Dianne DeFranceaux Grod: “I Just Like All Things Horse” – Part III


Foxfield Jumping Derby

The Foxfield Riding School was founded by Bill and JoAnne Postel and Nancy Terrill. Legends in California, they ran a huge program starting little kids and bringing them along to the show ring. JoAnn and Nancy were twins. They ran a fantastic program that started hundreds and hundreds of kids. 

Dianne rode in their first three Foxfield Derbies, winning two and taking second in the other. To retire the trophy you had to win three, a feat later accomplished by Susie Hutchinson, whose earlier win had prevented Dianne from winning the first three derbies in a row. 

The course included natural obstacles, jumping through trees, and jumping in and out of the ring. There was a junior/amateur division, as well as Preliminary/Intermediate. Not only were the classes fun and unusual, but the competition itself was also a different format. It included brunches, and the first one was televised. 

The school program continues to this day, with many relatives and earlier students now working in the program. There were camps too. Kids came from all over the place to attend. They would fight with their parents to be allowed to go to those camps! The school made it through fires and floods, with a lot of natural obstacles to overcome over the years. “They were one of a kind,” says Dianne.

The Godfather

The Godfather was one of Dianne’s heart horses—one she will never forget. Ira Schulman purchased the horse off the track in Oklahoma, the same state where legendary Idle Dice was born. Bernie Traurig tried The Godfather at Harrisburg, but the horse tied up while he was riding him. Rodney Jenkins was not in love with the horse because he was such a poor shipper, so his wife Patty (Rodney’s first wife) called Dianne and said “Rodney made me move him off the farm; he said he never wanted to see him again.”

The Godfather (Papa) had never been in the show ring as a jumper before Dianne got him. He would hurt himself kicking on the trailer; he kicked everything around him. Rodney had shipped him to Florida but couldn’t show him, so shipped him back home, and told his staff to get Papa off the property! The horse was at Jay Golding’s property when Dianne and Steve went to try him. “We jumped him over four jumps and said ‘Let’s deal!’ We bought Papa from Patty for $15,000.”

To ship him safely to his new home, they sent their Imperatore horse van cushioned with mattresses so he couldn’t hurt himself. Dianne’s groom, Lynn Gola, rode in the peak of the van and held on to him…for 3000 miles! For the first six months they had him, Lynn always rode in the peak with him; she had her own mattress in there. The horse adored her.

Once they reached California, Dianne, who was still married to Steve at the time, said “Please don’t sell this horse to someone who won’t have me ride him.”

Steve replied, “Of course I won’t do that!” He lied, again.

Meryl Ann Tanz had planned to buy him so Dianne could show Papa, who they feared would not pass the vet due to all the trailer trauma. The vet said there was nothing mechanically wrong, and pronounced him serviceably sound, but they passed him up. Steve decided to let Dee Hartman, who was already a client with six or seven horses, try him. Dee was actually the first one to show him as a Jumper. Dianne had spent several months schooling the horse. Dee won the first class and then wrecked in the second and that was the last time she showed him. Not long after that, Mrs. Schneider bought him for Dianne to show. Mrs. Schneider watched the horse jump once, and said, “Done.”

Dianne showed him that year, 1972, and they took him to Florida with them. Rodney rode him once and wanted to buy him back! Dianne says, “He was my first international caliber horse and when Dennis Murphy saw him that night at the Invitational Grand Prix in Tampa when Dianne was tied for fourth with just a foot in the water, he wanted us to deliver him to Tennessee so he could try him the next day. Dianne, of course, did not want him to leave.

Once he arrived, she says, “They had someone watch his stall all night.” The horse wouldn’t pee in the truck or with someone watching him so when Dennis rode him the next morning, he tied up. (“Thank God,” says Dianne!) They passed on him. “That was the end of that deal.” Dianne was like “Oh gosh so sorry,” while secretly delighted. 

Dianne was asked to go to Las Vegas to jump a car for the Opening Ceremonies of the National Finals Rodeo. Her truck broke down on the way, but, rescued by team penning friends, she made it to Vegas. Back at the farm, her brother, who had been living with her and owed money to the phone company, got his phone hooked up under Continental Farms at his apartment. Dianne had told people to keep trying information to see when she had a phone for the farm, and Mrs. Schneider kept trying. Mrs. Schneider called and asked to speak to Dianne. Her brother answered. He said, “Why would she be here? I haven’t seen her in days.”

Mrs. Schneider, not realizing he was lying, became furious, and moved the three horses they owned together. Dianne came home to her farm, empty of those horses. During the move The Godfather was injured, having been carelessly moved in a two-horse trailer. Dianne called Susie Hutchison and asked, “Do you have him?” Susie answered, “No, of course we don’t have him.”

Then she called Linda Allen to see if she had him. She didn’t have him either. When she did find The Godfather, at Mrs. Schneider’s farm, Dianne found her horse badly injured. She arranged for a vet to come out and treat Papa. The vet knew he couldn’t bill Bernice Schneider because he wasn’t supposed to be there. Papa required hundreds of stitches. Thanks to the farm manager they were able to get him the help he needed. But Dianne didn’t have her horse anymore. 

The Godfather went to Linda Allen, whose rider at the time, Carine King, showed him frequently. They won the Santa Anita Classic (Grand Prix) and was champion at every horse show in California. Linda took him to Europe and showed him there, but he started having lameness issues and came back to California. 

Poor Papa was sent to a northern California racetrack to become a lead pony for Mrs. Schneider’s racehorses because “All horses have to earn their keep.” Then she died, and someone in her family just stuck the horse out in a field. Papa ended up in a dry pasture in Northern California, not getting any feed other than the pasture. Dianne put a $1500 reward out to try to find someone who knew his whereabouts. 

A Sacramento horse trainer called Dianne’s friend Rudy Leone and told him she had a horse that she could beat him on and she was going to take him to a show to prove it. It was Papa. Apparently, she had trouble hauling him because they didn’t show up. Rudy knew Dianne had a reward out and he put two and two together so he went to check if he was in fact “my” horse. Rudy sent his empty horse van to pick the horse up. 

Dianne was team penning in Northern California, and Rudy arranged to let him spend the night near where she was. Some friends accompanied her when she went to see him. Papa was in a stall with a paddock that continued down a grade ending at the road you came in on. “We stood at the bottom and when I called ‘Papa, Papa,’ he came running down the grade whinnying the whole time. It was an incredibly emotional experience for all concerned.”

They brought him to Dianne’s farm in Temecula where Papa became a trail horse. His former groom, Lynn, came up to ride him. “He was around 25 at the time, and had a great retirement.” When Papa died he was buried on the farm. The Godfather was inducted into the CPHA Equine Hall of Fame in 2016.

Jumping a Car on Horseback

Dianne’s friend Connie Griffith worked at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas doing tricks for a dinner show. She called Dianne and said, “You have to come to Vegas and jump a car in the opening ceremony before the National Finals Rodeo starts.”

“They were doing the program based on the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and different events were planned accordingly. So they had match races, barrel races, all kinds of cowgirl things and they wanted me to jump a car.” 

You don’t just go out and jump a car on any horse.

But Dianne had one horse that could do it: Elan, a Thoroughbred. She didn’t take the assignment lightly. They prepared. Larry Mayfield, one of her best friends, and Bill Herring helped her at the horse shows. They were two of the best coaches in California. Bill was Fleet Apple’s trainer. “They were good guys to be friends with,” says Dianne. Putting their heads together they came up with weird configurations she could practice jumping.  Larry drew a diagram, “They went above and beyond,” remembers Dianne. 

She could only practice at 2 a.m. in the morning after the rodeo was over. Wearing white leather with feathers, white nylons. and a great big cowboy hat, her outfit was based on the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. It was November and freezing. Dianne couldn’t even feel her toes. While practices went very well, during the performance the footing was terrible. Bull riding was the first rodeo event after opening the arena and was prepared a little deep to protect fallen cowboys.

“Not great footing to jump a car on,” recalls Dianne. “Because it was so deep Elan struggled a bit off the ground, barely rubbing the pole on top of the car in spite of our needed pace. It slowly rolled off which was a bit of a bummer but still so much fun in front of a capacity crowd.” A spotlight shone on Dianne and Elan illuminating their jump for onlookers. “Everyone went crazy! Larry Mayfield, Bill Herring, and Tad Griffith (Connie’s son and the director of our opening) were all in the arena. and the sponsor of the opening ceremony, Paula and Michael Gaughan, who owned the Orleans Casino, gave us tickets to the rodeo. It was fun!”

Puissance Masters 

Dr. Dan Brumfield owned a little Quarter Horse (Bammala Bobby) that Dianne won the first of many Puissance classes on. The mare had shown locally, and Dianne had seen her at the shows. Dr. Brumfield was very tall and had to pick his legs up over the jumps! The highest fences he jumped were 4′. While he was too big for her, he was a sharp horseman.

One day he called Dianne up and said “We want to put the horse in training with you because we want Bobby to win the Puissance at the Forum. Everyone at Dianne’s barn laughed, but they took the horse in. “Sure she’s going to win the Puissance,” they thought. Yet Dianne jumped her at home, up to 7’2″. The mare was probably 15.3 and 100 percent brave!

 Dianne practiced with her, doing other classes besides the Puissance and doing very well. They always pinned! The mare wore her ears flat against her head when she was going around, she’d buck and kick out, and there was no sophistication to her style of going. But she loved it, she got her satisfaction out of giving her all for Dianne over the fences. She had to work hard but she did it. “All you had to do was kick her a couple of times in front of the jump and she’d back off and jump up, she was just an amazing athlete,” Dianne recalls. 

“She ended up winning many Puissance classes. Sam Register bought her from us specifically as a Puissance horse. Back then there were a lot of Puissance classes. One day she decided she wasn’t going to do that with him anymore and just went through the middle of the wall.” He gave her back to Dianne, who was at Rancho Bernardo at the time. Giving the mare some time off, they just trail rode for a while, letting her forget about jumping. Then they brought her back and she “tried her guts out all over again and she went right back to winning again!” 

One of Dianne’s clients bought her, Carol Smith Shannon from Valley Lane Farms, she was famous in the Saddlebred world. Her father was very wealthy but then was put in prison and Carol lost her farm. Bobby was bred to a Thoroughbred stallion Carol had and had an amazing foal, Bommola Bob. 

Although Carol was trying hard to support them, her horses weren’t being properly cared for after she lost her farm. Bommola Bob, a four-year-old. had never had a halter on him; his feet and teeth were never done. Carol gave him to Dianne. You couldn’t lead him or ride him; breaking him was proving quite the project. So Dianne had a cowboy come in, and he got Bob to where she wasn’t afraid to ride him.

“He was a great horse, that line of horses they were doers! I sold him in partnership with one player from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, one from the L.A. Rams, and the fitness coach from the San Diego Chargers who I dated briefly and who put the deal together. Sadly, I agreed to a contract that said if one owner wanted out, the horse had to be sold. We could not buy each other out. They did not understand the reasons behind bringing him along the right way; he had to be sold unless he was going to jump bigger right away.

John Simpson had always told Dianne “If you find a big Quarter Horse that jumps as well as Texas let me know,” so Dianne told him about Bammala Bob. He purchased him, and the horse got short listed for the Olympics! “But John had him out in a big pasture in Alberta, Canada, and he got caught up in barbed wire. He survived but would never be that caliber again. He became an amateur horse.”

At the inaugural Coto de Caza Horse Show, Bommala Bobby won every Open Jumper class and the Grand Prix. Her daughter Bommala Babe won every Green Jumper class and Miles Greenwood (another Brumfield horse) was second in every class behind “Babe”. The Brumfields’ horses swept all the jumper classes at that show!

Judging at Napoleon’s Estate

During the Los Angeles Olympics Dianne was a ring steward. A Frenchman, J.P. Barceau, came up to Dianne’s boyfriend Brian, and asked, “Do you know who Victor Hugo-Vidal is?”

Brian answered yes. 

J.P. said, “I’m from France and I want to start selling horses in this country. I have a lot of access to all the best jumper trainers.” 

Brian replied, “Victor doesn’t have jumpers, he has great hunters and eq horses but isn’t a jumper guy. But my girlfriend is.” 

“That’s how I met him, that year at Santa Anita,” says Dianne. “Then I went over to Europe where I had much better luck with him in Germany and Austria instead of France. At that time French horses were mouthy and not that broke in the face so it was a much longer turnaround.”

Years later Dianne got a call from J.P. “I’m going to manage a horse show on Napoleon’s estate in Reuil-Malmaison. I want you to be the foreign judge, and invite the American team to show there and I need a course designer as well.”

Dianne chose Robert Ridland to be the course designer and called George to see if he was going to be in Europe. He said, “Yes, I’ll be there.”

She had a hard time not panicking when Robert missed his plane! He sent the courses ahead of him, which she had to set up until he got there. “We had a lot of fun at the time. My boyfriend went with me and we had such a good time; we drove all through France. It was the 50th anniversary of the landing in Normandy, and we were in one of those towns for their reunion. Meeting people who had actually fought in that war and landed on those shores, it was so educational! We had the best time!”

“We did the show twice and both times were very successful and all the best riders came. The first year George was still riding. The ring was outlined by metal stakes in the ground with ropes that designated the perimeters of the ring. It was a guide for the riders. George was in the ring and he misses big time, right near our elevated judge’s booth. He ends up wrapped around the horse’s neck. I was scared to death; I thought the horse was going to run through that rope or wire. I thought I was going to witness George’s death!

“Finally he gets himself together and rides over towards us and says ‘What the hell was that?!’

“We were all laughing hysterically and so grateful that he’d stayed on the horse. It was a great experience for the American team as well and a highlight for Robert as two of his earliest course designs in Europe. It was such a beautiful, beautiful place. We never went inside, we were just on the grounds. It was spectacularly beautiful.”


Dianne has excelled with Thoroughbreds, Arabs, Quarter Horses, and warmbloods. She’s won in Grand Prix and Puissance, including representing the United States in two separate Nations Cup classes, team penned, been an exercise rider on the track, scored national wins with hunters, and coached others to success all the way up to the Grand Prix Level.

She’s won the CPHA Lifetime Achievement Award, was inducted into the VHSA Hall of Fame, was the trainer/rider of The  Godfather, who was also inducted into the CPHA Lifetime Equine Hall of Fame, managed numerous horse shows, rode and trained an Arabian to the USEF Horse of the Year (over all divisions, the first time for an Arabian!), took the VHSA Jumper Champion of the year on a homebred and raised half-Arabian, and won year-end awards in team penning, among countless other accolades.

Excelling with a tremendous variety of horses in many different disciplines, Dianne has enjoyed great success no matter what the breed or sport. Besides her passion for “all things horse,” she credits her idols for her unprecedented accomplishments. She is now booking clinics and loves being a ground man for aspiring riders.

Dianne believes, “It’s important to have idols because I don’t I think I would ever have gone as far as I did without them. It keeps you motivated to be where you weren’t already. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be a legend, but it gives you that ‘want to.'”

Click Here for Part I.

Click Here for Part II.

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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