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  • Writer's pictureFran Cleland

Who knew? Dianne Barnes was once a leading jockey

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

ABOVE: Dianne Barnes is aiming for the Paralympics. Picture: ONE-EYED FROG

MANY know Dianne Barnes as the successful para dressage rider, but there is so much more to the story.

With the Paris Olympics less than a year away, Dianne and her mount Sorena are on a path to compete on the para dressage team, but this is just the latest chapter in a varied and successful riding career.

Dianne, 64, climbed aboard her first pony at the age of four.

“Like most kids I started off in pony club, then I started to break in a few local ponies and horses to earn some money,” she said.

“I left school in Year 10 and then went to work with racing trainers Mark and Jim Houlihan, where I stayed for the next seven years.

“I have been working as a full time rider, trainer and coach for over 40 years.”

Dianne, who before her marriage was a Delaney, has ridden as an A grade showjumper, leading lady jockey, three-day eventer, and in the show ring, competed and won at state, national and royal show levels.

She won about 40 gallops races in six years.

At the time, ladies bracelets for female jockeys were the only way women could get to compete and the Houlahan stable was happy to offer her good mounts.

Pony Club horse trials were a popular pastime and she competed at Findon and Lloyd Park in events. She also rode at the Melbourne three-day event on a horse for Japanese owners.

“He was pretty strong “she said. “We finished well down, but we finished.”

She remembers her best show horse as the elegant grey Royalty (aka Alvin).

“He could be a bit of a devil, but a lovely horse, winning both Barastoc and the National Show Horse titles.”

Dianne has also completed successful appointments as young ambassador coach and assessor for Equestrian Victoria for both showing and dressage, along with holding a range of successful clinics throughout Australia.

Dressage was added to the mix when, after a successful show career, Dianne’s daughter Jodie wanted try her hand at the discipline.

Dianne thought she would also give it a go as well.

They purchased three-year-old mare named Cil Dara Cosmic (Stella) from Nick and Sara English who own the Cil Dara Stud in Queensland.

“While Jodie and Stella worked her way through the levels, I continued with young green horses and turning them over after a season or two,” Dianne said.

In 2014, the first of some very significant hurdles occurred when Stella came down with colic and required surgery.

Fortunately, once her recovery time had passed, she continued on where she left off.

In 2016 Dianne had spinal surgery on C5-6 and C6-7 anterior decompression and fusion, which kept her off the horses for quite a few months.

A few later in 2019 she needed a full left hip replacement.

When it came to recovery, there was no question about which horse she climbed back on first: Stella was the safest so mother and daughter shared the ride while Jodie continued going through the levels with her to Grand Prix.

The biggest blow of all was still to come though, and at the start of 2020 Dianne was diagnosed with Parkinson`s Disease and Dystiona in her neck.

She was told by the neurologist not to ride again as her balance was affected as well as the use of her left arm and leg.

“Jodie and I just giggled as we walked out and said ‘well that`s not going to happen’,” she said.

“Jodie did the most selfless thing a person can do – she gave me her horse to ride and enjoy for the next 12 months before I was going to retire.

“Not long after Jodie contacted Julia Battams at Para Pathways and we went over to be assessed.

“We were graded level five and that was the start of my para riding career.”

While trying to qualify for the World Equestrian Games, Dianne was having difficulty remembering her tests and was reassessed at level four, which means she can now use a test caller.

No one will forget the battle to ensure Australia’s para riders got to compete at the games.

Dianne did qualify and – after an enormous hue and cry around the world after Equestrian Australia tried to stop the team competing because they didn't think the team members were medal contenders – she got to represent Australia on Stella in Denmark alongside team-mates Emma Booth and Lisa Martin.

Not long after returning home, the much-loved Stella died.

Dianne, Jodie and everyone who knew the lovely and generous mare were devastated.

But if anyone knows that life must go on it's Dianne.

Sharyn McCombe's mare Sorena was leased and the 2023 para equestrian journey continues as Dianne tries to qualify for 2024 Paris Paralympics.

The combination is already performing well and listed on Equestrian Australia’s podium squad for para dressage.

They have many fans and supporters who know if Dianne and Sorena ride down the centreline in Paris, dreams really do come true.

Best of luck Dianne, Australia’s equestrian family is behind you.


(Click any image to expand)

If Dianne's story has inspired you to look into para equestrian, find out more at Equine Pathways Australia

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