Although he vehemently describes himself as a showjumper, Dominey is not content to excel in just one discipline. As confident in the dressage arena as he is jumping, we’ve seen him ride from a stellar performance in a CDI class straight into a CSI at the same venue. He’s even tried his hand at Western riding, and jokes that he’d love to get a Quarter Horse. Also an avid athlete, he has competed in Iron Man events, and it’s not unusual to see him jogging through Kyalami when he isn’t on a horse or at the gym. But Dominey attributes his success in riding largely to his relationship with his horses.
“I play a lot of sports, and I have to say that riding is very much a mental game. First, you have to build a rapport with your horses – after all, you’re going into battle with them. But each one is different. I work well with mares, but maybe that’s because I like women. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy time with my male friends, just as I get on with my stallions. Otto (Don Natiello) is my ‘bloke’ – we don’t cuddle; it would be strange. But I have a different relationship with my ‘girls’; they’re a lot more emotional.
“I find it’s the same when working with people. I’m lucky because my clients are straightforward – sometimes they get emotional, but they’re always honest. Perhaps it’s just the type of person I gravitate to. My wife, Karen, is an uncomplicated, straightforward person, too.”
“Competing at this level puts tremendous pressure on our horses,” he explains. “In South Africa, our horses have to wear a lot of ‘hats’. We ask them to compete indoors, outdoors, in Derby, and in World Cup Qualifiers. There aren’t enough high-level horses for us to have one for all the different classes.” Importing horses comes with its own set of complications. “You can bring in a great 1.40m horse from Europe, but then you have to be able to ride him to do well.”
While South Africans are on a growth curve in terms of riding skill, there remains a gap between our ability and that of riders abroad. “Bringing in schoolmasters would be a good thing – some riders do need easier horses – but the expense is an issue. Thank goodness for the owners who are happy to let someone else ride their horses!” Dominey has great appreciation for the patrons of the sport who make it possible for athletes to develop by financing rides or other programmes. “At top level, it’s an incredibly expensive sport. We have riders with budgets of eight to 10 million who can’t find a horse to go to the Olympics.”
“In Europe, the riding scene is very different; it’s almost like Formula One. The vibe is incredible and the shows are managed so cleverly – they have lots of series with big prizes.” Dominey laughs when he tells us of his own international experience. “I remember when I rode at Gothenburg, I had to do a signing session; I was terrified because I thought no one would know me! As it happened, they had me seated between Jerry Smit and Rodrigo Pessoa, so I did hundreds of autographs.”
On the local front, there’s certainly no chance of going unrecognised; last year, he cut a striking figure at the Galencia Property SA Derby as he walked the course with his students. “The fact that I didn’t have a horse to ride meant that I was 100% with my students,” he says. “It was tougher than you’d realise: I ‘rode’ every round – four in the Micro Derby and six in the big Derby.”
Dominey is an enthusiastic coach and loves the time spent in this pursuit. “I think that if I don’t have a horse, I could become a coach – I’d rather be a full-time coach than a part-time rider! Coaching is a big commitment. My riders had comprehensive preparation for Derby. Of course, we made sure the riders and horses were all fit enough, but there’s so much more to it. You have to listen to your riders; at this level they know how to ride. It’s my job to take it further.”
Here, again, he comes back to the mental aspect of the sport. “I try to instil confidence and a sense of calm – these things can overcome most feelings of inability. When I went to the World Cup overseas, I had the support of sports coach, Jannie Botha [mental coach for the Vodacom Blue Bulls].” Dominey explains that, during moments of self-doubt, Jannie would remind him of the importance of the right mindset. “Jannie calls it MA and PA,” he chuckles. “Motivation/ambition and preparation/attitude. Get that right and you’re on the right track.” Clearly it works – under his tutelage, Anne-Marie Esslinger won the class last year.
It seems that Mr Alexander has a knack for getting things right, whether he’s in the saddle himself, or assisting others in that role. “I love what I do. It does help that I have a talent, but at 48, I still get excited about it.” It’s a privilege that most of us aspire to.