California Riding Magazine • February, 2010

Stepping Stone Farms &
Topline Farms: Dacia Peters
Energetic young trainer finds space to spread her wings with busy training and sporthorse breeding programs.

Since moving her Stepping Stone Farms, LLC, to the Southern California Equestrian Center in Temecula, Dacia (Day-sha) Peters has found the space she needs to realize her many creative equestrian ideas and help her growing roster of students realize their dreams.

Appreciative of her equestrian opportunities as a youth because she had to work hard for them, the hunter/jumper trainer has that concept at the core of her business. As its name implies, Stepping Stone serves riders of all experience levels and competitive ambitions. Students are divided up into three teams, the “Home,” “Local Show” and “National Show” squads, in a system designed to enable members of each group to help and learn from the others.

The Home team is comprised of beginners who have the opportunity to learn on a string of schoolmasters for lessons rather than owning their own. They are mentored by more experienced stablemates and encouraged to monitor those riders’ lessons. The Local Show team is comprised of those ready, in their skills and commitment level, to lease or own their own mount and hit the local show scene. Conveniently, their Southern California Equestrian Center base hosts many such competitions, maximizing the possibilities for gaining show mileage without breaking the bank. The National Show team includes Dacia’s most advanced students and those who have success at A shows on the West Coast and beyond.

All team members can get letterman-style jackets and earn a variety of patches and awards as they accomplish their progressive horsemanship goals. “We have a lot of fun and sometimes do things that seem light-hearted and goofy,” Dacia explains. “But everybody understands that we are very serious about reaching goals and being safe. Most of all, everybody is here because they love horses and they understand that is the focus of this program.”

Whatever level of students she is coaching, Dacia has found a positive approach to be her most effective method and the one that suits her upbeat personality. “As a riding instructor, I spend a lot of time complimenting the good things before correcting the things that need improvement to build the rider’s confidence,” Dacia notes.
Daily and career goals for each of her horses and riders are critical. “I always set the horse and rider up to win and not fail by challenging them just enough mentally and physically that they can handle it and rise to the occasion. This makes the horse’s trust in the rider grow and the riders grow trust in themselves. The horse’s work ethic gets stronger because they enjoy what they do and riders find their new confidence transcends into the rest of their lives.”

Lots of ribbons at the Mare Performance Test for the German Oldenburg Verband. Photo: Tass Photography

Breeding Boon

In addition to this wide range of students with hunter/jumper oriented competitive goals, Dacia also incorporates dressage training and, mostly in her own riding, competition. This couples with Topline Farms, LLC, the sporthorse breeding business of which she is co-owner with extended family, Nick and Debbie Sibilio of Bella Rose Farm. Topline’s biggest superstar is For Play, son of two-time Olympic show jumper For Pleasure. An Elite Hanoverian stallion, For Play has already produced sires that are licensed in Germany and he has bloodlines that indicate success in any and all sporthorse disciplines. In just two dressage outings with For Play, Dacia earned three quarters of the points needed for her USDF bronze medal. Dacia’s fiancé, farrier and amateur jumper and dressage competitor, Mario Imperato, had a quip on that: “Well, everyone can earn their bronze medals quickly too. Just breed to our stallion!”

Dacia had always pursued dressage basics as an important part of a hunter/jumper rider’s and horse’s education, for herself and her students. But her commitment to the discipline bumped up several notches after working with her soon-to-be mother-in-law, Diana Muravez, who introduced her to classical dressage. “It’s a whole new dimension,” Dacia enthuses. “Rhythm and straightness are just a few of the dressage principles that apply directly to hunters.”

For the immediate future, Dacia plans to campaign For Play in the Hunter ranks to expand his mare base. “He has wings!,” she adds of her eventual hopes to get this stallion back in the jumping arena once he gets the attention of the hunter mare owners.

She is grateful to be based at the Southern California Equestrian Center, formerly known as Galway Downs and host to the Galway Downs three day events and horse trials, along with shows in several other disciplines. The facility has ample stabling and lots of room to ride and roam, including a world-class cross-country course and two racetracks. Before moving in, Dacia had been concerned about this year’s forecasted El Nino weather, particularly the impact of predicted rain on training schedules. In reality, the worst-case rain scenario is hacking under the high eaves of the Belmont Barn. More often, riding conditions are great on the inside track within two hours of a rain thanks to all-weather footing.

Stepping Stone Farms' arena. Photo: Caydie Bennett

The Center’s show agenda is great even when it’s a discipline Stepping Stone students don’t compete in. Young horses and inexperienced students gain valuable show-like exposure without traveling or spending an extra cent. She is thrilled with the support of Galway Downs event organizer and facility manager Robert Kellerhouse. Dacia says, “He really keeps the property in top shape, our footing is always at its best and he even hosts schooling days where he sets courses with his own show jumps and we are able to get the feel of a show at the fraction of the cost.”

Dacia lives just a few miles from the Center, and has turn-out pasture for lay-up, mare care and simple down time for Stepping Stone client horses.

As her business has grown, help has been essential. Dacia recently added the talented young Frenchman, Gregoire Solente, as her assistant. “He is a true team player with great positive teaching skills and a lot of riding ability.” Gregoire came to the U.S. and was given the opportunity to work with the well-known Jim Dahlquist to learn the Hunter game, which was very new coming from Europe. Gregoire is now a permanent fixture at Stepping Stones and is the head coach of the Local show team. “I am very excited to be a part of the Stepping Stone Team,” he comments. “I feel I can really learn a lot and have already been given many new opportunities and responsibilities to help me in my professional career.”

Dacia works hard to identify and create opportunities for working students. Currently, she is providing work experience opportunities where students get high school class credit for their time working and learning in her program. She counts on Imperato’s farrier skills, Temeku Equine’s Dr. Chris Huth, DVM, and Dr William Swyers, DVM as an essential part of the team, along with expert input from other equine and human nutrition and wellness practitioners.

Even over the phone, Dacia’s energy is evident and her ambitions know few bounds. She and Mario are getting married in March, yet she had to be talked out of competing through the whole Thermal circuit rather than the three weeks she has settled on. “I feel like I am wearing a tool belt with all the different languages I need in it: hunter/jumper, dressage, breeding, etc.,” Dacia says of the juggling act she is pulling off with success and good humor. “But I love it all and that’s what keeps me passionate.”

For more information on Stepping Stone Farms, LLC, and Topline Farms, LLC, visit www.SteppingStoneSporthorses.com or call
Dacia Peters at 951-226-4986.