Written by Mary Beth Jackson, and appeared in our January/February 2017 Issue
Diron Clements’ cell phones are always ringing with a deal to be made. If it isn’t a buyer or seller calling about a home listing for the Pittsylvania County real estate agent, it’s someone calling for DC Clements Quarter Horses.
Clements, 34, is a barrel racer and trainer. His western-style living room is where he keeps mementos of his achievements. Champion belt buckles sparkle underneath glass in his coffee table, and a trophy saddle occupies a corner. Walls and shelves are filled with pictures of family, friends and memorable races.
As children, Clements and his younger sister Angela were involved in baseball, swimming and lots of camps; but it was a pony ride at an elementary school fun night that changed life for Clements.
“Horse camp led to summer lessons. Summer lessons led to year-round lessons. Year-round lessons led to 4-H,” Clements says.
Initially he rode English, racking up ribbons in hunter-jumper classes. Five years later, he switched to western riding.
“I wanted to be a cowboy and wear a cowboy hat,” he says.
But western pleasure proved to be too slow.
“At the State Fair, I saw barrel racing and decided that’s what I wanted to do,” Clements says.
The speed proved irresistible. In summers during his high school years, Clements stayed with professional trainers and learned their techniques, where he was introduced to the world of futurity horses.
After graduating in 2000 from Danville’s George Washington High School, Clements competed on the road for two years. He placed fourth on KC Smokin’ Joe in the youth division of the 2001 National Barrel Horse Association (NBHA) World Championship and won a go-round at the NBHA Colonial National Championship. He returned to Danville and earned a Bachelor’s degree in political science from Averett University, then his Masters in Business Administration.
Patty Nunnery, North Carolina state director of the NBHA, has known Clements since he was in high school.
“He had that dream all kids have: ‘I can make a living doing this,’” she says. She says he went about it in the wisest way – by taking up a profession that could support his dreams.
“He did the right thing,” she says. “Diron is a smart young man.”
With his newly acquired business skills, Clements zeroed in on futurities.
“As I got into the training side of barrel racing, it became more about the level of discipline the horse has to have in order to win,” he says. “The magic for me is taking a 4-year-old that a year ago was trying to buck me off and knowing I have that horse able to win a barrel race.”
In futurity races, horses are on the same level, so the result is a judgment on the trainer. Clements wants to start with the best stock for the job. He buys, sells and breeds in search of winning combinations. Barrel racing enthusiasts are not just picking through quarter horses to find one with potential for the sport anymore.
“We are taking proven barrel racing mares and breeding to racehorse studs or barrel horse studs to get what we’re looking for,” Clements says.
His shopping list includes a short back; long underline; muscular chest and hips; and the right temperament to get the job done.
“I need a horse that can react to situations,” he says. “They can ride quiet, they can ride like a pleasure horse, but just that quick ride wide open like a racehorse.
“Many people think a barrel horse has to be fast, fast, fast,” he says. “That’s true. But you have to train a horse slow, slow, slow. I spend hours a week walking and trotting a barrel pattern in order to run wide open Saturday for 15 seconds.”
He keeps between eight and 12 horses at a time, favoring horses from the stud Dash Ta Fame, the sport’s all-time leading sire. Dash Ta Fame’s progeny have banked more than $14 million in prize earnings.
He recently had a dark chestnut mare sired by Dash Ta Fame shipped from California to Danville. As in other equine sports, he says, “The Internet has changed the way we sell horses.”
Clements uses YouTube to promote his brand, and it is not uncommon for barrel horses to be shipped all over the U.S., Canada, and China.
Standing up for safety
Clements is now shuttling his own kids to activities as the father of 10-year-old twin boys, Riley and Cole. They prefer playing baseball and riding four-wheelers to horses.
“They ride a little, but it’s not their thing,” Clements says. He thinks it would be hard on them if they were expected to be just like dad. He’s letting them find their own way.
Parenting has changed how Clements rides. The NBHA’s dress code requires competitors to wear a cowboy hat or helmet. Clements started competing in a helmet in 2016.
“When my kids ride, I make them wear a helmet,” he says. “It makes it hard to get my kids to do something I wouldn’t do myself.”
Clements says helmets have come along way from the mushroom-headed things they were in his childhood.
“There’s a misconception the helmet gets in your way,” he says. “You don’t even know it’s there.”
Furthermore, he says, the NBHA issues penalties for competitors who lose their hat or helmet while racing. With their secure fit, helmets offer an advantage. Still, because falls during competition are uncommon, many riders see them as unnecessary. Clements welcomes the extra safety.
“I think it’s a good thing,” he says. “It needs to be a universal trend.”
With both cell phones ringing, is he a horseman who happens to be a Realtor, or a Realtor who happens to be a horseman? Clements says the two are different sides of the same coin.
“My horse business and my real estate business are about putting the deal together,” he says. “In real estate, it’s all about a happy buyer and a happy seller. It’s the same with horses. At the end of the day, the horse has to fit that person like a house has to fit a family.”
In each business, he enjoys the relationships.
“In this sport, I’ve had the opportunity to make great friends and meet some amazing people,” he says.
Nunnery says Clements is a well-liked competitor who handles the ups and downs of the sport with equal grace.
“It’s hard to do that because we’re so passionate about it,” she says. “He’s one of the ones you like to see win.”