"Humpty Dumpty don't have nothin' on me," said Dihigi Gladney in a Fresno Bee article published on October of 2007. The colorful comment was how the always-smiling 32-year-old rider described his comeback from a broken back that occurred on January 5, 2003.
Back riding for the last four months, Gladney is winning races with regularity at Los Alamitos. Already, the pilot has won with two of his first seven mounts aboard Thoroughbreds this meeting after winning six races with the breed last year. The fast start has given Gladney the belief that he's now ready to battle for a top spots in the Thoroughbred riding standings at Orange County track.
"Before I got injured I was right there battling with the top Los Alamitos riders like Jorge Bordieu," said Gladney. "It's a whole new colony of jockey now at Los Alamitos, so when I first came in I told them, 'There's going to be a lot more smiling around here.' There are some good riders here. Cesar De Alba is one that I really like the way he handles his business. I've talked to him a lot about handling horses around the turn and he's someone that listens and makes needed changes quickly to improve his riding. You also have some solid veterans like Ramon Guce and Victor Navarro. Every one wants to win races and I know I can get very aggressive riding on the track, but it's important to always know where you are on the track in comparison to others."
Gladney, who grew up in Watts and now resides in Gardena, winces when asked to recall the riding injuries that sidelined him for nearly five years. "I broke the thoracic 8 to thoracic 11 discs on my back plus all of my left ribs," he added. "One minute you're battling to win a race, the next minute you're battling for your life. I had to wear a brace but I still found a way to be around horses."
During his down time, the affable rider started a pony-ride business.
"I was doing a lot of birthday parties and community events," he said. "The pony-ride business was great because it gave the opportunity to make people happy, which is what I try to do as a jockey."
He would also go on long walks alongside his young son, Jaylen. While Gladney walked, Jaylen rode his horse next to the riverbed that stretched from his dad's pony-horse stable all the way to the Queen Mary in Long Beach. "I walked slow but I was right there with Jaylen," he said.
Gladney's young son has become quite a rider. "He tells me, 'Dad, when I grow up I'm going to be a better rider than you.' When I ask him to explain, he says, 'Your grandpa taught you how to ride and you're better than grandpa and now your teaching me how to ride, so I'll be better than you.' How can I argue with that logic?" said Dihigi with a smile.
Jaylen is also part of the riding club that Gladney helped start.
"We have about 40 people that go on horseback during our rides and we have about 60 people in our club. We've even been part of several parades and events. We're going to be at the Martin Luther King Parade with our horses and we're also going to be part of a parade organized by the longshoremen in Long Beach."
Gladney has been pleased with the warm reception he's received from the Los Alamitos trainers. "I'm coming out every morning, so once they started seeing that business has really picked up," said Gladney, who is also the father of a young daughter named, London. "Jim Hanson has given me four mounts and we've already won two races. It's a pleasure to ride for him."
A former bull-rider, Gladney rode Mules at Fairplex Park in late summer before going to The Big Fresno Fair. He's since galloped and ridden horses at Hollywood Park and Santa Anita, while ridden horses at night at Los Alamitos.
"I was exercising horses for trainer Walter Solis across town. I started with a couple of horses. Soon after Walter told me that he has putting away his jockey helmet and that I could take over from there."
Gladney will be riding four horses on Sunday, including the Thoroughbred Cutting Force for Solis in the second race at 4 1/2 furlongs. He also has the mount back aboard Jules' Redemption in the fourth race. Gladney piloted the brown gelding to a four-length victory on December 6, 2007.
In the aforementioned Fresno article, Gladney explained perfectly how he's been able to bounce back after the adversity he faced due to his injuries.
"(The riding accident) broke my back, but not my heart," he concluded while flashing his patented smile.