Eventer Dan Jocelyn has come a long way since he moseyed up the driveway as an eight-year-old aboard a 17hh trotter in a plastic bridle. He’s just been named in the New Zealand team for WEG – it’s not the first time he’s made a national team, but it’s been 14 years between drinks.
“There’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears gone into this,” says the 47-year-old who rode at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and was chosen for Sydney in 2000 but had to withdraw after Silence was injured in a freak accident. Dan also competed for New Zealand at WEG in Jerez de la Frontera in 2002.
Dan was born in New South Wales to Beverley and the late Ted. They lived on a lifestyle block with cowboy neighbours. “I was obsessed with them and their horses,” remembers Dan. Eventually they sent him home with Wally – the 17hh trotter. “I walked down the driveway with him and mum nearly had a heart attack. I literally just had the plastic bridle and a pair of shorts – nothing else.”
It soon became evident horses were not a five minute wonder and that Wally probably wasn’t that suitable, so his parents caved and bought 12.2hh Cindy.
“We had come from the city and knew nothing about animals. While we lived in Sydney though mum and dad would have a pony at my birthday party for five years. A pony would be delivered for the day and we would walk up and down our five-metre driveway with him.”
The family moved to New Zealand and Cindy was passed to the cowboy family next door.
With a taste for the country, the family bought a 12-acre property in Wainuiomata. “I got straight into getting a pony, joining Pony Club and was off. When I grew up everyone did everything – I possibly didn’t do enough dressage, but did tonnes of showjumping, cross country and games. I just loved riding. There was lots of galloping up fire breaks and being tearaways all summer holidays.”
As a teenager he and fellow Olympian Joe Meyer spent a lot of time at Mamaku Stud and when the two headed offshore, they did so together. Dan didn’t win a lot in New Zealand but he was on the winning team to represent the country at the Pony Club’s Inter-Pacific Teams’ Event in Australia.
“I had good training too and I eventually worked at Tielcey Park. That was my big move really.” He was approached by Catriona Williams (nee McLeod) to ride her showjumpers and it marked the start of his “proper” riding. He spent several seasons with Catriona before moving on to John Grey and Anne Symes to do the same.
“That was when I really developed my riding and the ability to jump any sort of horse I got on. It was some of the best times of my life.”
But the turning point came when he leant a horse to Andrew Nicholson for an invitational event at Puhinui. “They had invited all the greats back for it and were looking for horses. Andrew rode mine and he said he could return the favour if I wanted to come to England and see how it was done. I jumped at it.”
It was 1995 – he said his goodbyes to his parents and headed to the UK. “I was just blown away. It is every boy’s dream to be able to event two or three days a week for most of the year – especially coming from here. I just couldn’t believe it.”
He stayed with the Nicholson family, heading to events with Andrew where he was introduced to the likes of Sir Mark Todd, David Green and others – all who have become good mates of his now.
“It was a great stepping stone and a huge learning curve. I really grew up in a matter of months and knew this is what I would do.” The trip was complete when he headed to the Open European Championships to see the Kiwis compete.
“I came back to New Zealand and said to mum I was taking my horse and going to England. I had not a clue what I was saying or doing, but I did it. When I look back, I am not sure how I managed it!”
He took with him Teleman, who while not a 4* horse, was all he had. “I felt I had come over with a horse to ride and compete in the hope of picking up some rides. It is easier said than done.” But he got through and almost made it round Burghley before retiring at a ditch three quarters of the way through the cross country.
“I felt I had achieved what I wanted to do. In the back of my mind I knew I had (five-year-old) Silence at home who would be ready to bring over the following year.”
He bounced for several years between New Zealand and the UK, returning to his job with John and Anne in the winter months. But there came a time when he knew he had to commit to the UK and it’s winters, and the rest is history really.
He’s ridden the highs and lows of horses – and particularly with Silence. “Silence was more unbelievable than I could have ever imagined.” He arrived in the UK as a horse who had done a 1* at Puhinui and very quickly went 2* in the spring, 3* in the autumn and 4* the following year when just seven. “He was being placed at Burghley and internationals all around Europe. He was a cross country machine who loved to gallop and jump.”
Together they had fantastic results and were selected for the Sydney Olympics – a long held goal for Dan. “It was amazing, and everything I had wished for. I was riding a high and couldn’t think of what could go wrong. But of course, it did.”
Silence broke his wither when he flipped after being spooked by another horse. Everyone was devastated. Amazingly, he came back better than ever and was third at Burghley, completing a Kiwi trifecta of Andrew Nicholson, Blyth Tait and Dan.
Sadly the cross country at Athens wasn’t tough enough and didn’t suit the tough cross country specialist. “It was disappointing but fantastic to be part of the team as he had come back from an horrific accident.” At 18 he did another Burghley to finish 12th and was retired that afternoon. At 28, Silence is happily at home in the paddock and Dan says he looks fit enough to do another 4*.
Dan faced a tough decade after retiring Silence. “I couldn’t get back to 4* level and felt I was just going through the motions. I lacked direction and was stuck in a rut.”
But six years ago Terry Miller came into his life. “She had a dream, as I did, of making the New Zealand team and wanted a horse to go to top level.” She is now his biggest owner and together they are fulfilling both their ambitions.
Dan and partner Emma Shoesmith live in Cirencester. “The pleasure has come back into my world. I couldn’t be happier. I love what I am doing and we are now getting those results which gives you more drive and energy. It makes you hungry for it again.”
He loves nothing more than watching 15-year-old daughter Jaz compete in eventing. When we caught up with him he was buzzing, having just watched her place second in a class aboard a horse he and her mother had bought for her as a two-year-old, broke in and been produced by the youngster right through. “They are both learning together and have now qualified for the Pony Club Champs in all disciplines. She absolutely loves horses – god help her – but that is what she wants to do!”
By Diana Dobson – HP Media Liaison
Photos by Libby Law/ESNZ