California Riding Magazine • March, 2013

Stepping Stone Farms:
Dacia & Mario Imperato
New private training facility counterbalances heartbreaking loss of a beloved stallion.

by Kim F. Miller

Dacia & Mario Imperato's Stepping Stone Farms
Photo: Collaboration between Nancy Pavlovics and Dacia Peters-Imperato

The past 12 months brought the highest of highs and lowest of lows to Dacia Peters Imperato, hunter/jumper and dressage trainer, breeder and owner of Stepping Stone Farms in Temecula. Eight months ago, she and husband Mario Imperato's daughter, Sienna, arrived in the world. Four months later, Dacia's Hanoverian stallion, For Play, left it, prematurely at 12, in October.

The heartbreak of that loss has yet to ebb, but it is counterbalanced by Sienna's presence and the excitement of moving into the couple's own, long-planned-for private training facility.

SSF's Pia ridden by Mario. Photo by Dominick Imperato

The new Stepping Stone Farms location is just five miles from Dacia's long-standing base at Galway Downs, but it's worlds away in its ability to be Dacia and Mario's ideal training, riding and breeding environment.
Built next to their home on their five-acre parcel in Temecula, the brand new facility has an 11-stall double breezeway barn, mare motel, pasture and a 225' by 125' arena. Training amenities include a slant-wall round pen and a jump chute for working with their many young horses and all-weather arena footing that has already proven itself fit for the region's worst rains.

Amenities reflecting years of thought include fans on thermostats that automatically go on or off when the weather goes above or below 72 degrees. Cameras mounted over every stall and the arena enable password-protected virtual visits any time and allow family members far and wide to watch lessons. Dacia and Mario even thought to elevate the riding arena, so parents could comfortably watch the action from their parked cars. Stepping Stone's location in the middle of Temecula means busy parents can drop off their rider then easily run errands before swinging back by.

For Play. Photo by Robin Quasebarth

Custom cabinetry will eliminate clutter, a tack room plumbed for hot water means fresh coffee anytime and there's even an IRobot vacuum to keep the tackroom floor clean. It's environmentally friendly, too. A water recycling system uses "gray water" to fill the water truck that minimizes dust throughout the property and all of Stepping Stone's shampoos and laundry products are eco-friendly and enzyme based.
"We've been fantasizing about this for a long time," laughs the charismatic Dacia. She loves the little touches that resulted from that focus, but notes that functionality and safety are the facility's most carefully considered and important features.

In her years at Galway Downs, Stepping Stone ran with between 26 and 36 horses and they have had to pare that number down a bit. Creative arrangements built around customers' varying budgets have made that possible. "We've had some families that moved from a lesson program into a partnership with one horse and in other cases, we've created little syndicates," she explains.

Delaynie on her pony Dream Catcher. Photo by Dominick Imperato

Doing It Their Way

On top of all the long-dreamed-of horse keeping and convenience amenities, the best part of owning their own barn is getting to do things their own way. "Mario and I do things in a very thorough way and always with quality," Dacia explains. "At a public stable, there's no control over how other programs do things. Here, we have created our own little utopia!"

Barn built by MD Barnmaster of Southern California, Tammy Pillette.
Photo by Nancy Pavlovics

She is especially excited about the prospect of tackling training challenges on her timetable. "When you are building confidence in a young horse, you want to teach them skills and then take them somewhere to test those skills. It's like teaching your child to swim in the baby pool before they go in the ocean." Training at a busy show facility did not afford the luxury of controlling when horses are exposed to the crowds and heightened activity that surrounds any show or event.

Although "we had our hearts filleted open" by the totally unexpected passing of "Player" in October, Dacia is grateful for the foresight they had in collecting his semen, starting in 2010. In addition to being a true gentleman, show ring winner and constant joy to own, the For Pleasure son was licensed by multiple breed registries: the American Hanoverian Society, Hannoveraner Verband, the German Oldenburg Verband, the International Sporthorse Registry North America, the Royal Dutch Sporthorse Registry and the Swedish Warmblood Registry.

Dacia and Sienna. Photo by Dominick Imperato

"My dream is to have a lifetime of his babies." To that end, the Imperatos and Player's co-owners Nicholas and Deborah Sibilio will maintain a band of mares for breeding to For Play via frozen semen. They'll be kept at the Sibilios' 60-acre farm in Kentucky and their foals marketed or sent out to Dacia and Mario when the time is right.

Stepping Stone Farms maintains an active breeding program, but For Play's semen isn't part of it. "That's just going to be for our private use," Dacia explains. "But once I have a barn full of his babies, then his foals will be available."

Barn built by MD Barnmaster of Southern California, Tammy Pillette.
Photo by Nancy Pavlovics

In the interim, Dacia is focusing on three Hanoverian-Welsh pony stallion prospects, all of them sired by For Play. Representatives of the Weser-Ems, the pony division of Germany's Oldenburg Verband, are coming soon to inspect them and Dacia has high expectations for the outcome.

Pony breeding is a good fit for Stepping Stone's current client mix. "We have a lot of pony kids at the moment and I am excited to continue to be a strong force on the pony scene," she notes. "And fortunately, Sienna is obsessed with ponies!"

Meantime, Dacia and Mario continue to train and compete a string of jumping and dressage horses in various stages of development. Several young horses are moving through the various Futurity ranks and the overall barn mix is about 50/50 horses and ponies at the moment. They welcome new students interested in ponies, hunters, jumpers and/or dressage and look forward to showing off their new digs, either by appointment or during their grand opening on Sat., March 23 between 1-4 in the afternoon. (Please call for the address.)

For more information, call 951-226 4986 or visit www.steppingstonesporthorses.com.