire competition. The eye is also important to me and I will be looking for a nice soft eye.”
He will be watching keenly to see how they behave with the other horses too. “Simple things like who rolls or lowers their head first – this would tell me who is the most relaxed. Who leads the pack? That shows me confidence. And the way they carry their bodies through gateways or around other horses will show how much lateral softness or sensitivity they have,” says Donal. “There are a million things but at the end of the day you just have to take a really good guess at which one will best suit the competition and your programme. I will be looking to give this horse a really solid start in order to set him up for the rest of his life – whatever that may be.”
Donal’s top five tips
- Horses get only one start, so make sure it is THE best one you can give them.
- Time is the best trainer of a horse.
- You can’t refine something a horse doesn’t know so team them, then refine what you have taught them later.
- Patience is a virtue.
- Try to keep your horse between you and the ground.
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