This article was sponsored by World Equestrian Brands, a supporter and sponsor of both Dan Kreitl and Sharon White, who was also mentioned in this article. When I asked Dan what his favorite World Equestrian Brands product was, he didn’t hesitate. “Oh, I would have to say the Amerigo saddles. I didn’t realize until working with Sharon how important the tack really is. Oh my gosh, this is so much easier when you have the right gear. So I switched to an Amerigo with a better setup years ago and I’m super grateful for it. It’s helped my position a ton.”
What would it be like to sign up for a horse trial, look at the entry list, and see your name listed next to Boyd Martin or Michael Jung? To me, it sounds horribly intimidating. I’ll scratch, thank you very much. But amateur Dan Kreitl has a different take on it. “I’d rather lose to the best than win amongst beginners.”
A Midwest man, Dan has been competing against professionals for the last several years. Most recently, he and Kay Dixon’s Carmango (Chirivell x Taramanga by Templer GL XX) competed in the CCIO4*-S at Aachen. On US soil, he finished in 5th place at the 2023 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event, and won the CCI4*-S at TerraNova in March. It’s rare to see an amateur succeed at the upper levels of the sport, typically due to the balancing act amateurs have to perform to find time to ride between families and full-time jobs. But I’ve always been curious about how amateurs like Dan find the chutzpah to compete against some of the world’s best riders at the highest levels of the sport and what their experience is like along the way.
Unlike myself, who would take one look at the entry list for Aachen and think, “What the heck am I doing here?!” Dan has a technique to turn intimidation into motivation. “I’d say if I did feel intimidated, that’s more in my own head, like maybe an expectation I had or just assumed that this was an uppity crowd or maybe I wasn’t good enough to ride with this group. I typically try to turn that intimidation into inspiration and get psyched about it. I do look at the entry list and I get inspired and excited about ‘we’re competing against so-and-so, like this is the real deal now.’”
According to Dan, he’s found the upper level community to be very welcoming. “Especially at the first shows where I was competing against professionals, I never felt unwelcome. I think most people didn’t have any idea who I was. And I didn’t know many people, but I was honestly okay with that. I just put my head down and do my thing, and work hard and have fun competing horses and doing the best I can,” Dan said. “Then as I did have more encounters with and met people, I found everyone to be incredibly welcoming and encouraging. I’ve gotten a lot of free advice and coaching and tips from tack, to vet care, to just sympathizing if you’ve not done well, or hearing their stories, or sharing your success with you when you have done well.”
Don’t let the welcome wagon fool you– these riders are competitors through and through, Dan included. “I feel like our sport requires so much time and hard work that when the professionals see someone putting in their best effort and working hard at it and coming back no matter what, then I feel like everyone pretty much becomes your cheerleader. The professionals were actually giving me tips in the warm up, and I’m like ‘great, I’m going to use this info and try to beat you now,’” he said. “In so many other sports, you don’t have your direct competition offering advice and tips. I think it’s a really cool and unique thing about our sport.”
Beyond getting tips from his fellow competitors in the warm-up ring, Dan’s also working with 5* rider Sharon White, who is helping him reframe his mindset. “She’s really into the mind and controlling your thoughts. So we’ve had numerous discussions about this over the years and she gave me this book, Elite Minds, that has been really helpful on controlling your mind. I try to turn those thoughts into positive energy and focus on things you can control.”
Thanks to Sharon’s training, Dan controls his thoughts and mind with an iron fist. “So, for example, you can rehearse your plan and go over exactly what you can do and what you can control and how you’re going to do your ride. But worrying about the result or ‘Oh gosh, I hope I don’t have a rail’ or anything like that actually isn’t helpful or useful,” said Dan. “I’m getting a lot more control over my mind and like, ‘this thought is not helpful so get out of my head.’ Anyways, it’s just pretty black and white.”
At this level of the sport, controlling your mindset is key. Dan had a bit of a self-described “slap in the face” moment at the Aiken Eventing Showcase earlier this year when his mindset cost him a competition. “I did a faceplant, if you will, at the Aiken Showcase this year. I was really excited to be in the showcase for the first time. I had the worst show jumping round of my life and had a terrible warm-up. It was bad from start to finish. I had five rails down so it was a mandatory retirement. It was so humbling. I was so mad at how I rode. I got anxious and when I get anxious, I get faster and more worried and ride more aggressively. It’s just like a domino effect and the horse obviously feeds off of me, and my horse Carmango tries his guts out for me. I would say that was a good slap across the face. I thought I was gonna go there and win and I didn’t even finish.”
If I were the only amateur entered in the Aiken Eventing Showcase, I’d have been anxious too, but Dan recovered well, with a little help from Bobby Costello. “It just really drove home how important it is to have control over my mind and what’s going on in my thoughts. Bobby Costello called me after the Aiken Showcase and gave me some really good practical advice about how to slow your mind down and focus on tangible things I can control throughout the show jump course. That made a huge difference. Then the next show I went to, which was the four star at TerraNova, Carmango jumped double clear in show jumping. So, I learned a lot even though I hated the experience in the moment.”
How many amateurs can say they get phone calls from the US Eventing Team Chef d’Equipe?
While they may both get advice from Bobby, in Dan’s opinion one of the biggest differences between himself and the professionals he competes against is what pressures they face. “For me, honestly, the biggest pressure I probably have in doing this sport is time. Because this is not my job and I work full time in the real estate business. And then I’m married to a non-horse wife and we have two little kids and the amount of time it takes to train and to travel– We’re in the Midwest. So I’m typically having to drive quite a ways for these higher level competitions. My wife is supportive, but like this is insane for a hobby that takes so much time and money and effort. So I feel that balancing the time, the pressure of how to balance everything and juggle it all, is probably the biggest pressure I have.”
Even though Dan juggles work, family, and riding, in his opinion professionals face more pressure. “Professionals are doing this for a living and their results are going to impact if they’re gonna keep the ride on the horse, and the owners are looking for X, Y and Z results, or whether you make the team or not. For professionals, their results really affect their business and their livelihood.”
Dan believes that while amateurs have less pressure on their competition record, they also have to take the slow path to the top of the sport, which isn’t to say competing in the upper levels isn’t possible – Dan is living proof of that. But there’s no way an amateur with a full-time job can clock as much time in the saddle as a professional.
“I’ve become a better rider with experience, but you can’t fast forward. I’ve always been ambitious and hungry, and like to move along as quickly as I can. But at the end of the day, it takes the time it takes. You’ve got to get the reps in and the good and the bad experiences,” Dan said. “That’s probably the biggest competition hurdle that makes the playing field different. If my whole day was devoted to my riding, I would be a much better rider than balancing, ‘Okay, I’ve got two or three hours to ride today, and I’ll try to do the most I can with that.’”
Dan’s rise to the 4* level as an amateur has a twofold message. Not only is it a bit of an underdog story as he overcomes feelings of anxiety and intimidation, as well as the plethora of obstacles that every amateur can relate to, but it’s also a great example of how welcoming the eventing community can be. It would be so easy for the professional eventers to exclude Dan, wondering why and how he got there. Instead, they’re his cheerleaders, offering advice and welcoming the (relatively) new guy. Attitudes like that are what makes me proud to be just one small part of this community.
So, to all the amateurs with big dreams who are riding their horse in the dark after a long day at the office, Dan has one thing to say: your dreams are possible. “Everyone has goals or dreams and ideas you hope you can do one day and the reality is like we have no idea if we can achieve that dream. But I would like more amateurs to know it is possible. More amateurs can and should dream. Just keep pushing towards that goal. Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”