THE WAY OF THE HORSE TRAINER
Donal Hancock – Australia
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 colts 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!”
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 5 training 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.