Reclaiming the Joy in Riding with Darby Furth Bonomi

Reclaiming the Joy in Riding with Darby Furth Bonomi

May 10, 2018

Entrepreneur to Admire: A Series

Darby Furth Bonomi, founder of Leg Up Performance Coaching

With Mother’s day approaching on Sunday, the timing could not be more perfect to feature one of the horse show mothers and business professionals that I admire, Darby Furth Bonomi, PhD. I met Dr. Bonomi last July during the West Coast Jr. Hunter Finals under quite serendipitous circumstances. She was attending the event in sunny Del Mar, CA as a horse show mother to support her daughter who was qualified in the younger age group and I was visiting the event to watch my hunter show in the open hunter performance division.

I typically write each morning when attending horse shows from the closest Starbucks (caffeine and complimentary wifi!) and during this particular week I was finishing a story about Jill Slater of RIATA Designs. I spotted Darby because she was wearing a beautifully trimmed RIATA Sun Hat to protect her skin from the warm Southern California sun rays. I really do not like approaching and introducing myself to complete strangers, but I needed to conduct a fact check to ensure that the hat in question was a RIATA. Dr. Bonomi confirmed my identification and she was gracious enough to allow me to shoot a few candids for the story.

Photo: Darby in her role as the quintessential horse show mother during the 2017 USHJA West Cost Junior Hunter Finals, complete with  RIATA Sun Hat and crop in her back pocket!

Over the weekend, we continued to share conversations. Dr. Bonomi is a horse show mother to TWO juniors and also an accomplished lifetime equestrian. She is an advocate of education and has earned an impressive PhD and practiced within various capacities of the field of psychology (see biography below). We discussed the need for amateurs to create a family-riding-work balance and also how difficult it is to enjoy riding while navigating our real-time digital lifestyle.

Dr. Bonomi shared that she was placing the final touches on launching a performance consulting business. Different than mental skills coaching, she clarified that her objective was to create a model that was centered on performance coaching and providing the tools to support families and/or individuals navigating the complexities of the horse show world. Although the concept was unique, I was sure of its future success, specifically when we conversed about a major issue I personally struggle with, as do a few of my friends.  This roadblock is how to stop the chatter in my head (costs, fear, time away from work and family) and reclaim the joy back into riding.

Due to her personal journey as a successful junior, experience as a competing amateur, while simultaneously crossing into her role as a horse show mother, and her extensive experience professional experience in the field of psychology, Darby Furth Bonomi possesses the skill set needed to address a wide breadth of assistance to clients involved in equestrian sport. From an amateur questioning how to find the joy in riding and/or showing again, a rider wanting to improve specific performance goals, or parents needing assistance in navigating the intricacies of the complex horse show world, Dr. Bonomi is a natural choice to meet your unique individual goals.


Kristin M. Thornton


“I love to see the transformation of my clients’ performance and their rediscovery of joy when they make peace with their fears."

"Horses are the best healers; sometimes those of us in the show world forget why we fell in love with them in our earlier years. Reconnecting to the relationship with our horses is a key to my work.”
Darby Bonomi, PhD
Proprietor, Leg Up Performance Coaching

Q: You have over 25 years experience in the field of psychology including teaching residents in hospitals, private practice and fostering psychological health in schools, What made you recognize the need for Performance Coaching in equestrian sport and ultimately filingl this niche?

All my life I have been a helper—therapist, teacher, advisor—I love to give people a leg up to help them fully own their experience, exceed their riding goals and keep a healthy long term outlook. The idea of combining my skills, experience and passion to advise riders and their families is a natural given my background, skills and devotion to horses and our sport. What sets me apart are not only my credentials and experience as a psychologist, but also my years of experience in the horse world—both as a junior and amateur rider, parent and owner on the A circuit. My over-arching goal is to make our sport better place—by educating consumers and supporting the long-term health and well being of riders and their families.

Q: How is Performance Coaching different than Mental Skills coaching?

What I do is not only about performance or developing mental skills. While enhanced performance is one of the outcomes, I aim to provide riders and families with the tools and perspective to navigate the complex equestrian world while staying connected to what is most important. I promote long term health and happiness of riders, horses and their support systems (families, trainers). My clients experience greater well-being, a sense of mastery and more enjoyment of their sport—and, as a result—improved performance both in and out of the show ring.

Q. Do you have an “ideal” type of client?

My ideal client is an experienced horse person and/or horse family with the desire to reflect on their involvement in the sport in order to optimize performance, experience and enjoyment. I specialize in helping my clients navigate complicated situations with various components—horses, trainers, families, siblings and non-riding members of the family too. As we all know, this isn’t a sport that you can dabble in—it’s full contact and impacts the entire family. Family consultation, education and support turns out to be a significant part of my business.

Q. Can you give an overview of your process if a potential client is interested in working with you?

I meet with potential clients for half an hour or so to learn about their situation and needs. If it seems like a fit—meaning we both want to work together and feel we can be productive—we design a plan and go forward. There is no one-size-fits-all here. Many clients come with a riding issue, such as working through their fears; others come with a complex family and horse situation that needs to be untangled, reorganized and supported over time. Some of my clients are new to the industry and have questions about horse deals, trainers, shows, etc. and want to be educated and guided through the process.

I love working with different people and scenarios—the only requirement I have is that my clients are passionate and committed to their long-term health and to that of their horses!

To learn more about Leg Up Performance Coaching, visit
To contact with Darby directly, visit

$1000 for a package of 5 hours for.
“Each situation is unique, but anything with complexity usually takes time and commitment.”


Darbu Furth Bonomi, PhD:  Mother, Equestrian and Professional

Horses came into my life when I was 10.  My family acquired a farm in Sonoma County and a motley group of horses and ponies was part of the package.  It didn’t take long before I realized that being at the barn provided a calm shelter from family life and daily pressures.

Raised in San Francisco, I attended University High School and UC Berkeley. As I advanced in my riding career, I rode with esteemed trainers Lu and Butch Thomas and Linda and Champ Hough.  I was one of the early junior riders to ride against professionals in the Open Working Hunters on my horse K-Doc. I also showed throughout the country and ‘Indoors.' My junior career concluded with a top 25 placing in the ASPCA Maclay Finals at Madison Square Garden in 1980.

Photo: Darby competing on K-Doc at the Maclay finals at Madison Square Garden, November 1980.  During this period of her junior career, she showed under the tutelage of Champ and Linda Hough at Sutton Place.
In 1991, I earned my PhD from California School of Professional Psychology and went on to obtain my postgraduate psychoanalytic training at the San Francisco Psychoanalytic Institute, graduating in 1999. There, I joined the faculty and taught psychiatric residents and psychology interns at various Bay Area hospitals.
Having three children shifted my direction. After 17 years in private practice, I decided to spend more time with my family and refocus my career on fostering health rather than treating illness. As a consultant to preschools, I empowered teachers and school administrators with psychological skills that aided their understanding of and connection to the students and their parents. As a parent educator, I taught group seminars and consulted with parents on both problem behaviors and family wellness practices.
My belief has always been that parents are the experts on their own kids; I decipher the messages and provide tools to boost communication, but parents’ intervention is the most powerful.  

Photo: Darby with daughters Adele and Clara and coach Robin Waugman at the  2018 IEA Zone 10 Finals.
About 10 years ago, it became clear to me that my older daughter, then 6, needed to ride.  As I searched for the right program, I had no idea that I would be drawn back into the equestrian life that I had left and missed so much. I find myself once again happily entrenched in the show world as a competitor, parent of competitors, herd manager, judge in training and trusted advisor to riders and their families. I have several horses in training at Sonoma Valley Stables; my daughters and I are regulars on the A show circuit.

Photo: Darby showing her "Little Wing" at the Sonoma Horse Park
In addition, I'm a former board member and current consultant to Giant Steps Therapeutic Equestrian Center in Petaluma, CA.

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