Patrons of my program at Celebrity Ranch in Chandler, Arizona have heard my stories about Dave Leroy and Cornpopper Farm over the years. I can still visualize Cornpopper Farm and the surrounding miles of wooded trails in Concord, Ohio the way it was in the early 1980's. My horsemanship journey began there.
Amber, my first horse, was purchased from Dave. The transition from taking riding lessons to horse ownership is often a difficult one. Dave was always supportive and gave me some of the best advice. I've passed this little tidbit he gave me on to beginners many times over the years. “Danielle, I've noticed you going around the barn asking everyone the same question. I bet you're getting a different opinion from everyone. Why don't you try this; pick just one person around here you think is doing a great job with their horse, and only go to that person for advice”. And one time on a group trail ride, I was having a very rough day with Amber. Ultimately she bolted along the shoulder of route 44 and I couldn't stop her! Dave's daughter Sherry, riding their big appaloosa mare Chi Chi, tried to catch up to help me which made Amber run even faster. After keeping up with traffic for what seemed like an eternity, and crossing a paved intersection where I thought for sure we'd be hit by a car, Amber finally stopped. While I wasn't physically injured, having my horse run away with me in front of everyone on a big ride was humiliating and scary. But for the weeks to come, Dave told everyone how fast my horse was. He'd say “ol' Amber, fastest little horse around, she outran my Chi Chi!” Back then I was learning to do barrels and other timed events, and Chi Chi and Dave did very well at the gymkhanas. Dave made sure to drop this “faster than my Chi Chi” line in earshot of the trainer I was schooling with who kept telling me I needed a better, faster horse if I was ever going to be competitive. Dave's witty analogy of my embarrassing mishap helped restore my confidence.
Dave's partner Denise also made an impression on me. She taught me her methods of training horses and gave me my first training opportunity helping her work with a young thoroughbred gelding. I was only at Cornpopper Farm for a handful of years, then we moved Amber down the road to Bridge Creek Farm. I think Denise may have been upset with us when we moved. There's a fine line between friends and clients when it comes to horses, boarding and lessons, and I learned later in my life as a professional in the horse industry how much it can hurt when people leave your program. But Bridge Creek had an indoor arena and brightly painted jumps to offer, and I was beginning to ride English. It was a brand new facility with modern amenities. I have many happy memories riding there too, but in hindsight Bridge Creek lacked the magic and lore of Cornpopper Farm.
In 1989 I sold Amber to Rena Moses, the owner of Bridge Creek Farm. Amber became Rena's personal trail horse and a lesson horse leased by children to use for shows and the county fair. Amber made a positive impact in the lives of many students at Bridge Creek for more than a decade, giving kids who didn't have a horse of their own a safe and competitive experience in the local show ring. Then in 2007, Rena gave Amber back to me and she came to live in Arizona at Celebrity Ranch! She was the heart of our beginner's lesson program, giving many more children a safe, confident start to their horsemanship journeys. Amber served my students until her death at the age of 34 in August of 2012, and is buried in our back pasture.
Horsemanship can be an expensive hobby that becomes a way of life for some of us. Because I needed to have horses in my life I made many sacrifices over the years, opting out of vacations and other luxuries to be able to afford my horsey lifestyle. I have only been back to Ohio a couple times in my thirty-plus year absence. I did visit Dave a time or two on those return trips, many years ago, before Amber came to spend her final years with me in Arizona. Dave Leroy passed away July 5, 2022, at the age of 82. I regret never calling to tell him how the time I spent at his stables was such a positive influence on my life, and that I grew up to be a trainer at an Arizona stable co-owned with my mother and stepfather, who met on a trail ride at Cornpopper Farm! And especially to share with him how Amber, the little horse he sold to me all those years ago, came back to me, bringing my connection to Cornpopper full circle.
I don't know if Dave had any idea what his little horse farm gave to my family and to the local horse community. He impressed upon me an early example of the hard work and dedication required in the care taking of horses, and more importantly how to treat the people they belong to.
Dave Leroy with Danielle and her horse Amber at Cornpopper Farm in Painesville Ohio, 1982