Finding a way to spend time with horses was challenging for Dan Dali when he was a kid. He needed to be both enterprising and ambitious.
Dali created handmade signs and posted them in local businesses such as 7-Eleven or a gas station. He offered his hard work to the public.
In exchange for barn chores, no job was too big or too small, Dali didn’t want money. He wanted a chance to ride. Soon he was taking his bike to freelance work near his home in South Hadley, Massachusetts.
“I actually got some responses,” Dali said. “I was pretty much working as a 9-year-old. I had a barn to go to every day.”
Dali grew up with cows on his family’s farm, so he was forced to look elsewhere for equine friends. His first experience with a horse was a neighbor’s pony named Starlight.
It wasn’t long before Dali was hooked. Those rides with Starlight remain memorable, even if they were sometimes challenging.
“She was probably the nastiest little pony I ever met,” Dali said with a laugh. “She was friendly. She would just try to dump me every day.”
Dali went to school to study computer maintenance and repair and expected to enter that field. He was diagnosed with bone cancer behind his knee when he was 21. That set him on a different path.
Horses were always his passion. He owned his first, a quarter horse named Sage, at age 16. His cancer scare told him to follow his heart.
Dali now owns and operates Mountain View Training Center, an 11-acre property in Granby, Massachusetts. It’s a short drive from his childhood roots.
The facility offers a variety of services from riding lessons to boarding to training to horsemanship. Dali and his staff of five employees provide the same chance to ride that he coveted many years ago.
“I think about that a lot,” he said. “I see myself in a lot of these kids, which is really funny. Some of them are super dedicated and it’s great to watch.”
Dali opened his center in 2011 and specializes in Friesians, a breed he has always found compelling because of their bloodlines and stud book. Today’s Friesians can be traced back hundreds of years.
There are 30-35 Friesians at Mountain View at a given time. Dali breeds them and sells them at shows. The next show will be held at Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield, Massachusetts, on Oct. 14.
Dali has become well-known throughout New England as the Friesian guy. He’s the president of the Northeast Friesian Horse Association.
“I met my first Friesian and it kind of exploded from there,” Dali said. “I ended up getting really connected with the Friesian group and really interested in the breed. I made it my goal to know as much as I could about them.”
Dali, 38, is in good health and his decision to follow his heart was validated. When he started training, he had to work for his in-laws to supplement his income.
Mountain View has become successful. One thing childhood taught Dali is there’s never a shortage of people who want to be around horses.
“In the beginning it was hard,” he said. “I worked scooping ice cream and teaching riding lessons just to make it by. As I’ve grown and our reputation and business have grown, it has become a lucrative career.”
Dali’s days start around 7 a.m. and continue through 6 p.m. He spends that time riding and training. It’s hard for him to imagine a better life.
“I actually have to say I feel pretty good with where I am now,” Dali said. “If I can just stay right here, it would make me happy.”
Without Starlight or those handmade signs, Dali believes he would have discovered horses eventually. Some interests are innate. They can’t be denied.
“We like to call it horse blood,” he said. “You’re either born with it or you’re not. You see them and you just have to have them.”
Dali found a way to make it happen. Even if it wasn’t always easy.