DEL MAR — It did not seem like the proper atmosphere for a man whose first love is writing poetry.
There were no bookshelves in his office. The walls were decorated only by horse racing schedules and calendars.
Nothing by Frost or Whitman or Dickinson was in sight.
Periodically, exercise riders stopped by to inquire about their daily workouts, and veterinarians came by to ask about treating horses.
The man in the middle of it all was Darrell Vienna, a trainer at the Del Mar Thoroughbred Club.
Vienna spends several hours each day seeing that his horses are cared for. Only when he goes home at night does he get around to his favorite hobby--writing poetry.
Vienna said he has had about 25 poems published. He and a friend, who teaches at Pasadena City College, recently finished editing a literary magazine.
"It's just very easy for me to write poetry," Vienna said. "Short stories and novels take a sustained effort. I have a lot of time limitations. I can write very quickly. Poetry fits in more with the way I live."
Vienna says horses and poetry have long been his two main interests.
When he was 6 years old, he used to ride horses on the weekends. By the time he was 12, he was riding in Junior Rodeos. He started in pro rodeos at 15 and competed in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Assn. while he was a psychology major at UCLA.
Along the way, Vienna, who grew up in Glendale, never forgot about a teacher he had at Burbank High School.
"I had a very good teacher who encouraged me to write." Vienna said. "I needed that nudge to write."
That nudge gave Vienna the motivation to keep writing. And even though he eventually became a trainer, he never lost his desire to write poetry.
"Most of them are kind of rural," he said of his poems. "They deal with kind of minor tragedies. They are the little inconveniences we go through every day where things don't turn out the way we want them to. Sometimes, I write about pleasant things.
"The public has such a distorted perception of poetry. People think it's flowers and rhymes. It's not that way."
Poetry has a way of serving as a diversion from horse racing, Vienna said.
"This is a challenging business and it's very competitive," he said. "It's high pressure. You can forget about those things for a while when you write. It lets you relax that part of yourself that needs relaxing. Writing doesn't interfere with this job. This job interferes with writing."
Why, then, is Vienna training horses full-time instead of writing poetry?
"You get paid for this," he said. "If all I did was write, I'd get too bored. Honestly, I'd choose writing (over training). Writing is my first love. But I don't know how I could live on it."
Horse racing pays the bills--and it's admittedly an exciting occupation for Vienna.
"There's a certain thrill in horse racing that is indescribable," Vienna said. "The animals become an extension of yourself. When they perform well, it's like you have performed well. You get real highs and real lows. That's what people want from life, to feel something."
Vienna's family is used to the highs and lows of racing. His wife, Kris, goes to the track nearly every day. Their 6-year-old son Cristopher often attends morning workouts.
When Cristopher was 18 months old, he was the youngest horse owner in California, according to his father. The Viennas registered a horse under their son's name.
"And," Vienna said, "his horse even won a race."