Diane Carney: Are You Contributing to Our Sport?

Photo courtesy of Marketing4Equestrians


Diane Carney is a lifelong, dedicated horsewoman, who emphasizes horsemanship in every aspect of her world. Her versatility in the equestrian sport as an athlete, trainer, judge, commentator and clinician, gives her a well-rounded perspective on the industry. Carney knows where the sport has been, where it’s going and how to improve by honoring time-tested basics.

“It’s important for riders and professionals to look at the bigger picture of the sport and their role in it,” said Carney. “The future of the sport is in the hands of those coming up the ranks and there are numerous ways to make a difference.”

The leadership within the sport must always seek ways to respect history and traditions while implementing new ideas. The core value of our sport is horsemanship, and by blending the past and the present we can create new ideas that improve every aspect of it. 

Start with Horsemanship

First and foremost, everyone can start by taking a look at his or her own horsemanship, no matter what the level.  Carney herself successfully trains riders at all levels from entry level to national and international grand prix, with impressive personal and client victories on her resume. Carney knows that horsemanship goes beyond what riders accomplish in the ring and that top horsemen spend twice as much time in the barn as in the saddle to really know the horse. Taking time to brush and bathe a horse gives you time to put your hands and eyes on them to see and feel any swelling or soreness. Knowing your horse in the stall and in the paddock helps you learn more about their personality and fitness, which is what Carney calls horse IQ, which can only help the bond when you are in the tack trail riding or competing. 

“I know some of the younger professionals will laugh when we say this but, when we were kids, you couldn’t get us to go home from the stable! We were always under foot, cleaning, brushing, riding bareback, we rode western in the morning and jumped in the afternoon. We fed them, we stacked hay, we did everything, which helped us learn every aspect of the horse. One of my favorite recollections was spending hours and hours with Dr. Marvin Beeman, one of the greatest veterinarians in the country. I wasn’t sure what I was learning at the time, but years later, the information has been invaluable,” said Carney.

Every rider at every level can learn something in the barn.  Watch the vet, ask questions, watch the farrier, ask questions, watch the schooling ring at the International ring, watch how the FEI grooms put caulks in and see what size, watch Beezie Madden flat a horse. There is so much you can learn without ever getting on a horse. Read books, look at old photos and in this day and age we have video, the opportunity to watch videos helps us critique our own riding and our clients. We can watch competitions with course designers that will be our course designers and find videos on any topic: braiding, riding, jumping, lunging; it is all readily available on your phone in your hip pocket.

Why do all this? Because it is not good enough to just be a good rider, you must upgrade your horse IQ. Riders need to improve the care of their horses, enhance their performance and boost the overall standards for the future of our sport. 

Photo courtesy of Marketing4Equestrians

How Dynamic is Your Riding?

Next, riders can improve abilities by changing it up, at any level of riding. What does Carney mean by that? If you always ride in the ring, go ride in the field, take a dressage lesson, ride a cutting or reigning horse or take a polo lesson. It is important to gain experience and appreciation for all disciplines and how they relate to being a good horseman. 

“I remember it to this day, I was probably 8 years old, we rounded up cattle on a cattle ranch. We had to figure out how to steer, how to stay on while the horses were cutting the cattle, and we rode all day long. It was a great experience,” said Carney. “Everything you do on a horse or around a horse makes you a better rider.

“You cannot learn everything there is to learn about riding in a show ring,” explained Carney. “Getting experience and feeling what it is like riding up hills and down hills, on grass and in sand, crossing a stream, galloping and pushing yourself outside the comfort zone is what it’s about. Many riders who have ridden with George Morris will hear the echo of his voice saying, ‘practice your courage.’

“I have a .80m rider in Wellington and we ride courses over cavalettis in the field to strengthen her decision making and boost her confidence. That’s practicing courage for that rider,” added Carney.

We should strive to make our horses the best and our riders the most competitive. 

Photo courtesy of Marketing4Equestrians


What are you doing when you are not showing? Taking time for education is important and a great way to work on specific skills that you can then take back to the show ring.

Carney commented, “I coordinate many different kinds of clinics, which are excellent for education. The USHJA Gold Star Clinics, part of the U.S. Show Jumping Athlete Pathway, are an example of riding skills mixed with education from young horse breeders, farriers, veterinarians, and media, presented by nationally renowned professionals. They are an excellent opportunity for riders to not only learn more, but to make connections that can help them in the future. 

“In Chicago, we’ve held the George H. Morris Clinic on Thanksgiving weekend for over 35 years now. Rush Weeden’s Brookwood Farm hosts the clinic and has been involved for many of those years. People of all disciplines come to watch George teach and ride. Professionals as well as junior and amateur riders take advantage of the opportunity to ride and push themselves a bit out of their comfort zone to improve. You must allow time in your schedule for these opportunities to expand your own knowledge and abilities.”

The Chicago area also hosts several excellent educational events such as the Benchmark International Sale Horse Showcase and Jumper Derby in early June and the Galway Farm Equitation Classic and Hunter Derby in September. Both events include clinic days and offer an actual show day with commentary by Carney as the USEF Official, where riders can practice the skills they worked on during the clinic. The on-the-spot review has helped many of the riders make their fall finals and championships more competitive.

Photo courtesy of Marketing4Equestrians


As a licensed official you observe the sport from the entry level to the top levels. What Carney sees at the top of our sport is classical riding. There are times riders and judges start to drift away from the classical values and let, for example, posting at the canter or rotating a release in equitation, become insignificant faults. These are indications of intermediate riding and not advanced skills. Watch and learn from those who are at the top of the sport.

Carney’s judging resume includes the 2016 ASPCA Maclay Medal Finals, the New England Equitation Championships, WEF, HITS Thermal, Bend Oregon, Blenheim CA, Flintridge and Sonoma, CA; LA Masters, Kentucky Summer, The Ridge at Wellington, the Sunshine Series USHJA $100,000 Hunter Prix, HITS $500,000 Hunter Prix, AON/USHJA National Championship – Las Vegas, IEA, IHSA and the USEF Pony Finals.

“During the ASPCA Maclay Finals that I judged, the class divided itself into thirds. The top third had advanced horse IQ and good to excellent contact.  The other two thirds of the class needed to work more on those skills. When I talk about contact, I’m not just talking about going straight and counting; I’m talking about on a curve, lengthening and shortening. I think the course in 2016 asked those questions.” 

Observe other riders and practice with rails on the ground up to the size of the jumps you are jumping.  An example would be to pick any class McLain Ward wins and figure out how he won. Was it because he made tight turns or was it because he had a big stride? Pay attention and apply your observations to your riding. Figure out how to be more competitive by watching the top of the sport.

Photo courtesy of Marketing4Equestrians

Giving back

Everyone can improve the sport by getting involved. In 2018, Diane was honored with the Peter Wells Family Trophy at the National Horse Show in Kentucky for her service to the equestrian industry. Carney was significantly instrumental in the development of the hunter derbies, leading to the reinvention of hunters and is currently supporting the U.S. Show Jumping Athlete Pathway and a member of the USEF International Disciplines Committee.

Carney, along with Zone 5 members, established the USHJA Zone 5 College Scholarship, which has awarded over $100,000 in scholarship money to date. Dedicated to giving back to the sport, Carney is the Vice-Chairperson of the USHJA Zone 5 Committee and a member of the USHJA Emerging Jumper Rider Task Force. Carney also was Chairperson of the USHJA Special Projects Committee and participated in the Junior Hunter Task Force and the High Performance Hunter (Hunter Derby) Committees for several years as well as serving on the USHJA Board of Directors. 

“With age and experience comes responsibility to the future of our sport. Find some part of our sport that you want to do something about and do it locally if not nationally.  I think a good example of that is what World Equestrian Center does with their cadet program. If you don’t know what it is, check into it and get involved,” said Carney.  

Because of her ability to build consensus, to get the job done, and for her display of outstanding horsemanship and dedication, Carney was named the Illinois Hunter Jumper Association (IHJA) Horseperson of the Year in 2008 and was honored in 2017 as the USHJA Zone 5 Horseperson of the Year. In 2005, 2015 and 2017, Carney was presented the USHJA President’s Distinguished Service Award. Carney has dedicated her life to the equestrian sport and works to promote growth and improvements within the industry.

“I am grateful for the life I have due to the horses and to this day, I am always a student,” summarized Carney.

Carney’s parting words for riders and trainers, “In whatever you do, go forward.”

For more information on Diane Carney, visit www.telluridefarm.com.

For more information on the World Equestrian Center Cadet Program, visit their website at www.worldequestriancenter.com.

For more information on the Benchmark International Sale Horse Showcase and Jumper Derby, see www.benchmarkstables.com.

To learn more about the Galway Classic, visit www.galwayfarm.com.

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