In for 10%, Dippy the racehorse pays out in love

Diplo is flanked by Barb Thompson, left, assistant to Amy Hess, and by Deirdre Barnhart. Photo courtesy John Chun

Diplo is flanked by Barb Thompson, left, assistant to Amy Hess, and by Deirdre Barnhart. Photos courtesy John Chun

A 10-percent share was all Deirdre Barnhart owned of the racehorse, but the racehorse owned every bit of her.

It was a fair exchange; one that began during a casual visit to Hollywood Park. Barnhart had gone to visit a big bay named Diplo, whom she had purchased a small share in, and the animal’s famous trainer Doug O’Neill took the unusual step of pulling the T-bred out of his stall for an inspection before handing the lead rope over to her.

“He said I should take him for a walk. It was very unusual to do, because I wasn’t a big owner. But, I took the rope and walked with him, and right away developed a connection,” she says. “He was super cool and super friendly.”

And super unforgettable.

From that moment on, Barnhart’s off hours were devoted to the horse. Leaving her hectic job at the UCLA Medical Center on a Friday night, she drove home happily planning her Saturday pilgrimage to Hollywood Park. She packed apples and carrots and made the one-hour drive toward her personal Shangri-La.

From her seat at the track, back in 2010, she cheered the beautiful gelding on as he raced, and afterwards, in the quiet of the barn, the plucky little horse would welcome her.

Diplo
Barn name: Dippy
Sire: Pleasant Tap
Dam: Blackjack Angel
Foal date: Feb. 10, 2007
“He would hear my voice as I spoke to his groom Jose, and his head would pop right over the top of his stall, and he’d just whinny and whinny and whinny at me,” she says. “It got to the point where everybody treated me like I was a big owner. People couldn’t believe how this horse responded to me.

He really was hers in everyway but legally; and everyone said so.

But after the last race of the day, on July 18, 2010, Diplo was claimed away. Shaking off her initial shock at losing the fine animal to a claim, Barnhart sadly yet graciously extended her hand to Diplo’s new trainer, Molly Pearson.

In a good turn however, Barnhart was invited to visit the horse at his new barn. “People had warned me about going to see him. You’re not supposed to go into another trainer’s barn. But because I loved the horse so much, I met Molly, and she invited me to see him the next morning,” she says.

Amy Hess, a well-known trainer, rides Diplo to win at the Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show in California last weekend.

Amy Hess, a well-known trainer, rides Diplo to win at the Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show in California last weekend.

Overnight, Diplo took sick from a bad stifle infection. His leg was blown up, and he was tied in his stall to keep him calm. But the second Barnhart entered the barn, he started whinnying and nickering his usual hello.

Pearson witnessed the affectionate exchange, and assiduously kept Barnhart in the informed about the horse’s health as he convalesced during a seven-month layup at owner Tom E. Ramsey’s Arizona farm.

When the determined Thoroughbred finally returned to racing, running at Turf Paradise and doing pretty well, Barnhart watched his races on her computer and texted his connections at the end of each race. “I think I made a real pest of myself,” she says, laughing.

She even managed to finagle a meeting with Ramsey, and told him how much she loved his horse. She offered to take him when his race days were over.

Ramsey never forgot that offer.

In February 2012, after Diplo finished second at Turf Paradise, Ramsey turned to Molly Pearson and said, “Do you still hear from that nice woman from California? I think I’m going to go ahead and give her back her horse.”

Dippy and Deirdre Barnhart are enjoying the fruits of the hard work put into his training by Amy Hess.

Dippy and Deirdre Barnhart are enjoying the fruits of the hard work put into his training by Amy Hess.

Since that momentous occasion, Barnhart has enthusiastically shepherded her ex-racehorse, whom she calls Dippy, into a new career as a competitive Jumper.

Placed in training with well-known trainer Amy Hess, Diplo has slowly adapted to a new career.

In a big way.

Last weekend, pretty Dippy won the Thoroughbred Classic Horse Show Jumper Stakes in Los Angeles and was Reserve Champion in the .95 meter division.

“After he won, I thought of something Tom Ramsey said when he gave him to me. Tom doesn’t know a thing about Jumpers, but he said to me, ‘Deirdre, the way this horse jumps around on the track, I think you’re going to have yourself quite a Jumper on your hands.’ Little did he know, he was right!”

Trail riding tips from seasoned TB trainer

Farah DeJohnette enjoys a spontaneous ride into the water. She wears her helmet most of the time, she notes.

Farah DeJohnette enjoys a spontaneous ride into the water. She wears her helmet most of the time, she notes.

Springtime and horses complete the quintessential picture so many dream about in the coldest depths of winter.

But when the barn door is open, and it’s time to step out on that first trail ride, the experience may not be a walk through the park.

Without a strong trust bond between horse and rider—one in which the rider knows the horse’s limits, and also understands his or her own capabilities as well, trail riding can be tricky, according to Farah DeJohnette, a Massachusetts-based trainer who specialized in Liberty training.

In this week’s Clubhouse Q&A, DeJohnette talks trail riding as she preps to host the Confident Trail Riding Workshop May 4 at Windhorse International in Bethlehem, Conn.

Q: How do you build trust between a horse and rider for the trails?

I’m big on baby steps on everything. There are a lot of people with well-meaning advice out there, like your more advanced friends who push you and encourage you to do more than you can.

I don’t believe in pushing a horse or rider beyond their comfort zone.

Q: How do you know what a horse and rider are capable of?

Students and horses face a number of obstacles, including this tarp, and learn to trust each other.

Students and horses face a number of obstacles, including this tarp, and learn to trust each other.

I get a baseline and work from there. First I find out what the vision is that the rider has in mind. A rider might say she “sees herself riding on the beach,” but her horse might be thinking he doesn’t. He might think he’d rather be in the pasture with his friends eating grass.

My approach revolves avoiding the “big no” or a confrontation and instead I like to find things that the hose will say yes to. This is how I take baby steps to see what the horse is willing to do, right now, and to reward him for that.

Q: So before the horse and rider ever make it to the fields and valleys, they’re doing ground work in an arena.

In the ground phase of training, we work in an arena with obstacles and fundamentals. I will purposely create a situation where the horse will escalate to a level outside his comfort zone to get a read on how sensitive the horse is, and how the rider will respond to that.

When I’m looking at a horse, I grade them on a scale of 1-10. A horse at a level 1 is a horse who is politely asking for something, he’s suggesting something. A horse at a level 10 is being hysterical, melting down, and being dangerous.

If the horse is at a Level 5 or below, he is probably somewhat negotiable, and teachable.

Some Thoroughbreds are really brave—they’ll jump anything. But others are very timid. The goal is to figure out where they are and then learn how to teach them to remain confident.

Q: Another important part of prepping for trail riding is gauging the rider’s confidence and sensitivity to their horse.

Farah DeJohnnett says she is never a "hero" on the horse, and will bail off if the situation warrants.

Farah DeJohnnett says she is never a “hero” on the horse, and will bail off if the situation warrants.

I ask people to be very real about themselves, and to describe what makes them uncomfortable. Some people think the horse should give them confidence, but that’s a rare horse. Sure there are old schoolmasters out there, but for the most part, we need to give the horse confidence. When he spooks and freaks out, if we go to the same place and start freaking out too, it only escalates it.

I quiz people to get an idea of their confidence. Some people have an irrational fear, which has nothing to do with the horse they’re riding or the situation they’re in. Then there is healthy fear, when you’re presented with a situation, like an escalating horse, and at that point I don’t care what you do in that situation except to make yourself safe.

Some people say that you should stay on your horse no matter what. We’re taught that to get off is wrong. I don’t agree with that. I will be the first one who feels a young horse escalating on me and I’m not going to be a hero about it. I’ll do whatever I need to do to get away from danger.

If your horse goes into a dead panic, I say, move away from whatever is frightening your horse. Become your horse’s hero. This will help the horse have confidence in you.

A ‘Bucket’ of hope, a shining example

Exciting Bucket arrived at Our Mims for a permanent sanctuary home after her longtime owner/trainer Vincent Fariello died.

Exciting Bucket arrived at Our Mims for a permanent sanctuary home after her longtime owner/trainer Vincent Fariello died.

With legs as clean and sound as if she never raced a day, Exciting Bucket retired to Our Mims Retirement Haven this month after a lengthy career in the claiming races.

The pretty gray mare ran 92 times for owner/trainer Vincent Fariello, earned nearly $90,000, and yet never got claimed away from the family who loved her.

After her last race at Turfway in 1999, she had chalked up 19 wins, 10 places, and 14 shows in a lengthy career highlighted by a race with Hall of Fame jockey Pat Day, who rode her to victory in a prep race on Cradle Stakes Day at River Downs in 1994.

Prior to arriving at Our Mims this month, Exciting Bucket enjoyed the life of leisure on Fariello’s farm in Piner, Ky., where the well-respected horseman personally cared for his gifted race mare.

Exciting Bucket
Sire: Grey Bucket
Dam: That’s Exciting
Foal date: April 11, 1989
Earnings: $86,304, 92 starts
The racing team was only separated by death.

In January, the mare’s loving owner died after a brief illness, and plans for the animal’s continued retirement were immediately made.

They reached out to Jeanne Mirabito to secure a permanent retirement home for the family horse at Our Mims, impressing Mirabito with their dedication to their older mare.

That call, Mirabito says, was like a silver lining in the clouds.

“We are often blasted with the heartbreak stories of the race industry. We become despondent and look desperately for some shining light to give us hope,” she says. “The Fariello family is that light.”

Exciting Bucket enjoys a romp in her new paddock at Our Mims.

Exciting Bucket enjoys a romp in her new paddock at Our Mims.

Citing the love and connection they continued to show to the horse even after her ability to earn money had ended, Mirabito says that she was honored to accept her into the sanctuary for horses.

“In my eyes, Vincent Fariello was a top-notch trainer. Bucket raced 92 times and her legs are as clean and sound as if she never raced a day. She shows no sign of the wear and tear that we so often see in horses that raced only 10 times,” Mirabito says. “As I watched her run and play in her new pasture … I just couldn’t help myself, and I spoke out loud, ‘Well done, Vincent, well done.’ All horses should be so lucky.”