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Familiar Faces: Carriage rides are family business for this horsewoman

By: Menka Belgal, Telegraph Correspondent
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Dianna Newborn is a horsewoman, born and raised on a ranch. All her life she’s been around horses and handles them with skill. At one time her family owned 36 horses. Together with her husband, Rick, they own Top Hand Ranch which provides carriage rides of all occasions.

Can you describe your ranch?

Our previous ranch was located in Rescue on Green Valley Road. It was in my family for around 80 years. The historic house on the property was called Pleasant Grove House, and was a way station for the Pony Express. Because of the poor economy, we had to sell it this year and moved closer to Sacramento where the majority of our business is. It was heartbreaking, but we didn’t have a choice.

Our current ranch is in Elverta. It’s around 15 acres. We now have 22 horses that are Percherons and Percheron-crosses. We don’t have any riding horses.

Do you breed your own horses?

We used to breed them in previous years. Now, we buy them when they’re partially trained and then finish training them, which takes around a year. Not every horse can do the job. It takes a unique horse (one that has the right temperament and enjoys working) to do the job. We work them on the streets of Sacramento and around the traffic. When they go to special events there are two people that work with them.

What carriages do you have?

The carriages are made by two different Amish families: one from Indiana and the other from Wisconsin. They’re French-style Vis-à-vis, which were used by wealthy families in the 1800s. The carriages are often decorated with silk flowers.

What do you love most about your job?

I love meeting different people from all over the world. It goes without saying that I love the horses too.

What types of events do you cater to?

We do weddings, funerals, quinceaneras and any events that require horse drawn carriage rides like Christmas events in Palladio and El Dorado Hill Town Center. You’ll also see us at Sutter’s Fort as part of the museum’s living history program providing rides to visitors to and from Sacramento and Sutter’s Fort. We’re also in Old Sacramento.

Do you have any memorable events?

Every event is unique and everyone has different ideas. However, I’m not too fond of funerals.

Have you had any accidents on the busy streets?

In December of 2009, a drunk driver hit our carriage (and then took off). We were carrying a couple and our 9-year old horse, Fox. My husband was in the driver’s seat. Fox took off carrying remnants of the carriage and was later recovered a few streets away, terrified. It took Fox six weeks to recover. My husband didn’t suffer any major injuries. The carriage was destroyed. Total damage amounted to around $25,000. The driver of the car didn’t have the insurance money to cover the losses, so it came out of our pockets.

Another incident happened about a year ago. A pit bull belonging to a homeless person attacked one of our horses in Old Sacramento. It took the horse down to the ground. The carriage was fine. Bystanders got the dog off the horse. The horse had to get eight stitches in the face and had multiple puncture wounds in the leg. The police department ended up shooting the dog. The horse was back to work later.

Where did your love of horses come from?

I’ve had horses all my life. That’s one thing my grandparents thought we should have. I was in 4-H, the Lincoln High School Rodeo, and the Highway 50 Wagon Train which has been going back for 63 years.

What’s your involvement with the Highway 50 Wagon Train?

I’m the wagon master, which means that I ensure safe travel for the horses, people and wagons along the route. The Wagon Train travels west from Lake Tahoe to Placerville along Highway 50.

What special training have you had?

I went to school for animal health technology. We take care of our horses and can handle routine medical issues; beyond that, we take them to a vet. My husband shoes them.

Tell us about your family.

I’ve been married to my husband, Ricky, for 21 years. We met each other back when we were 9 years old on the Highway 50 Wagon Train. I’ve got a daughter, Crystal, who’s in FFA, raises pigs and used to ride in the Lincoln High Rodeo. She occasionally helps with taking people on carriage rides too.

Do you have any hobbies?

The horses are my hobbies. Anything we do is horse related. For vacation we attend the Draft Horse Classic Show in Grass Valley where we show our horses. They show very well have won a number of competitions.

Do you have a favorite movie?

It’s “The Cowboys,” which is a 1972 Western starring John Wayne. It reminds me of my childhood and growing up on a ranch with horses.

What causes are you passionate about?

I work with Make a Wish Foundation. I’ll donate my carriage ride to them when they call. Additionally, in Town Center, part of the proceeds go to Hands 4 Hope and Big Brothers.