A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Katie Shoultz: An ‘Aussie’ time, naturally,
with Nicholasville horse trainer Dan James


Dan James and his horse Top Gun during a bridleless reining performance at the 2013 Road to the Horse event at the Horse Park. (Photo courtesy of Laura Donnell.)

 

Horseman Dan James is bringing a bit of the Outback to Kentucky. With a natural training approach, this native Australian wins the trust and respect of the horse and builds an unwavering relationship with them – the foundation for the daring stunts and demos he’s famous for.

 

The man from down under certainly has a leg up on horsemanship and he’s sharing his talents with the Commonwealth. Although based out of the Taylor Made operation in Nicholasville, James’ horsemanship is world-renowned.

 

Dan James' horsemanship has inspired and educated thousands around the world. (Photo by Mel Spittal, Southern Star Photography.)

His secret? Maybe it’s his easy-going, authentic approach. Or, that working with horses is just about as natural as breathing for him. Whatever it is, it’s working. He and his business partner Dan Steers started Double Dan Horsemanship in 2008 and have quickly become established figures in the horse world.

 

With a traveling show, their performances are part comedy, part display of training and all horse. The duo travels around the world sharing their knowledge and passion of horses as well as conducting multiple clinics throughout the year.

 

With a successful business in Australia, last year James started the North American branch with his move to the Bluegrass. Calling Kentucky home, James is excited for the new opportunity.

 

“Everything is about the horse in this town, which is great, and it’s a pretty interesting place in that it’s so international. When you go out, you’re bound to meet people from all over the world,” James said.

 

Although still relatively new to the area, James isn’t exactly a stranger either. Several shows and clinics have been hosted in Kentucky throughout the years, and in 2010 he wowed the audience with his incredible performance during the World Equestrian Games at the Horse Park.

 

Having grown up on a working cattle ranch in Australia, James was on the back of a horse at a mere six weeks of age but wouldn’t get a pony to call his own for several years. Instead, he would ride around on the family milk goat. By the time he was in his early teens, James was breaking colts with great success. Something clicked and his desire to learn more about the way a horse thinks became his calling.

 

Dan James performing one of his jaw-dropping routines with the horses. (Photo courtesy of Double Dan Horsemanship.)

“I think with anything you have to be passionate about what you’re doing. For me, it’s just the pure love of the horses, as corny as it sounds,” he explained.

 

And to make that connection with a horse, he believes perseverance and patience are the most important qualities. “You can’t lose your cool. Ninety percent of the time if a horse isn’t doing what you’ve asked, you haven’t explained it well enough,” he stated.

 

Talking to him you wouldn’t guess James was the shy type, but his public interactions didn’t always come so easily. “It’s kind of funny – neither myself or Dan had done any public speaking. But, the horses by our sides gave us the confidence to speak to people.”

 

And when they speak, the horses and people listen.

 

When James isn’t on the road, he’s helping promote the relationships between horses and people that are so intrinsic to the Commonwealth. Last week, he participated in the Kentucky Horse Park Literacy Program event where 4,200 fourth-graders from across Kentucky watched a performance of War Horse, a children’s novel. Scenes were acted out from the novel, and James and his horse, Amelia, helped bring the story to life.

 

And although James’ work isn’t defined by any particular horse breed, he’s certainly seeing more Thoroughbreds now that Lexington is home. “There will be some clients with Thoroughbreds that come through Taylor Made that we help, and there’s also young horses that may have problems. We help work through those problems and educate the horses,” James remarked.

 

As much as he helps horses, he is also quick to note that horses have returned the favor. The most important lessons he’s learned from his work? Patience and forgiveness. “At some point, we all make training mistakes along the way or things don’t always go right, and the horses find it within them to forgive us,” James said.

 

James’ “unbridled spirit” and his love for the horse helps continue Kentucky’s legacy. And he seems to have settled right in. His signature Aussie style, “All right mate, have a great day!” says it all.

 

Katie Shoultz is an attorney and freelance writer who is involved with multiple equine organizations and is active in the horse industry away from the racetrack. She lives with her horses on a farm in Paris. Contact Katie via email at Katie.Shoultz@gmail.com.

 
 
 
 


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