By Josephine Cozean Styron
It was quick, unexpected, and tragic when Dallin Story’s show horse, Top Secret at the Ritz, died at the MFTHBA show grounds just prior to the start of the Celebration. “’Ritz’ had hauled well from [Highland], Utah, and Bryce Jepperson had been warming him up. Bryce stopped to switch bridles when, within two minutes, Ritz was gone,” said Janalyn White, co-manager/trainer along with Jepperson of Stephen’s Fox-Trotters, LLC. “The veterinarian said that it was either had a brain aneurism or a heart attack.”
The result was devastating. “Ritz had been Dallin’s horse for three years,” said Janalyn. “He was a really special horse. He was talented and competitive.
“This was so sudden and so scary. People just stopped what they were doing. But, within a half an hour, they were trying to find a horse for Dallin to ride,” said Janalyn.
“Dallin (now 25) has had cerebral palsy with some brain damage since he was a baby. At age nine he began refusing to go to his therapy sessions, so his therapist recommended hippotherapy (therapy on horseback),” said Mrs. Jan Story, Dallin’s mother. Hearing that Fox Trotters were good for hippotherapy, the Story family began Stephen’s Fox-Trotters, LLC. “Dallin’s communication and physical skills improved. Horses are good for Dallin; he can get across an arena in a split second without pain,” said Mrs. Story.
“Dallin has four brothers and a little sister,” she said. “They do sports. Dallin competes with horses. This is one way his dad connects with Dallin.” For Dallin and his sister Allison, competing with their Fox Trotters means coming to the Celebration. “For them, this is the real deal. They can show off stuff they really worked on.
“Dallin has made a lot of friends at the Celebration,” said Mrs. Story. “It’s like a family reunion when we come to Ava.”
This “family” got to work quickly when word spread that Dallin’s horse had died. MFTHBA office staffer Cathy Lansdown suggested that Ritzy be buried on the show grounds. Board member John Brandreth found a suitable spot and brought flowers; Geno Middleton located a man with a backhoe to dig the grave, and Janalyn White forfeited her Versatility classes so that Dallin could ride her horse, Playboy’s Lookie Here Now, in Versatility and trail.
Shawn and Amy Stangl loaned Amy’s show horse, Sheza Patriot Lady, to Dallin for showing. “The Stangls were angels and miracle people,” said Janalyn. With Mia Walker, who had ridden the mare for the Stangls, coaching him, Dallin began working with his new equine partner.
Farrier Mark Holifield had previously devised a plan to help the determined young man compete. Now he put it into action. Spectators watched in amazement as Holifield rode by Dallin’s side, coaching him through entire classes. Even though he had ridden the mare only a short time, Dallin was able to qualify for two championship Performance classes. “This was a true act of sportsmanship,” said MFTHBA President Joyce Graening.
While Dallin was lining up during the Men’s Championship class, Dr. Graening told the enthralled audience Dallin’s story, and how MFTHBA members had pitched in to help. Then, with Dallin’s family at his side, she presented Dallin with a championship trophy, a blue neck ribbon, and an anonymously donated $50 gift certificate. Both Mark Holifield and Amy Stangl were given $50 gift certificates, and Holifield received a blue neck ribbon and a Good Buddy Award trophy. As audience members, some of them crying, applauded, Dr. Graening said, “Thank you to everyone who made this difficult situation a positive experience for all.”
“I was totally shocked and surprised when Joyce mentioned my mom and sister When I got my special award and recognition, I started waving to the crowd,” said Dallin. “The first time I sat on Patriot Lady, I felt like I was riding Ritz. Amy said she’d be fine, and she was.”
As someone in the audience was heard to say, “That was good stuff.” Hallmark Movie good.