By Doris Degner-Foster
Many riders have a distinct preference for either the slower, precise striding required to compete in hunter classes, or the adrenalin-packed challenge of jumper competition, riding over high jumps as fast as possible. But not Daniel Geitner.
“I get just as excited winning a class at a small show as winning a class at a big show,” said Daniel. “It’s the same thing, whether it’s a pre-green hunter or a grand prix. Every facet about horses interests me. If I wasn’t riding, I’d be building rings or cutting hay.”
Daniel, with his wife, Cathy, and their children, 10-year-old Wyatt and 8-year-old Lilly, all live at his farm, DFG Stables, in the horse community of Aiken, South Carolina. The farm has over 150 acres with a permanent derby field and a 150-foot arena with GGT footing for an ideal training surface. “Our kids enjoy the horses and they love the farm life,” said Daniel. “I grew up on a farm with chickens and pigs and I’m lucky my kids can enjoy the same thing.”
Staying on the Pony
Daniel’s earliest memories of horses involve foxhunting with his family. “We hunted with a great little hunt, the Yadkin Valley hounds in North Carolina, and they were just the neatest group. We looked like country people but they welcomed us anyway and I had a great time,” Daniel remembered. “I really learned how to ride with good balance by riding ‘by the seat of your pants.’”
Daniel laughed when he said that he’d fallen off hundreds of times as a kid but that it was beneficial. “A lot of times, I was hunting or trail riding when I fell off and you don’t want to let your horse or pony get loose or you’ll end up walking back,” Daniel said. “So I learned to hit the ground and jump up and catch my pony before he ran all the way back to the barn.”
When he wasn’t foxhunting, Daniel rode at local horse shows and just had fun while learning through experience, which laid a good foundation when more opportunities arose later. He went on to ride with Jack Towell of Finally Farm, and Pat Dodson and Keith Hastings, all known for their record of producing great horses and riders. At the beginning of his high school years, he rode with trainer and USEF “R” rated judge Sue Ashe. “That opened all kinds of doors,” Daniel said. “We showed in Palm Beach and I met people I’m still friends with.”
Daniel finished high school at The Kent School, a boarding school in Connecticut with a successful riding program. Sarah Dalton Morris was the instructor there at the time and it was she who introduced him to jumpers.
The College Decision
Although Daniel was seriously considering a career with horses, he decided to attend college instead of going directly into business. “College is a great thing for growing up,” Daniel said. “Your higher-end clients are business people and well educated. It can be intimidating if you don’t have the schooling and education.”
He chose St. Andrews College in Laurinburg, North Carolina, a college with an equestrian program that competed in the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association (IHSA). At St. Andrews, equestrian sports are valued as much as the more traditional sports such as football. He enrolled in the business and equine program and learned more about equine care and nutrition.
“I kind of knew what I wanted to be in the horse business, but going to college kept me from jumping into the business right away and I made some great contacts,” Daniel said. “The coach at the time, Shelby French, was just fabulous. She was and still is a great mentor and friend.”
Daniel said that he enjoyed the camaraderie of the St. Andrews IHSA team, cheering on the walk-trot riders the same as the higher-level team members. As regional high-point rider in 1994, Daniel competed in the National Individual Championship, winning the competition and the USEF/Cacchione Cup. He also won the American National Riding Commission Intercollegiate Championship in 1996 and 1997.
Always interested in every aspect of horses, he had a short steeplechasing career where he rode in over 20 races. What Daniel learned from caring for steeplechase horses, with an emphasis on the care of legs and fitness, he applied later to the care of jumpers.
Out on His Own
Riding different horses on the college team, Daniel learned that he loved finding the key to an unfamiliar horse quickly and did a lot of catch riding as he started out on his own. “I try to ride each horse and make that horse better while I learn something, too,” Daniel said. “It’s just a matter of putting them in a place where they’re comfortable and to get the most out of them with the least amount of effort. I think that horses will perform their job if you can keep from making it a struggle for them and keep them in a level where they’re comfortable.”
Keeping himself comfortable, however, didn’t used to be as easy. Daniel remembered that he was more prone to stress earlier in his career than he is now. “I’d get uptight and I’m definitely more laid-back now. I realize that what happens, happens, and if it’s not your day, just put the horse back in the stall and move on.” He emphasized that dwelling on either losses or wins can be counterproductive and that it’s more important to learn something from a situation and move on.
Daniel admitted that there was no magic bullet to managing stress. “Honestly, I got so big and so busy that I just got to where I didn’t even have time to panic,” he said. “You’ve just got to shake your head and hop on the next one. I’m probably harder on myself and on my own horse than a customer’s horse. With a client’s horse, I certainly want to win just as much but I’m a tougher owner than most of my clients. I’m a tough one to answer to, looking in the mirror.”
Daniel and his wife, Cathy, whom he met at St. Andrews College, work together in their business. She does most of the teaching, but during shows and other busy times, he pitches in to help. “It’s great that we’re both able to spend time together in the business. It’s not easy, I’ll admit, but we’re both very good about when we leave the barn, it’s done,” Daniel said. “Everybody laughs that we don’t communicate very well but a lot of times, a customer will call at night and we may not even bring it up to each other because we try to leave the barn in the barn.”
Upgrading his horses and his riding is a continual goal for Daniel. He’s always on the lookout for quality horses, watching videos and regularly going on buying trips to Europe. But he tries to keep from watching videos of horses for sale when spending time with his family in the evenings; to leave the barn at the barn. “My kids don’t care if I win or lose,” Daniel said. “I’ve started to realize that there’s a whole lot more to life than that.”
About the writer: Doris Degner-Foster rides with Harvard Fox Hounds in Tulsa, Oklahoma, when she’s not talking with interesting people in the horse sport. She’s also at work on a middle-grade book series about kids who ride and solve mysteries and a mainstream mystery about a horse who appears in an ER doctor’s life to help him through a crisis. Check out her blog: https://dmdegner.wordpress.com/.
Photos by A & S Photography