How dressage legend Debbie McDonald still has her sights on the podium, this time as Dressage Technical Advisor & Chef d’Equipe.
The first time Debbie McDonald ever came in contact with a horse was at her uncle’s ranch in Kansas. She was 11. “It was almost instant. The minute I touched that very first horse, it was like … that’s what I want in my life.”
And the success she’s had since then has been beyond anything she ever dreamed.
Standing on the podium at the Athens Olympics …. Winning Team Silver at the World Equestrian Games in Spain … being the first U.S. rider to win the Dressage World Cup … riding to a 98-piece live orchestra during a fundraiser at her farm in Idaho …
And now, helping America’s elite dressage riders achieve their dreams as a trainer — and, in her new role as technical director for the U.S. Dressage Team.
As a competitor, Debbie McDonald was the star of the American dressage scene from 1999—2006. She was even dubbed the “First Lady of Dressage” after helping capture Team Bronze astride the charismatic Brentina at the Athens Olympics.
But when she finally decided to retire, she had no intention of “going out to pasture.” She recalls, “I wanted to see if I could be successful bringing riders up to the very highest levels of the sport … to help make their dreams come true.”
And that’s what she’s been doing ever since. First, with Adrienne Lyle. And today, with top talents like Laura Graves, Kasey Perry-Glass, and Olivia LaGoy-Weltz.
She may not be the one in the saddle these days, but her hopes for the Team remain the same: “What I want is to be on the podium at the highest level. I would love to see us shoot for the gold every time.”
But, says Debbie, that requires funding from Foundation supporters like you:
“To be honest, we’re now more recognized as a possible threat than we ever have been. But without the support, we cannot and will not be able to stay competitive in the world. It just isn’t going to happen.”
For Debbie, staying at the top takes early mornings and long days. She starts answering emails around 4am, starts lessons around 8am. She does 45-minute sessions with an average of 8-10 students a day. 6 days a week. And then there’s travel to visit certain students and, of course, horse shows.
“My schedule is a little harder to balance now — but I don’t regret any of it. I love it, it’s exciting and rewarding.”
That’s probably why, in what little downtime she has, Debbie likes “really peaceful things.” Hiking with her dogs if she’s at her house in Idaho, taking the boat out. And now that she’s grandma to 1-year-old Maris — “a rider for sure,” laughs Debbie — she’s got another project on the horizon.
“Man, in a few years, Maris and I … we’re just gonna have a blast.”