Debbie McDonald Resigns as USA Developing Coach to Focus on Family & Individuals

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Debbie McDonald and Robert Dover cheering on American combinations at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy. © 2014 Ilse Schwarz/
Debbie McDonald and Robert Dover cheering on American combinations at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy. © 2014 Ilse Schwarz/

Sept. 2, 2015


Debbie McDonald, Olympic and World Games medalist on Brentina on whom she also became the first American to capture the World Cup, has resigned as United States Developing Coach to focus on individual riders and horses and spend more time with her family.

Demand has been enormous from many of America’s top riders to train with the 61-year-old Debbie, including Laura Graves on Verdades and Kimberly Herslow on Rosmarin both of whom were on the U.S. Pan American Games team that clinched a start at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro next year.

Debbie set May 1, 2016 as the date she will step down from the post, giving the U.S. Equestrian Federation eight months to find a successor on the official coaching team headed by Robert Dover, the Technical Advisor/Chef d’Equipe.

“It has truly been an honor to serve in this role, and I am so thankful to have been given the opportunity,” Debbie said. “We have come so far with this program; I am grateful to the USEF sponsors and members, the USET Foundation, and especially Akiko Yamazaki and the Red Husky Foundation for their belief in seeing this program flourish. With their support, we have enhanced the impact of this program and are now able to give riders the opportunity to train and compete in Europe as part of the program.

“It has been such a privilege to see the riders and horses in this program go on to achieve great things at the highest levels of this sport. I will always remain supportive of all the USEF pipeline programs and now look forward to spending more time with my family and personal students.”

As the USEF Developing Dressage Coach for more than 10 years, Debbie has been instrumental in the growth and success of the Developing Dressage Program as a key step in transitioning athletes and horses to the top levels of the sport.

“Debbie has been a tremendous coach for our Developing Program and instrumental in our shared goal of future Olympic Games and World Championship medals. I wish her well and know she will continue to be a strong force for the U.S. dressage community,” said Robert Dover.

“We are extremely grateful to Debbie for all her tireless work and the vision she brought to the USEF Developing Dressage Program. We wish her the best of luck in all her future endeavors,” said Hallye Griffin, USEF Managing Director of Dressage.

Details regarding the 2016 USEF dressage programs will be announced later this year.

Debbie told that, “it became too obvious I was not able to spend enough time with my husband (Bob) and my friends.”

She said she expects to be working with many of the top riders she works with now, but instead of being beside the competition arena in Wellington observing dozens of rides she will be able to coach an individual then head back to her farm a mile away to teach.

“I can’t do it all,” she said, and deciding how to handle the demands “has been driving me crazy for a while.”

She said she wanted to devote the right amount of time working with Adrienne and horses coming from Idaho as well as other riders she has committed to.

“Now I will still be able to help, but in a different way.”

Debbie McDonald and Brentina. © 2008 Ken Braddick
Debbie McDonald and Brentina. © 2008 Ken Braddick

Although just five feet (1.524m) tall, riders who worked with Debbie said she had an intuitive ability coupled with experience to elevate their riding to a higher level.

After the retirement of Brentina and in preparation for the retirement of Wizard that was competed at the 2012 Olympics in London and the World Games in Normandy last year by her assistant, Adrienne Lye, she and her husband had established themselves in Wellington, Florida during the winter circuit. She continues, however, to spend summers in Idaho where she has been based for many years at River Grove, owned by Peggy & Parry Thomas, the owners of Brentina and Wizard.

Debbie took up dressage relatively late in her equestrian career after injuring her back in a horse accident.

She rose to world prominence with the mare Brentina and established an enviable record.

Debbie and the Hanoverian mare won gold at the Pan Americans in 1999, team silver at the World Games in Jerez in 2002, the World Cup Final in 2003, team bronze at the 2004 Olympics and the 2006 World Games. The duo also competed at the 2008 Olympics.

During that time she was in high demand as a trainer. At a U.S. team fund raiser in 2004, three women each paid $80,000–a total of $240,000–for a month of training with Debbie in Idaho.