With flash bulbs popping and surrounded by a police escort, Diane was ushered into the bright sunshine (and spotlight!) at Hialeah Racetrack on a day in February, 1969. A day she'll never forget. Midst both boos and cheers from the crowds lining the pathway to the paddock, she was about to become the first woman to ever ride in a pari-mutuel race in the U.S. That fact was not foremost on her mind. She was going to be given an opportunity to do what she knew she could do and was determined to give it her best shot. Those were her thoughts. They are still her thoughts...to do the best at whatever may come her way. She didnt win that day on Bridle n Bit, but at the age of 20, she looked forward to the exciting years that lay before her.
Invitations started pouring in - to ride in Puerto Rico, Venezuela, the Fairgrounds at New Orleans and oh, the thrill of it all! Some of her greatest fans were women, of course, but none could match the ardor of the Puerto Rican women! She was invited to ride in a match race in Puerto Rico.. A match race is between two horses. She was matched against this tough little Puerto Rican guy. Puerto Rico is not known to particularly abide by any stringent rules, meaning anything goes. When they came flying out of the starting gate, this little jockey pulled up alongside her horse, jerking the reins and doing whatever he could to unseat her. Sportsmanship being what it was in that little part of the world, she did the first thing that came to mind. She cracked him over the head with her riding whip. The women booed their own country's jockey, tossing rotten tomatoes and threatening bodily harm to him after the race. Diane was greeted by cheering enthusiastic women who loved it!
So followed the wins and the failures and following the racing circuit. She had another dream tucked away. How she would love to ride in the Kentucky Derby! Every jockey's and trainer's dream. During that first year, Diane had 40 wins to date and some of them quite impressive. Then came another unexpected opportunity which made all other achievements to date pale in significance.
She and her husband were training horses for an elderly gentleman,, Mr. Brown. He was not too well and he had his dream - entering one of his horses in the Kentucky Derby before he was too ill to pursue anything. One morning he went to the barn to ask Diane's husband if he would be embarrassed to run Fathom in the Derby, knowing he was a long shot. Her husband answered, "Mr. Brown, I'll run Fathom down that road there if you want me to!" So Mr. Brown nominated Fathom for the Derby - and asked if Diane would ride him. Because of that lovely, elderly man's final wish, she became the first woman to ride in the Kentucky Derby. She didn't win on Fathom...but she didn't come in last either!
On the other side of the world in Viet Nam, her brother, Bert, was sitting in the barracks that day listening to the Armed Forces Network Services radio when he heard what he said was a startling thing. His sister was riding in the Kentucky Derby! There was much excitement in the barracks that day, breaking up the stress of a terrible war for a little while.
Then came the injury that threatened to end Diane's career once and for all. She had many injuries over the years, but none as severe as this one. A horse that she had been riding reared over backward pinning her beneath his crushing weight. The bones in Diane's left leg were severely fractured and her ankle was crushed. The prognosis was that she would never ride again. As Diane lay day after day in a bed of pain, the phone calls and cards and well-wishers helped lift her spirits. With no insurance, a wonderful Foundation called the Don McBeth Foundation offered to cover all of her medical expenses. With such an outpouring of concern and love, how could she possibly give up! Little by little, as Diane hobbled around on her crutches, she began to look forward to racing again. After some months and many warnings from her doctor, she decided to get back up on those horses, and get back she did! Despite the fact that she looked like some bionic woman with braces on her legs, Diane started training once more. Then back to the races.
After a few more
fulfilling years as jockey and trainer, the multiple injuries finally took their toll.
Diane had to admit that she could no longer race. She came home to ponder her next move.
Horses were all she knew... a lifetime devoted to loving them, learning about them and
from them. Now, how to put her knowledge to use? The idea evolved...helping others pursue
their dreams as others had helped her pursue her dreams.
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