There’s a time in every adolescent’s life, when he or she begins to feel a notion—one which pulls their heartstrings in the direction of something about which they are truly passionate. For Drayden Van Dyke, this notion lived within him long before the transformational age of adolescence. It was a love deeply rooted in the fiber of his being, from early childhood.
Surely, it may have been passed on to him by father, Seth “Squirt” Van Dyke, a horseman himself as both a rider in the mornings and afternoons. But Drayden’s profound understanding of the Thoroughbred was forged, in large part, because of Tom Proctor and Glen Hill Farm.
Upon graduating high school, Proctor took notice of still-teenaged Van Dyke, who was beginning to ride a pony for Jimmy Baker. It was then, that the budding-horseman’s education truly began.
Proctor sent him to Ocala to hone his skills beneath the watchful eyes of Glenn Hill Farm. He would learn to break yearlings—starting young horses in the infancies of what would hopefully be successful careers.
Mirroring Van Dyke’s own learning experience in working with them, yearlings were brought up slowly, and brought up correctly—through patience, time, and a cool but steady hand.
It was through his education at Glen Hill Farm, that he learned the most valuable component of his craft— a sense of true horsemanship and respect for the animals upon which he now sits, guiding them to victory through a combination of patience and finesse.
At just 23 years old, Drayden Van Dyke, who was born in Louisville and raised in Hot Springs, has found his way to the top of California’s storied jockey colony. With an esteemed Del Mar riding title under his belt, and mounts supplied by Hall of Famers Bob Baffert and Jerry Hollendorfer, Van Dyke remains the same gentle soul, ever humble and struck with wonder in the presence of the animals he loves most.
Mentor and close friend, Hall of Famer Mike Smith was one of the first jockeys to take the young rider under his wing upon his arrival in California. Smith describes Van Dyke as a world-class horseman:
“He was brought up the right way by Glenn Hill Farm and Tom Proctor. Drayden learned horsemanship before he learned to ride,” reflects Smith. “When you watch him, he’s patient and truly feels the horse. He’s such a kind and likable guy, and that’s what makes people really want to help him out. He’s very appreciative.”
And so the boy whose young life has spanned the width of a country–from the legendary Bluegrass to Hot Springs and Ocala and now to sunny California–continues to exercise what was the very foundation upon that which his philosophy is built.
It is a belief that the horse always comes first. It is one which allows Van Dyke to feel—truly feel—the animals beneath him, in a deeper sense than most are able; and it derives from early mornings with wide-eyed yearlings in the heart of Florida horse country. It derives from countless hours spent studying the actions and reactions of the young horse, learning everything for the first time. It derives from an understanding between human and equine which can only be built within the walls of hard work and dedication.
For Drayden Van Dyke, horsemanship— true horsemanship— is the root of everything.
Thank you to Jeff Ruby Culinary Entertainment for bringing you this installment of The Jockeys.