Dianne Grod: I Just Like All  Things Horse

by Ann Jamieson

Saving Her Son

Dianne and Steve got divorced. Tired of moving all the time, Dianne built a farm in San Marcos in order to stay in one place. It was a 10-acre, 40-stall farm, and she never thought she would live anywhere else.

“We would have stayed there forever but my son Steve had a serious football accident which resulted in his pancreas being cut in half! I was in Belgium at Nelson Pessoa’s when I got the news of my son’s accident. They said he got hurt but was fine, so while I had to wait a couple of days for another horse to arrive for me to try I decided to fly to Sweden to watch my client Barry Woods compete in a speed boat race. Upon arrival at the hotel I found out things had taken a serious turn for the worse and my son was heading into the first of four life-saving surgeries. Because I kept getting bumped off last-minute flights it took me 36 hours to get back to San Marcos. My parents had already arrived from the East Coast.”

Meanwhile, her son had been given last rites. When Dianne finally worked her way home she learned that the second surgery seemed to have been a success. Besides the pancreas, she learned that other organs had been damaged as well. 

She met Steven’s surgeon, who had rushed to the hospital so fast that he still had his cowboy boots on. He asked her if she had someone else she’d rather do surgery on Steven because few surgeons had ever operated on a pancreas (at one time there were many injuries to the pancreas because the first seat belts crossed directly across the lap, but the invention of the three-point belts fixed that). Dianne said she trusted him to go ahead. Steve ended up with four surgeries and spent seven months in the hospital. Dianne quit riding, too tied up with all of her son’s surgeries and care.

“He has some really interesting scaring on his chest,” she notes, and “millions of dollars of hospital bills.” He was supposed to be on her ex-husband Steve’s health insurance, but he wasn’t. Dianne had $25,000 in Football Insurance but ended up having to put the farm for sale to pay the hospital bills. Then the buyers defaulted on the third trust deed to Dianne. She had to file for bankruptcy and was never able to recover the farm.

Team Penning, and Sassy 

Dianne moved north, an hour north of San Marcos to Temecula. She was under tremendous stress from her son’s injuries and the economic strain of footing the hospital bills. That’s when her friend, Annie Ommert Lambert, called her, and said “You’ve got to do something to relieve your stress. I’m doing this thing called team penning. It’s really fun. You get to yell at the cattle. You need to come try it.”

The team penning was at night, only 10 minutes from the hospital. While Dianne didn’t think she’d be interested, she went anyway. The first time she went down there to watch, her friend brought a horse so she could ride. It was love at first ride. “It was a great stress reliever I just loved it!

“There was an event at my first official Team Penning called a ‘One on One’. There would be 10 numbered cattle at one end of the arena, one man teams. When you were given the countdown and your cow’s number, you had to get it out of the herd and take it down the arena, and put it in the pen. Definitely, God had a hand in getting that cow right out of the herd and into that pen. There were a ton of contestants and I won with a time of 36 seconds and got almost $600 for the win. I was hooked! All my competitive instincts kicked in. My son’s doctor also team penned. My attraction moved from gangsters to cowboys.”

Dianne loved it so much that she went out and bought a horse who had won the National Snaffle Bit Futurity, getting her at a bargain price of $500 because the mare was a bad shipper. Sandy Arledge, who is getting inducted into the Quarter Horse Hall of Fame this year, started team penning with her. 

“I just have these competitive urges,” explains Dianne. I don’t think I ever do anything for fun. I think I just always have to compete. When I first tried it I thought, ‘Oh yeah this is fun. I like this. And you can win money.’

“That first mare I had died; she could have been my forever horse but had to be put down because of an injury. The next mare I had until she was 36 years old. She was by Sassy Doc, by Doc Bar. Lady Sassy Reed belonged to friends of mine in Arizona. I borrowed horses for a couple of months and then they sent me this mare. She had been a big-time cutting horse and had won Futurities. They were breeders so they bred her this one year and sold the baby for a ton of money. The owners decided not to breed her again.

“They put about six weeks on her getting her fit again and she was ready to go. It wasn’t long after that that I went to the Cow Palace for the World Championship Team Penning Association finals. The hardest thing for her was to run into a herd. She was used to backing up and singling a cow out. All I did was spur her a couple of times and she went ‘Ok, different game.’ She was really the best, one of the best horses I’ve ever had, right up there with my top Grand Prix horses. 

“I had jumped her at times, hopped her over a cross rail in a western saddle.” One day a kid at a show couldn’t ride in her class because her horse had a girth sore. Dianne said “Let me see if I can get Sassy entered in something. So I entered her in the lowest class they had which was 3′ that day. After a few rounds with that horse, she’d jump a line and then try to trot or something but then she went in with that kid after I did a few schooling rounds, and they ended up being equitation champions at Del Mar! There was nothing this horse couldn’t do, nothing!

“Then all my kids wanted to ride her. For Kaydie Bennett, Sassy was the first horse she rode, and she showed her for several years. When the mare was 24 or 25 Kaydie’s parents said they really wanted to buy Sassy. I said ‘I can’t sell her; I promised her I would never sell her. But I’ll give her to you if you promise you will take care of her the way I take care of her for the rest of her life.

“This is when I was moving to Reno. So I would go up to their place and stop in because I’d go to Indio with Julie Winkel and sometimes I would stop in unexpectedly to check in on her. She was bedded to her knees and so well cared for. Kaydie and I always stayed in touch. Sassy died with them at 36. They were so appreciative and did what they said they were going to do.”

At one point she loaned Sassy to her boyfriend, Mike Quick, to ride in the men’s ride at the Rancheros Visitadores Ride, up in the Santa Inez area. “Reagan went on the ride, lots of wealthy men do it and they’re all in different camps. Mike rode her into a bar and  there’s a picture of him sitting on her drinking in a bar.”

“I had to get up on the fender of a horse trailer to get on her. She could be 4′ away from the trailer, knew I was getting on and would move right next to the fender so I could get on. This man saw her one time and said ‘Bet you can’t do that again.’

Dianne said, “OK, do you have $50 bucks? And he said ‘Yup!'”

Dianne got on the fender again and called, “C’mere Sassy,” and the mare sidepassed over to the trailer and Dianne got on, winning $50. “She was 15.1 but everyone thought she was bigger because I looked small on her. She’s right up there in my top horses along with The Godfather.”

Training Julie Winkel 

After retiring from her public training business, Dianne was offered a private job coaching Julie Winkel. Julie had ridden with her for a year or two before Dianne moved to Reno, Nevada. Julie’s husband was planning to fly Dianne back and forth, but Dianne had a fear of small planes because Benny had died in a small plane crash. So Dianne sold her house in California and moved to Reno to coach Julie for a few years.

Julie had been showing two young stallions in the Preliminary Jumpers and needed help with them. Her goal was to get them up to the Grand Prix level. With Dianne’s help, they did. But Julie was going through some personal challenges at the time, and money became an issue. They parted as friends, and still maintain that friendship.

Dianne also wanted to have the time to help others. She did some clinics while in Nevada, and among the people she coached was Lynn Mullens, whose goal was to compete in a Grand Prix just once. Dianne helped her accomplish that goal. She’d known Lynn since she was a teenager riding at Sleepy Hollow. Riding a horse borrowed from her nephew, Lynn not only rode in but placed in the Grand Prix!

Lynn’s dad, Stu Carnall, was a country star agent. As a result, Dianne had the chance to spend time with some superstars. “Willie Nelson,” she says, “was the kindest gentleman.” He talked horses with her, as well. Dianne attended many of Merle Haggard’s concerts and his wedding (his fourth) which was held at Stu and Lori’s house in Gardnerville, Nevada. When in Reno, Merle only played at Harrah’s. Waylon Jennings was another star Dianne came to know well. Once a girl came to Dianne’s house to audition for him, accompanied by her pet skunk.

Al-Marah Arabians

Dianne’s next move was to train Arabian sport horse hunters at Al-Marah Arabians, a top facility for the breed. It was the farm where she had bred her Thoroughbred mare and was graced with her beloved “Almost Wasn’t (Impy).” The facility had since moved from Maryland to Tucson, Arizona.

Arabian sport horses compete in hunters, jumpers, sport horse in hand hunter type, and dressage. Dianne had known Bazy Tankersley, Al-Marah’s owner, since she was only three. Mostly 14 hands or under, the horses proved a perfect fit for Dianne’s petite 4’9″  frame. Arab crosses were a bit bigger. The situation proved a great working environment. Dianne’s housing was included, and she was paid a great salary. Basically, her only expenses were for groceries and personal driving. Dianne not only trained the horses, but she also taught girls that were on the farm as part of the farm’s apprenticeship program. There were usually 22 apprentices on the farm at once. “I got to keep teaching which I loved as well.”

Their stallion, Good Old Boy, was only 13.2, and the sire of most of their sport horses. He was 22 and the farm manager told Dianne he wanted her to start him over fences. At 22! “He was a really cute jumper but didn’t have the most step in the world. But he did really well, placing in the top 10 at the Sport Horse Nationals that year.” The horse had formerly been a reining horse but made the transition with ease. 

“I ended up loving the horses. Arabians love their people, I think more so than most horses. Where they originated they lived in the tent. They were a member of the family. It really runs in their blood. They did just about everything but get in your lap. Once you connected with them, they were really your horse. I used to say ‘Oh Arabians,’ but now I have a whole different respect for them. I had two different half-Arabs that I had a lot of success with, but purebred Arabs I never thought would be my forte. I was old when I started with them so it was just another time I re-invented myself. They are a very, very versatile breed.”

Many of Good Old Boy’s babies were champion at Sport Horse Nationals with Dianne, and she had great success there on several other Al-Marah Arabians including 2010 USEF Arabian Horse of the Year (among all disciplines), Mighty Hector.  A five-year-old Sport Horse stallion, he was the first Sport Horse to win the Arabian HOTY title.

Freelancing

Dianne has worked extensively with Candice King and took Dan Silverstone’s horses up to through Grand Prix. While some were already at that level, Dan was working to reach that division. He had to learn to connect with the horses he had imported.

Dianne coached Hannah Mauritzon in the LA Masters, helping her place in every class she competed in! “We had a great week! I coached her at many horse shows that year, and she made around $50,000 in prize money!” Some of her horses were for sale, while some just helped her get more exposure on an international scale.

Working with the Canadian eventing team was different. One rider wanted her to walk the cross-country course with her, and Dianne found herself intimidated by the fences and the course! Therese Washtock and her clients came to Galway Downs in Temecula, as several FEI events were held at the site. She had stalls there, and they passed by Dianne every day. One of Dianne’s students was Hawley Bennett who later rode on the Canadian Team.

Dianne helped the eventers with the stadium phase. The difference between event stadium and show jumping stadium was that the horses are a little less careful after cross country. After jumping a lot of obstacles that don’t fall down, the riders had to learn to get their horses backed off and jump up to clear the stadium jumps..

Dianne also worked with Nick Zwick, whose horses just needed sharpening up to keep them as confident in the ring as at high speed over an event course. Dianne enjoyed working with the eventers.

Stay tuned for Part III


About the Author: Ann Jamieson wanted to be a horse show judge since she was a child, and has now held her USEF “”r”” judge’s cards for over 30 years. She writes about both horses, and travel, (and particularly loves combining the two). Ann is the author of the “”For the Love of the Horse”” series, four volumes of amazing true stories about horses, and the proud mom of her Secretariat grandson, Fred Astaire (Tucker).
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