DANIELLE DUNN and Zocarla BLH, the mare with “the huge heart who only wants to please” are on their way to Badminton.

Having trudged around the big fences of the Duke of Beaufort’s estate since she was a tot, Danni will now compete over them for real in May having qualified thanks to a series of fine results in major three-star events last year.

The pick was a fifth place at Chatsworth CIC*** but she backed that up with a seventh in the Under-25 Championship at Bramham CCI*** and 11th at Blenheim Palace CCI***.

“We had a brilliant 2016 in Zo’s first season at three-star events,” said Danni, who has a team of five competition horses based on the family farm near Cricklade.

“We had thought about trying her for maybe half a year and then drop back a level but she went clear in five events and just kept on giving.

“She can look tiny in the yard but she has a big heart and a big leap in her.”

Zo, her stable name, faces the step up again this season to international four-star events but the affectionate bond Danni clearly has with her stable star leaves her exuding confidence.

“She’s qualified for Badminton so why not,” said Danni. “She has nothing more to prove in three-stars and I think the bigger jumps and the greater stamina required will suit her.

"Agility is her best attribute, she gets herself out of trouble “I could not think of a better horse for my first partner at Badminton.”

Zocarla BLH joined the team at Wells Farm in unusual circumstances.

“We saw ‘Zo’ advertised online but thought she was too much money,” said her 24-year-old rider. “Then out of the blue the owner, Jenny Lockyer, rang up a few days later and said she wanted to send the mare to us.

“I always thought she was special but you never know how far they will go. It’s pretty special just to get a horse to qualify for Badminton.”

When The Standard phoned Danni, she was out hacking alongside her mum Jacquie – who very much has equal status in their partnership.

A professional event rider herself, who rode at both Badminton and Burghley, Jacquie is always Danni’s first port of call for advice.

She has also bred not one but two up-and-coming sports stars, Danni and her younger brother James who will compete in the MX2 World Motocross Championship in 2017.

“Mum and I are a close-knit team. Her eyes are invaluable,” said Danni. “She still teaches and I also have wonderful coaches in Ali Byrne and my mentor Richard Waygood.”

But Danni has never forgotten the part played in her success by Jane Kidd who took the Prior Park Prep School pupil and later Cheltenham Ladies’ College student under her wing as a complete novice at the age of eight.

“Jane taught me all I know,” admitted Danni. “She was a showjumper for Britain who turned to dressage. I well remember getting off the school bus and getting straight into the horse box and mum driving us to Jane’s place for lessons.

“What she taught me over a period of 10 years was the gospel. I saw her again only a couple of months ago and I still value what she has to say.”

From those early days Danni has competed successfully on a series of ponies and then horses.

At the age of three she joined the VWH Pony Club, graduated to going hunting with her grandfather and then Jane Kidd started to smooth off the rough edges.

At the age of 10 she finished runner-up in the BSPS Championships on a pony called VIP. A couple of years later she was part of the winning team on her first trip overseas at the Ballindenisk International pony competition in Ireland.

The switch to horses proved a smooth progression, firstly with a fabulous horse called Boundalong and then aboard What A Catch, on whom she competed for GB at her first Young Riders’ European Championships.

In five years competing on Zocarla, she has gone from basic BE 100 events to another Young Riders’ European Championship, claiming a team silver in the Senior European 2* Championships of 2015 and on to her breakthrough year in 2016.

Badminton will be ticked off Danni’s wish list come May and any further appearances under the GB banner will be gratefully accepted, but she has one further omission on her CV that she hopes to rectify soon.

“I can’t deny I was terribly disappointed not to be selected for the world class programme,” said Danni of the National Lottery-funded initiative that steers promising youngsters with the potential to win medals at international events on their pathway to success.

“What hurts you makes you strong and I am a fighter,” she said. “We have to turn it around.”

With her mentor Waygood now assigned to the world class programme, don’t bet against Danni joining that elite set sooner rather than later.

And prepare to be surprised when she and Zocarla BLH, the mare with the “heart of gold”, take the leap at Badminton in the spring.

DANIELLE DUNN is backed by owners and supporters like Gill and George Horton of Rabson Manor XC Schooling, Broad Hinton and Kevin Hutchins, owner of Busy Fingers Printing in Cirencester. If you would like to join as a sponsor or send Danni a horse, contact danielled@dsl.pipex.com