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Young Equestrians Train With Jacob Pope ’12 in Florida

Equestrians in McDonogh's Emerging Athletes Program with trainer Amy Dawson '95 and Jacob Pope '12 at the Wellington International show in Florida.


A highlight of the Lower School physical education program is the equestrian unit. Each year, children look forward to heading across campus to the horse barn where they take their first rides on the School ponies and learn the basics of horse care. For some, the introduction to the sport turns into a lifetime love, and McDonogh’s Equestrian Program offers a variety of after-school opportunities for them to pursue their passion. From lessons for the littlest lower schoolers to preparing Middle and Upper School equestrians for competition, McDonogh’s trainers guide riders on a carefully curated path.

“Participating in the year-round sport takes dedication and discipline,” says Amy Dawson ’95 who has been an integral part of McDonogh’s Equestrian Program since 2007. She explains that along with her team of six trainers, the staff in the Boston Equestrian Center care for and condition the 68 horses and ponies stabled at McDonogh, teach and coach the 273 students who are involved with the extracurricular program, and prepare riders for local, regional, and national competitions—many of which take place at McDonogh.

This school year (2023-2024), Dawson introduced the Emerging Athletes Program (EAP) modeled after a program of the United States Equestrian Federation. The goal of McDonogh’s program is to instill confidence and independence in riders in grades seven to 11, through hard work, grit, and determination, preparing them for all levels of collegiate riding and competition. When the program was announced, middle schoolers Hailey S. ’28 and Kathryn N. ’29 immediately applied and were accepted along with three other girls who have demonstrated a commitment to the sport.

In January, Dawson took the girls to Wellington, Florida, the winter equestrian capital of the world, to train with McDonogh’s most well-known equestrian alumnus Jacob Pope ’12. “Jacob is the Cinderella story of our industry,” explains Dawson who recalls his trajectory from a 10-year-old McDonogh student to international acclaim. “He worked really hard, got noticed, and won a huge medal final which propelled his career. Jacob is an illustration of how a student can move through the program and an example of how hard work pays off.”

During the four-day trip to Florida, McDonogh’s EAP equestrians trained with Pope and literally followed in his footsteps as they walked the complex Grand Prix Course he competed on later in their visit. While Hailey and Kathryn were in awe of the facility, the opportunity to spend time with and learn from the former McDonogh student was a highlight of the visit. “It was an amazing and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be taught by this world-class athlete,” says Kathryn who saw how each rider approaches the course differently and discovered that even elite equestrians make mistakes.

The equestrians in the Emerging Athletes Program not only ride and train six days a week, but they are also busy behind the scenes, grooming, bathing, tacking, and schooling their horses. “We're expected to take care of our own horses,” says Hailey. “Because we do our own work, we have a better connection with the horses.”

McDonogh’s equestrian athletes are also expected to maintain good grades, especially if they aspire to ride at a Division I college. When it comes to achieving her academic goals, Kathryn says, “EAP is really important too because it shows you how to manage your time.”

Hailey explains, “It's really important to get good grades and the program teaches us to balance schoolwork and riding at the same time.” Then, using the words of their coach Amy Dawson she adds, "It's not just about riding, it's about life.”