Palisadian Stephanie Danhakl Survived Frightful Fall to Finish Equestrian Show
It was Week 2 of the Indio Desert Circuit Equestrian Championships in February and 16-year-old Stephanie Danhakl was well on her way to another victory when suddenly she met a cruel twist of fate. “I was riding and my horse tripped during competition,” she recalled. “I was thrown off and landed pretty hard. I got right up and thought I was fine. I tried to finish, but the pain became so unbearable that I just couldn’t continue.” Danhakl had broken her collar bone in two places and was told it would take two months to heal. But rather than give up on her favorite California show, the confident Palisadian persevered and was back in the saddle by the fifth stage of the six-week competition. Ignoring the pain and her doctor’s admonitions to be careful, she scored enough points to capture the Small Junior Hunter championship on a horse named Henley and the Large Junior Hunter title on Bellingham Bay. “I was really determined to get back in the competition because I had trained really hard for it,” she said. “I was at a disadvantage because I missed two weeks, but I did well enough in the weeks I did show to win.” That was just the start of a magical year for Danhakl in which she won at least one division at almost every show she entered. At the Monarch International Junior Hunter finals in Del Mar, Danhakl and her favorite horse, Lifetime, won the Large Junior Hunter championship.Then, at the Menlo Circus Club in Atherton, she was chosen Best Child Rider and won the Small Junior Hunter Championship with Henley. “I’ve only been riding for about three years, but I’ve loved horses for as long as I can remember. I’m fortunate to have a really good trainer who has matched me with the right horses.” For each show, divisions are divided up by age (hers is Junior, for 17-and-unders). Small or large indicates the size of the horse and the “hunter” classification is a method of judging that focuses on a horse’s form and technique on jumps. Barriers at her level are three feet, six inches in height. When choosing a mount, Danhakl has several musts: “They have to be quiet, they have to be well balanced and they have to respond the right way when you pull on the reins or let go of them.” Danhakl trains six days a week under the tutelage of Archie Cox at her barn in Lakewood Terrace. The little time she has away from the stable is divided amongst her friends, classes at Harvard-Westlake High (her favorite subject is science) and, of course, homework. “I go right from school to practice, so it does take a lot of time. But I love the competition,” said Danhakl, who lives in the Highlands and attended Calvary Christian School prior to Harvard-Westlake. “There is always room for improvement. I’m not really looking to go to the Olympics or anything, I’d just like to keep improving and try to keep winning.” As well as she performed at state competitions, Danhakl saved her best for the national shows. She won the Small Junior Hunter championship on her second small horse, Traditions, and rode Bellingham Bay to a second-place finish in the Large Junior Hunter category at the Capital Challenge Horse Show in Maryland. At the Metropolitan Show in New York City, she was runner up on Bellingham Bay and at the National Horse Show in West Plam Beach, Florida, she and Traditions were Small Junior Hunter Champions. Danhakl ended the year by riding Lifetime to the USA Equestrian Federation’s Large Junior Hunter national championship. The more medals she wins, the more determined she becomes. “This sport is a big time commitment. But if you enjoy it, like I do, all the hard work you put in is worth it.” Her immediate goal is winning again at the Desert Circuit Championships, which begin at the end of the month. Last year’s success and the adversity she had to overcome to win there have her feeling good about her chances.
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