On our May-June 2019 edition front cover, we feature a fun photo captured by contributing photographer, Priyantha Malavi Arachchi, of teenager Danielle Armistead and her best mate Clyde, a 7-year-old Clydesdale Thoroughbred cross gelding she has owned for two years. “Him eating my hat wasn’t planned!” says Dani.
Born in Alice Springs, Dani was first introduced to horses at the local Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA). Her parents thought the experience would help give their young daughter the confidence she needed to overcome anxiety issues that she was experiencing as a result of her autism and trying to fit in. She fell head over heels in love with horses and, over the next couple of years, she progressed to being there every day, either volunteering or having lessons.
Watching Dani riding Clyde bareback and bridleless today you would not know she was ever fearful. “With Clyde I learned pretty quickly that if I wasn’t confident he knew that, and he would get scared and start spooking at things all the time. So I learned to get on him, shut that part out and go and have fun. That’s how we both operate” says Dani.
Together, the pair have learned to be brave and have a strong connection; “It’s all come from becoming best friends and him knowing what I am asking all the time” she continues. “We’ve built a lot of trust in each other, and of course, we’ve done a lot of training”.
Developing a strong bond with a horse is one part, but as we talk, I can’t help thinking that this young horse woman has outstanding natural abilities and a special affinity for horse training. For most of us, galloping while guiding our horse with just a neck strap seems either unlikely or a long-term goal, yet Dani bought Clyde when he was just started, and has managed to get this far in just two years.
“It had to start with me trusting him and him trusting me” she says. “And learning basic horse riding skills. We started slow and making sure he knows exactly what means what, so he knows what to do when I ask him. Then becoming his best friend so he is willing to do it. Because if they are not willing, they will try to escape pressure and won’t be happy.
“When I first got Clyde, we weren’t connected straight away. It did take some time. He would fight me with everything because he was very lazy and it took a long time just to get him to trot. We had some horsemanship trainers come out to my house which got us started, and since then we’ve worked hard and turned out great.
“We now have a very good understanding between us. I know what he’s thinking all the time, what he wants and how he is feeling. If he’s stressed about a situation, I work out what is causing him stress so I can help him through it. So now he has a lot of trust in me knowing what’s going on. We can both read each other very well.
“I love getting Clyde to be really responsive so that I hardly have to tap him and he knows what to do. I love going fast with him and he loves it as well. Jumping fast, the adrenaline… I love jumping cross country jumps, it’s our favourite thing.”
I ask Dani what it is that attracts her to horses; “They take you as you are” she says. “They don’t care who you are or what you are like. They try so hard to fit in and they let you ride them. They are just amazing creatures.”
As with the best love stories, things could have been very different if circumstances had not synchronised for the pair to find each other. In another place or time, Dani may not have had access to the RDA program, her family may not have moved from the outback to the coast, and Clyde may not have been rescued from the saleyard by his first owner who started his career as a riding horse but hurt his back and had to sell him on. Yes, the planets aligned but, regardless, Dani is not going take this fairy tale love story for granted.
“It is so amazing just knowing that Clyde is happy with me being there and we are a team. When we are together, we are one and we both have fun. It’s just the most amazing feeling you could have.”