Dani Sussman and Jos Bravio Prove Their Mettle at Kentucky

Dani Sussman and Jos Bravio. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Dani Sussman left the Kentucky Horse Park on a high.

It’s an indescribable feeling to complete any event, let alone one of the caliber that is the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event. Mix in the hours spent in the truck, shuttling back and forth from Dani’s home base in Colorado to the East coast, the time spent away from understanding and supportive clients (and husbands) and well, it’s safe to say Dani would likely have been thrilled to finish solidly on a number for her efforts.

She did one better, completing the Cosequin Lexington CCI4*-S, which is run alongside the traditional Kentucky CCI5*, in 10th place overall with her own and Carol Mavrakis’ Jos Bravio, just behind U.S. high performance squad riders like Boyd Martin, Liz Halliday, Will Coleman, Sydney Elliott, and Carolina Pamukcu.

For Dani, the result is validating: she’s been chipping away with the 13-year-old “Bravi” since acquiring him from Argentina in 2020, believing in her willingness to understand her horse and adjust her riding accordingly to bring out his potential.

Dani Sussman and Jos Bravio. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

“He’s honestly just a professional through and through,” Dani described. “He comes out every day ready to work and do the job. He gives everything his all, so he’s been a really great partner in that way. The big things I’ve been working through, training-wise, are to do with the fact that he’s kind of short-coupled and short-necked. It’s a lot of working to get him soft through his neck and over his back and allowing him to open his step.”

Dani’s trusted Buck Davidson with much of her coaching (along with her dressage coach, Sue Martin, and her show jumping coach, Mariano Bedoya, who also assists her in sourcing hoses from Argentina), and she credits his philosophy of forward riding with her recent breakthroughs.

Dani Sussman and Jos Bravio. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Looking at Jos Bravio’s record leading up to Kentucky, Dani admits one might raise an eyebrow as to her level of preparation with Jos Bravio, but here she makes an interesting observation: “It’s kind of ironic. The mistakes that happened before Kentucky actually set me up perfectly for Kentucky.”

How so? I wanted to know more.

Dani went on to explain that she began the season in earnest with the Grand-Prix Eventing Festival at Bruce’s Field, where she turned in an impressive and quick-footed cross country round ahead of her other Kentucky preps. However at both attempts at Bouckaert Equestrian’s two prep events, she encountered some trouble on cross country. This prompted her to zoom out and analyze what was causing the issue. She’d to that point been riding Bravi in a nathe gag bit with a running martingale, and she decided to test the theory that lightening her equipment setup might give her horse the opportunity to move more openly and freely. This would, she hoped, translate into making the big distances on cross country come up more naturally. She opted for a loose ring snaffle, sans martingale.

She practiced with this setting at home, immediately feeling a breakthrough in her subsequent schooling rides. At Kentucky, her intuition rang true, and the new setup worked like a charm.

“He does have a big step, and I’ve kind of gotten in the way of that,” Dani said. “Each year it’s gotten a little better and a little better. Now he runs cross country basically in his dressage tack. Buck also encouraged me to feel comfortable on that more open step, allowing things to happen and trusting that when I jump into a combination the strides will be there without me having to make a huge adjustment. It was about trusting myself and trusting my horse, which is a hard thing but it’s so hugely influential.”

Indeed, Dani got the validation she’d been seeking that her theories were correct, and that the trouble she’d encountered en route to Kentucky were actually opportunities to make a positive change.

Dani Sussman and Jos Bravio. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Of course, this isn’t a story intended to persuade a reader to take a look at an imperfect record and decide they’ll fix the problems later. For Dani, the lessons learned and the intuition that follows come from a body of work, multiple years spent producing the horse to this level and with the guidance of coaches she trusts.

“It was a really great feeling to know that I’d fixed the issue and could come into Kentucky feeling rock solid,” she continued. “I needed to trust that the fix was there and that I knew it was there. So I felt actually – definitely nervous, properly nervous as you would be for an event like that, not nervous in the way I doubted whether I was ready.”

Dani and Bravi proved their mettle. Despite a couple of bobbles on the flat that prevented a stronger starting position, they clawed their way up the board, delivering a clear cross country with just a handful of time and a rare double clear show jumping on Sunday to move to 10th after starting in equal 20th.

“It was honestly pretty incredible,” Dani reflected. “I wanted to do right by him and keep his confidence up [on cross country], to go out there and do what we had practiced. That was my goal, and I think we delivered that. The double clear show jumping definitely kind of blew me away. I couldn’t be more proud of that.”

Dani Sussman and Jos Bravio. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

Dani and Bravi now move ahead to their final destination of the spring before heading back to Colorado, competing in the CCI4*-L at The Fork at Tryon International this weekend (May 9-12). There, she hopes to build on what she delivered at Kentucky, knowing there are plenty of opportunities to finish even stronger in this important Long format.

“I’m definitely feeling good ahead of next week, but I also don’t want to go in taking anything for granted,” she said when we talked on the phone. “I want to put as much into next weekend as I did Kentucky – if not more – and see if I can clean up the bobbles here and there.”

Dani’s tentatively got plans for Jos Bravio to test his mettle at the CCI5* level or perhaps in overseas competition, but first things first: ensure he’s confident and competitive at the 4* level, and spend some well-earned time back at home.

Dani Sussman and Jos Bravio. Photo by Shannon Brinkman Photography.

“I’ve been gone since February,” she described. “I’ve flown back and forth a few times to do as much as I can, and I have a wonderful assistant and staff who fill in and keep the wheels on the bus while I’m gone. Our clients are incredibly supportive and excited for us.”

It’s been a grind in more ways than one to this point, but Dani seems to take everything in stride. She tells me about her husband, Jeff, who flew out to drive to Kentucky from Ocala, where Dani spent the winter, and who is “over the top supportive”, as she puts it.

Determination and grit must be balanced with empathy and patience on this journey with horses, and Dani’s result at Kentucky is demonstrative of this. Mostly, she’s enjoying the ride with a special horse she feels lucky to have formed such a strong partnership with. “He definitely has the ability and the heart. Anything we do from here will be incredible and a dream come true.”

EN’s coverage of the Defender Kentucky Three-Day Event is presented by Kentucky Performance Products, your one-stop shop for science-backed nutritional support for all types of horses. Click here to learn more about Kentucky Performance Products. You can catch up on all of our stories from Kentucky here.

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