Grandioso III’s Prominence - Daniel Martin Dockx on Developing the Spanish Horse for Competition

Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Dressage - Saturday, January 28, 2017

During the Adequan® Global Dressage Festival week #3 presented by USPRE, the magnificent 18-year-old Spanish-bred stallion Grandioso III concluded his dressage career in style to a crowd of a couple of thousand fans. His farewell included a new Freestyle they had prepared for 2016. Grandioso’s owner, Kim Van Kampen arranged for Grandioso’s trainer and rider, Daniel Martin Dockx to travel from Spain to the USPRE week for the gifted stallion’s final performance and retirement ceremony.

Through Dani’s classical riding and exceptional training, the prominent world-class pair have competed at many other notable events that included the London 2012 Olympics, the Rio 2016 Olympics, the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy, two European Championships, three Nations Cup competitions at Aachen where they earned a high score of 78.175 percent and merited even higher scores at many other European competitions. The pair were awarded twice Spanish National Champions and Grandioso has been the highest scoring Iberian horse in the world for three years straight. “The thing about Grandioso,” revealed Dani, “is that he’s always consistent.” 

Adding to the splendor of Grandioso’s show and farewell, Dani also educated the spectators by riding 13-year-old Grand Prix horse Bolero CXLVIII (Utrerano VII x Felina XVCIII (by Urano II) in a teaching demonstration titled the “Master Class with Daniel Martin Dockx.” Speaking into an overhead sound system during the Saturday lunch break at the CDI competition, Dani taught the crowd the how's and why's of his training methods. Everyone witnessed a happy, contented horse as Dani explained the same basic warm-up gynmasticizing exercises he uses regardless if a horse is three years old or a seasoned Grand Prix competition horse. One of Dressage’s finest riders, yet a humble horseman at heart, Dani has spent his life learning the exercises necessary to the development of these horses where few others have been as successful.

The Teaming Up of Daniel Martin Dockx and Kim Van Kampen

Working together for more than 12 years to bring talented PRE horses up the levels, one by one Kim has been sending young horses to Dani where he lives in Mijas near the city of Seville, Spain. Three years ago, she sent him a full group of horses, many of which were bred and raised at her Hampton Green Farm in Michigan. “Kim has a good eye,” recognizes Dani. “She knows what she needs to develop the Spanish horse for top sport. She is producing nice horses in the breeding.” With a longtime passion for the development of horses at the highest Grand Prix level in the sport, Kim has a breeding farm in Fruitport, Michigan where she breeds PRE horses from those of the Sevillano IX line that are strong with the Albero II lineage, known for producing extraordinary movements. She has also been chasing the lines that Grandioso has been blessed with.

Dani spoke very highly of the skilled stallion, “Grandioso is a very complete horse. The best point about him is his regularity. He’s very good at the shows. He goes to the ring with such focus and never gets scared or tense. He’s a horse that is very easy with the contact, so that gives him lots of points. He always gives you a guarantee and has been there for the team and for me every time. This was the amazing point about him.”

The training and eyes on the ground Dani likes most, “When I started competing Grandioso in Spain, Jan Bemelmans was the coach for our country. Kim wanted him involved in Grandioso’s career, so I got a lot of training and experience from him.” Bemelmans, born in Belgium yet a highly decorated rider for Germany also coached the Spanish National Dressage Team for fifteen years and currently works as the National Team Trainer for France. Dani said, “We really worked for that team consistency and for the major championships for Spain. It has always been our main goal to work for the team.” 

Working in Spain for more than 4 years out of a stable, Dani now concentrates full-time on the horses Kim has sent him for training. “We have a really nice team with a group of professionals and we have all become very good friends. Our vet is here at Global and the owner of the stable is here, also.”

On other upcoming horses coming along, “We have a seven-year-old with a lot of quality, a very good walk, trot and canter, but a little bit green for his age,” Dani concedes. “We also have a son of Grandioso’s coming up the levels that I like very much; he’s six years old. We will start to show him this year in the six-year-old test. We also have quite a few three-year-olds with good qualities and they just need time for the training. We have a lot of work at home to get ready for the next few years.”

How to Develop the Spanish Horses for a Long, Successful Career

When asked how he develops the PRE Horses so well for top sport in Dressage, Dani responded, “There is only one secret, work, work and work.” He pointed out, “You have to give them good, consistent basics. It’s important that you put a lot of time into that basic training, meaning, a lot of time into the gymnastics so you develop the back of the horse.”

He elaborated, “It’s really important to make sure they are pushing from behind, from the hind legs to the bit. You have to wait a little bit with Spanish horses. They are not really good at 4 years old and 5 years old. I think they start to be really good at 6 years old. The Spanish horses are not so competitive at four and five years old like the warmbloods. They need time to develop to be stronger. You have to work their whole career to make sure they develop and build a really nice back. So, we work at home with a lot of gymnastics and exercises to strengthen them.”

The Spanish Horse vs. the European Warmblood

Dani described the likeness and their differences, “Spanish horses are not polar opposites of the European Warmblood. They are different in the work. “ He corrected, “Though, you always bring out their rhythm, looseness, contact, impulsion, straightness and collection.”Dani Martin Dockx and Bolero CXLVIII Photo: Lily Forado

As warmbloods are known for having pushing power to begin with and they have to spend years developing the carrying power while the Spanish horse has carrying power to begin with and must work for the pushing power.

It becomes clear that because the Spanish horse tends to have a running rhythm to start with, they need to be ridden more slowly and over the back to bring the hind legs under by the connection and rider’s seat.

“It’s not only that you have to take care on their back as young horses, it’s also in the Grand Prix training,” Dani clarified. “It’s important to always take care of their backs. These are horses that need time to get stronger, so it’s important to have patience. They have all that you need inside, but you have to wait. It’s not so easy for them to compete as young horses.”

“You have to develop really good habits and stick with them in your everyday training," he continued. "When their backs do get strong, you still have to take care to push them only a short time a couple of times a week and really pat them. Then, they begin to understand what they have to do for the collection.”

He also specified, “With a little more time in their training, they are just as good as any warmblood in the competition arena.”