Teaching Truths: Daniel Sarango on Partnership, Wellness, and Why You Don’t Have to Be Perfect

Welcome to EN’s latest educational series, “Teaching Truths”, in which we tap up-and-coming and established professionals for their core training philosophies. Horsemanship runs at the core of our first trainer, Georgia-based Daniel Sarango, who helps run Le Bonheur Equestrian at Chatsworth Stud with a critical eye to horse care and rider wellness.

Daniel Sarango and Koninklijke Diamant DS, an approved stallion he has produced. Photo by Maggie Perkins.

Daniel, who has been at Chatsworth for over nine years, is now in charge of the breeding and training business, working with boarders and horses in training as well as providing coaching at shows. He’s also heavily involved in producing the horses bred at Le Bonheur, priding himself on the fact that he’s often there when the foal is born all the way through their first steps under saddle and early competitions.

“I’m very blessed in my life, I have a great team and I’ve been able to learn so much about management and horsemanship,” Daniel, who immigrated to the U.S. from Ecuador in 2012. “We are so focused on working the horses in their bodies and creating partnerships with them. It’s more important to have a partnership and work them in the way they like to make them stronger.”

We dove into the core philosophies that Daniel employs during every interaction with horses and students alike.

Daniel and Icarus Chatsworth DS. Photo by Maggie Perkins.

Build an Invaluable Partnership

A happy horse will, at the end of the day, outperform her unhappy counterpart who is just going through the motions. As a part of his role with producing the young horses coming through the program, Daniel spends time deciphering what the horses’ strengths are and what they’re communicating to him. “You need to find the job that the horse likes,” he explained. “Not every horse can be an eventer or a jumper. You need to learn what your horse enjoys and what he’s good at – then you can build your relationship.”

Think of it this way: a horse spends the majority of the day in a stall or a turnout and just an hour or two under saddle. In order to maximize this time, a horse must be focused, comfortable in the body, and happy. Time, he says, is the best ingredient for building this comfort level and knowing your horse inside out. “When you start to spend more time with the horse, the horse will start to give you a better feeling,” he said.”

Teaching Sterling Pollard. Photo by Anna Bosworth.

Hone Your Technique

A rider’s education is ongoing, and because of this it’s important to instill proper technique and form in order to ensure correctness of training. Daniel likens improper technique in the saddle to improper technique in the gym – soon enough, this bad form will catch up with you and cause injuries or lack of progress.

“Some people ride every day incorrectly,” he said. “And that doesn’t make the horse stronger, yet they’re being asked to do more and more. Horses start to have pain and then poor behavior comes.”

Daniel Sarango and Katarina Van De Heffinck. Photo by Pat Schmidt.

Implement Wellness and Recovery

The team at Chatsworth has always been fitness focused, and Daniel says rider fitness and taking proper care of our bodies is key to any success in the saddle. This was a realization that came to him later in life, however.

“I never thought you had to be fit to ride a horse,” he recalled. “I thought you just needed to ride and ride and ride every day. I came from Ecuador and was in the anti-narcotics police, and every four months we were given fitness tests. I never thought in my life that being fit could help you ride.”

After beginning his tenure at Chatsworth and learning the Crossfit ways of Michael Pollard, Daniel’s outlook was changed. If anything, he says, taking proper care of ourselves is a way to deal with the everyday stress that comes with running a horse business.

“One of the best medicines for stress is exercise,” he explained. “And you don’t need to do too much, but you just need to invest in your body and your life. If you’re happy, your horse will be happy, too. Everything is about energy.”

In the same vein, Daniel says that he encourages everyone in his program to implement proper recovery – for both themselves and their horses. “You can have all the muscles you want, but too much will stress ligaments if you don’t do proper stretching and recovery,” he said. “The body needs time to recover.”

Daniel and Carmac at Pine Top. Photo courtesy of Hoofclix.com.

Don’t Chase Perfection – Chase Improvement

In teaching clinics, Daniel says he often comes across riders who feel they need to be perfectly “on” during their lesson. This isn’t so, he explains. “I feel the more you try to do, the more stressed the horse will be,” he said. “It’s not stressful. One lesson isn’t going to fix everything. I’m just going to observe and give you some advice to improve. We are all so different – we can’t expect ourselves to always be perfect and ride really nice and be straight all the time.”

Improvement, not perfection, should be the goal. Daniel encourages everyone who rides with him to open their minds to learning. “You need to find the way that is good for your horse,” he said. “You can do many good things if you want, when you’re able to open your mind.”