Dilger Scholarship Winners Reflect On Kentucky Experiences

Elle Sorenson | courtesy of the Gerry Dilger Foundation

The Gerry Dilger Equine Scholarship Foundation was established in 2020 in memory of Gerry Dilger, the beloved and well-respected breeder and pinhooker of such horses as GI Kentucky Derby winners Nyquist and Always Dreaming, who passed away on Feb. 24, 2020. The Foundation awarded three scholarships for 2024 for the Kentucky farm experience to Sean Berns and Sara Pepper to go to Springhouse Farm in Lexington, and to Larry Mulvaney, who was placed at Hunter Valley Farm. A pair of 2023 scholarship recipients–Ivanna Dempsey and Elle Sorensen–who did their farm experience at Springhouse and Hunter Valley, respectively, have submitted blogs chronicling their experiences to share with the TDN audience:

Ivanna Dempsey

I was awarded a scholarship with the Gerry Dilger Equine Scholarship Foundation in March 2023. This was a fantastic opportunity to travel to Lexington, Kentucky, to further my education, knowledge, and passion for the horse industry, which was part of my Equine Science placement with UCD. Tara Carroll and I spent the summer at Springhouse Farm, where I had to assist with the concluding phase of the foaling season and the preparation of the yearlings for the upcoming sales.

We felt an integral part of the team throughout our time at Springhouse Farm. Gabriel (Spider) Duignan and farm manager Dermot Joyce provided invaluable guidance that will significantly benefit me in the future. They shared their knowledge on various aspects of horsemanship, including developing an eye for assessing horses, understanding the confirmation of the horse, and handling critical tasks like scanning mares and assisting foals during and after birth. They stressed the importance of meticulous attention to detail with yearling preparation. The entire team at Springhouse were eager to share their knowledge, including the veterinarians and chiropractors.

During the July sale, we had the opportunity to shadow buyers looking at horses. We learned invaluable sales knowledge working with Paramount Sales, and a massive thanks to Pat Costello and the entire team there. We worked the September yearling sale in Keeneland and the Saratoga Yearling sale in New York and also got the opportunity to attend the races in Saratoga.

Our highlight was attending the 149th Kentucky Derby and the Oaks at Churchill Downs. What an incredible experience! On our Sundays off, we traveled to Nashville, Red River Gorge, the Railbird Festival in Lexington, and a Reds baseball game in Cincinnati. We also got the opportunity to ride out on numerous occasions in Keeneland Racetrack with Andrew McKeever, and what an experience that was.

A special thanks to everyone at Springhouse, especially Spider and Aisling Duignan, for their generosity, dedication and support throughout the summer in developing our knowledge of the global Thoroughbred industry and providing a working environment dedicated to excellence in their operation.

I cannot put into words how grateful I am to the Dilger family for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be the recipient of the Gerry Dilger Scholarship. Throughout the summer, Erin, Claire, Grace and Joseph offered support, lots of fun and assistance whenever I needed it. Whenever Gerry's name was mentioned, I could not help but be inspired by the numerous remarkable stories about his generosity and mentorship to young individuals. His legacy lives through his family, who continue to carry forward his commitment to supporting young people in the industry.

Elle Sorenson

The Gerry Dilger Scholarship afforded me the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to undertake my nine-month placement with Hunter Valley Farm in the heart of Kentucky. This experience proved to be transformative, allowing me to significantly expand my knowledge, skills and passion for the Thoroughbred industry.

My time in Hunter Valley was filled with invaluable experience that enriched my understanding and love for this industry. I had the privilege of participating in sales work in Fasig-Tipton and Keeneland in Kentucky and even had the remarkable opportunity to work the Fasig-Tipton Select sales in Saratoga, New York. Additionally, I was fortunate to attend the prestigious Kentucky Oaks, which was truly a highlight of my time.

Working on the farm provided me with a wealth of knowledge and eye-opening experiences. I was involved in various aspects of the industry, including foaling, yearling prep and shed runs during breeding season where I was able to see the most prestigious Thoroughbred stallions.

The memories, experiences and friendships I forged during my time in Kentucky are treasures that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. This incredible journey not only deepened my passion for the Thoroughbred industry but also expanded my horizons in ways I could have never imagined.

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