Julia and Diano

Meet Julia Stainback and her 18 year old gelding, Diano! Julia has owned Diano for 6 years, and he started off as her daughter’s horse before becoming her AA dressage partner. Now, Julia and Diano have fought together through an amazing journey from ill health that nearly ended his riding career to representing Region III at Nationals at 2nd and 3rd Level Dressage! Hear their incredible story below! 

Warning Signs

I started to notice something was off with Diano when I noticed fat deposits on his tail and crest. We were approaching Regionals in the fall of 2O2O where we had qualified to compete at 2nd and 3rd level, and he seemed like he was in a fog. I had the vet out and said, why don’t we just test it? But even though he came back negative, I could sense that something was brewing. He just wasn’t himself.

Last spring, we were showing at Tryon when a huge problem started happening with Diano. At first, it seemed like allergies combined with a lack of energy. His sheath got really swollen, and escalated into a swollen, running nose. The fat deposits above his eyes were sticking out like a goldfish. Basically, Diano was dealing with total body inflammation, and we didn’t know why.


We were directed to go to UGA (University of Georgia) for a full workup in July 2O21 and found TBID, Cushing’s and insulin resistance.

The vets sent us home with orders to get off sugar. He was put on low-nutrient coastal hay and could only graze for 45 minutes a day with a grazing muzzle. He was losing a lot of muscle and weight, wasting away. We went through 1O weeks of this, and it was extremely hard. His ribs started showing.

I got my vet out, who said that Diano needs more nutrition now, but Diano refused to eat the grain or oil we added. His appetite was gone. We couldn’t find any food he would eat. He was suspicious after all the oils and pills, inhalers, allergy medicine. Under saddle, he had none of his previous energy and ability to carry himself. It felt like it would have been easier if he had hopped on my back, and I carried him around the arena instead.

Shortly after this, I was directed to Karen by an angel. Nancy Bardy, our saddle fitter came out one day to deliver my brand-new saddle that I had ordered for Regionals before all this started happening. Nancy recommended that I reach out to Karen.

The Turning Point

I called Karen and she was so wonderful! At this point, we had qualified for Regionals 2021 but were too unfit to compete. Karen said she’d be there that weekend, so we met her at the showgrounds and she brought all her food to Regionals for us!

When I talked to Karen, I was immediately impressed by her deep knowledge and how genuinely she cared about helping us. We switched over to a diet plan she recommended for him, and within two weeks, Diano was doing visibly better. It was still prime allergy season, but his cough and other allergy symptoms had disappeared completely.

Karen put Diano on a diet of Coolstance, beet pulp flakes, flax, and alfalfa pellets, with minerals and salts on the side, and spirulina to support his immune system. All of it is organic and non-GMO and I love that. It just makes sense. Diano’s pituitary gland was basically being attacked with TPID, and slowly overloaded for years.

Trusting the Process

Still, even though we qualified for Nationals, I thought to myself, “He’s got so far to go, there’s no way he’s going to make it to Nationals.” But Karen always believed in us and said, “Trust the process, and wait and see before you decide.” 

Together with our vet and Karen, we took it one week at a time and watched the improvements start to compound in Diano. You could see his spirit coming back into his eyes again in November. He just kept waking up and waking up. He was returning to his old self, totally Diano again! It is still a magical, perseverance story for me! 

Not only that, but he has always had issues with his hooves. He’s got high-low front feet, and has always been prone to abscesses. You can see on his hoof two lines now that are slowly growing out (it takes about a year to replace the whole hoof.) One line is when he got off sugar, and the next is when he got on Karen’s program. His foot is growing completely differently now, straight down, no flares pulling away, and zero white line disease.

It’s amazing how going through this, you start to notice the little things and don’t brush them off anymore. Like swollen legs. Now I ask why and dig deeper.

Fast Food vs. Home Cooking

I know from being an athlete myself that what you eat matters and know how eating overly processed foods made me feel, but I didn’t know that about horses. I didn’t know that there was any other way to feed horses besides processed grains.

Karen has explained so much about horse nutrition to me and does it in the same way I learned about nutrition as an athlete. I now know that I was feeding Diano the equivalent of fast food for horses. Mass produced horse grain is there for convenience, but they’re full of so many fillers and chemical processing that can overtax their system. Some horses may be okay on it for a while, but eventually, things will start to go down in your horse’s body.

Karen’s diet programs are customized to each horse, so you measure out 1 cup of this and 1 tablespoon of that. It’s an ingredients-first way of feeding horses. There’s a lot of comfort in knowing exactly what your horse is eating with no mystery fillers. It takes a bit more time to feed an ingredients-based diet, but it does save you money. It’s basically the difference between fast food vs. home cooking.

I believe 1OO% that if you start things sooner, you can prevent issues cropping up later in life. If I had known about these things sooner, I wonder if these issues would not have triggered in Diano? not have had all these issues? I wish I had learned this lesson earlier but am applying it to my young horse now! 

A New Life 

Karen is an excellent communicator. She is a kind listener and can explain complex nutritional balancing requirements in an understandable way. When she talks, she sounds like she’s a world-renowned nutritionist who gives talks around the globe. She looked at his current diet and could immediately pull out what he’s getting and where the overlaps are. The beauty of simple, pure ingredients. And the beauty of clear explanations! I underestimated chemicals and GMOs. I needed an education.

And I was also impressed with how Karen isn’t sponsored by any of the brands she sells. She told me that she wanted to always be making decisions solely based off of what is best for the horse, and not because she’s getting a kickback, so she only stocks ingredients that she truly believes in. I think that kind of integrity is admirable and super rare in the horse world, and have the utmost respect for her. Karen is so kind. She’s just a good person.

I recommend Karen everywhere I go. Some of my human friends have altered their own diets to more organic whole foods after seeing the massive changes in Diano! It’s spreading like wildfire. Everywhere I go, I keep seeing horses that suddenly look amazing and I ask them what they did. It’s Karen.

Our Happy Place

Karen gave Diano a second life. And me too, in a way.

Riding Diano is my happy place. And that happy place was very much in jeopardy before Karen came along. All that summer, I didn’t know if Diano was ever going to go under saddle again. After switching to Karen’s nutrition, we didn’t have to forfeit our US Dressage Nationals dream. We were able to compete and fulfill our role in the team competition. Diano and I had been chosen to represent 2nd  and 3rd level dressage for Region 3. We did not have to forfeit and our Region 3 won the Reserve Championship.

But more than that, Diano is out from behind the veil and in many ways, better than ever. I have more years with him than I would have had, and I am just so grateful to Karen and everybody else who helped us and has struggled and rejoiced with us on this journey.


Want to learn more about creating a natural lifestyle and diet for your horse? I’m here to help you! See how!