By Frank J. Buchman
“No hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle.”
It’s an often repeated quotation originally credited to Winston Churchill.
Diane Haffener at the D-Bar Arena near St. George often restates the remark true to heart, believes, and most obviously lives it.
“Horses are my life,” Haffener stated emphatically.
Born and raised in the ranching life near her arena and related operations, Haffener explained, “I’m the third generation of my family involved in horses. I trained my first horse at the age of 13, developing my own training techniques, which led me to the journey I am on today.
“I have built everything I have from the ground up myself, both physically and financially,” she pointed out.
“Besides training my own horses, I’m a team roper, a header,” Haffener stated proudly.
Her collection of trophy saddles, buckles, payback checks and honors as champion of the all-girls roping event at K-State readily verify her cowgirl abilities.
But, the success has not been without setbacks, especially, considering that one of the many horses Haffener has trained in her lifetime injured her seriously.
“It was a double bred Hancock gelding that I had in training. I went to head a steer, and he cut loose, bucked me off and broke my back. I was in bed three months. There was nothing else I could do.
“But, it healed naturally. I never had surgery. Now, I’m able to ride, rope and compete again. That’s the main thing,” Haffener appreciated.
“As a matter of fact, eight months later, I recently won third in the Number 8, at a jackpot team roping north of Strong City,” Haffener related.
“It was both mentally and physically rewarding after that long, to come back and win a check,” she admitted.
The D-Bar property has a large outdoor arena, stalls with outdoor runs and outdoor pens. “I host three-day camps for children throughout the summer, but mostly I give Western riding lessons,” Haffener said.
Through her experiences in training horses and their riders, Haffener explained, “It’s essential to focus on timing, cues, respect for the horse, behavior of both horse and rider, and most importantly trust.
“A horse relies solely on our behavior and body language, and they must put their trust in us. As a rider, we must become one with them, to overcome what both the rider and the horse have been through in the past,” she emphasized.
No matter the age or experience of horse or rider, Haffener works with all levels and in varied disciplines.
“Riders range from age three, to college students, those serving in the Army, and adults from many professions,” she said. “The nice, natural sand outdoor arena permits riding much of the year, unless it’s too cold, or there’s snow.”
There are some who want to be involved with horses and riding, but just can’t have a horse of their own, either financially, facility wise, or for a variety of other situations. Haffener is well aware of the dilemma, and is anxious to accommodate them.
“Horses are available for lessons and riding by those who come to the arena. But, it’s really difficult to find horses that are of the caliber for beginning and inexperienced riders.
“I have worked very hard training these horses, so they readily adapt to riders of all levels. Safety is of utmost importance in everything we do here,” Haffener confirmed.
Working with about 14 students presently, Haffener explained, “The majority of them are younger ones, with maybe five or six that really take competition seriously and are dedicated to improving their horsemanship abilities and want to enter successfully in shows.”
D-Bar horses are often ridden by students during shows at the headquarters as well as at others shows in the area.
“Several students can compete on the same horse during the same show, because the riders are often in different age groups, and not always even entered in the same type of classes. Again, you can understand, it really requires a ‘special’ horse to work successfully in such situations,” Haffener acknowledged.
“We don’t do any English riding here, but about anything to do with the cowboy lifestyle. We show in rail and horsemanship classes, speed events like barrel racing and pole bending, along with, of course, team roping,” clarified Haffener, who has also been successful barrel racing in the past, but she’s dedicated personal competition to team roping at the present.
Roping steers and a roping machine that is pulled behind a four-wheeler are used for training rope horses.
“The machine is actually the best way to get a horse started, and also for the ropers to learn to ride, and rope, before trying to catch a live steer,” Haffener insisted.
Having trained horses from the very beginning to be all-around mounts, now Haffener generally will only take broke horses to make into team roping horses. “They must not have any buck whatsoever.
“I prefer a gelding that is cow bred, along with speed bred. Golden age of a horse is starting at six, because their experiences, mind and body have matured. A horse with a good attitude and is physically and mentally built for roping is the best.
“But, it’s not an overnight deal. I generally think it takes two years to make a finished rope horse. They’re not all the same, for sure, and most of them still require some tuning, unless they are the real exceptional ones,” Haffener evaluated.
“A well-bred, broke, seasoned horse always keeps its value in the competitive horse market,” she recognized.
“Everybody hopes to get their Number 1 Horse of a Lifetime. Mine was my champion team roping horse that got injured, but he still makes me money today using him for lessons. I recently purchased a horse out of Mexico, and he’s put me back winning in team roping, back to where I was before my injury,” Haffener said.
“I’m a header, but I’m going to train myself in heeling this year, so I can compete on both ends,” she promised.
Aside from riding and training, Haffener is also recognized for the custom crosses she makes.
“I started making these Southwest crosses when my prize horse got injured, while I was living and competing in Texas, and didn’t have much else to do. These crosses are unique and full of color. They are a great way to showcase beautiful artwork in your home, or for a gift for someone you love,” Haffener described.
“Each cross is made with old rustic barbed wire, some even more than 80-years-old, custom measured, hammered straight, then intertwined with baling wire, and even sometimes hot wire to enhance the effect,” she further detailed.
Hand-picked stones in a variety of colors can be selected to personalize the unique decorative art piece crosses.
Like horses, development of D-Bar Arena has been a continuing, but whole hearted process.
“Interest in horses is growing all of the time; there’s never any decline. I have a lot of ideas to continue to grow and spread my knowledge of horses and horsemanship. Certainly, ‘no hour of life is wasted that is spent in the saddle,’” summarized Diane Haffener at the D-Bar Arena.