Tuesday, Jun. 4, 2024

Free Rein With: Debbie McDonald

Pint-sized powerhouse Debbie McDonald has collected an impressive array of accolades on the international dressage scene in the past 10 years. Partnered with Mr. and Mrs. E. Parry Thomas’ famed mare Brentina, McDonald earned team silver at the 2002 World Equestrian Games (Spain), team bronze at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, team bronze at the 2006 WEG (Germany), and was the first U.S. rider to capture the World Cup Dressage Championship title, in 2003. Brentina was named the Chronicle’s Dressage Horse of the Year in 2001 and 2002, and the U.S.

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Pint-sized powerhouse Debbie McDonald has collected an impressive array of accolades on the international dressage scene in the past 10 years. Partnered with Mr. and Mrs. E. Parry Thomas’ famed mare Brentina, McDonald earned team silver at the 2002 World Equestrian Games (Spain), team bronze at the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, team bronze at the 2006 WEG (Germany), and was the first U.S. rider to capture the World Cup Dressage Championship title, in 2003. Brentina was named the Chronicle’s Dressage Horse of the Year in 2001 and 2002, and the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s Horse of the Year in 2005.

After a long hiatus from competition, McDonald is now gearing Brentina up for a fall tour in Europe, and she’s campaigning her new star, Felix, at Grand Prix. From her cell phone en route to the airport, McDonald divulged her thoughts on fashion, fiction and the future of her sport.

Name: Debbie McDonald   

Home Base: Sun Valley, Idaho   

Age: 53

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If you hadn’t become a professional rider, where would you be right now?
Maybe training seeing-eye dogs. That was also a real passion of mine.

Given the chance, what horse other than your own would you like to take a turn on?
I know it sounds silly, but just once I’d like to ride a race horse, just to feel that on a racetrack. Not in a race—I’d just like to breeze one a bit. Maybe the mare that just won the Belmont [Rags To Riches].

What word or phrase do you overuse?

Probably “Does that make sense?”

What is your drink of choice?

Diet Mountain Dew.

What is your biggest self-indulgence?

Having a manicure and pedicure.

What is the best feeling in the world?

Standing on the Olympic podium.

Who or what is the greatest love of your life?

My husband, Bob. [They met when Debbie was just 14 and have trained horses together for more than 20 years].

What sound is music to your ears?

Horses munching on their breakfasts early in the mornings.

What one item from your wardrobe best personifies you?

There’s this pair of Gap jeans and an old T-shirt. I guess that means I’m just a very low-maintenance kind of person.

What do you think is the biggest issue facing the world today?

Terrorism.

What was the last book you read?
The last Harry Potter! [Harry Potter And The Deathly Hallows]

What three things are most likely to be found in your refrigerator at all times?
Diet Coke, Diet Mountain Dew and water. You can tell I cook a lot, right?

What do you find to be the most ridiculous part of the horse world?
Chat Rooms.

What is your favorite competition venue?
Aachen, Germany. Over the years I’ve had some great memories there with some great teams. It’s just a fantastic atmosphere.

Jack Russells: yes or no?

Absolutely.

What equine fad do you perpetuate?

I guess I would say the People On Horses browbands. My favorite was the red, white and blue one they made for Brentina for the Olympics. But that’s about as much bling as I would ever go for.

What characteristic do you value most in a horse?

Personality and attitude. It’s what draws me to a horse.

In a human?

Complete honesty.

Who do you think is the biggest and brightest star coming up the dressage ranks today?

I would have to say there are two riders I really think are going to be future stars for us: Courtney King and my new assistant, Adrienne Lyle. They have what the United States needs as far as talent. I think these two are right there. And I know Courtney already really has the backing behind her, so it’s nice to see that we have a combination coming up with that whole thing in place.

Where will you be in 10 years?

Alive, hopefully! If so, I’d love to be training young up-and-coming riders somewhere, maybe still in Idaho or in California, but definitely out West. I’m a West Coast sort of person.

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