|Leslie McDonald, USDF Gold Medalist|
Things Take Time: An Interview with Leslie McDonald, USDF Gold Medalist
by Gina McKnight
Archived from the September 2021 issue of Florida Equine Athlete
No Duplication without Permission
“T…T…T…: Things Take time. Be sure to allow
the necessary time for you and your horse
to achieve your goals.”
Leslie McDonald grew up in the Chicago suburbs, the only child in a non-horsey home. Leslie writes, “When I was four my father treated me to my first ride at a local pony farm where children were lifted onto the saddles of chunky Shetlands to be led around a small, dusty oval. I’ll never forget my Pinto pony’s name was Jambalaya. My father nicknamed him ‘The Pony with Hay Fever’ as he sneezed throughout the entire ride. Needless to say, that first ride was a hit, resulting in many happy returns to visit Jambalaya. Bitten early by the horse bug, she received her first riding lesson on her 8th birthday and never looked back. Even throughout college at DePauw University, Leslie continued to teach and train, scheduling classes around off-campus riding commitments.
Leslie currently is the proprietor of Full Cry Farm, a private 10-stall stable on 20 acres in Batavia, Ohio where she specializes in dressage. Leslie shares her farm with her husband, Doug; Captain the Labrador and a very special Corgi named Trapper. Her love of horses has traveled beyond the barn, creating and producing the Midwest Horse Fair in Madison, Wisconsin from 1980-1995. Under Leslie’s management, the all-breed expo grew to be the largest in the country, featuring demonstrations by over 40 associations, 250+ retailers and seminars presented by noted equine authorities.
GM: Leslie, I am thrilled to meet you and share your love of horses. As an award-winning equestrian, you have an extensive horse history. No matter our riding style, we are all horse-lovers here and can relate to one another. Tell us about your riding discipline…
LM: Beginning in 1958, my earliest lessons were hunt seat. In addition to showing, I also did quite a bit of foxhunting in my teens and twenties. In 1974, I took up Eventing, eventually competing through the Preliminary level. Since 1980, my passion and profession has been dressage, excelling through the Grand Prix level. I am a United States Dressage Federation Gold, Silver and Bronze medalist.
GM: Congratulations on your accomplishments! I admire your talent and dedication. Besides riding, you are also a trainer. As a horse trainer, what methods do you use?
LM: Dressage is a wonderful discipline, benefiting all breeds of horses no matter your preferred style of riding. From pleasure horse to the competitive show ring, it teaches the horse to be straight, balanced, engaged and relaxed. It also educates the rider in the proper use of the aids to communicate harmoniously with their horse.
GM: In addition to being a professional equestrian, you are an author. I have perused a few of your titles, including your children’s literature and short stories. Well-written and recommended reading, I love that you have taken the time to write down your life with horses. What titles have you written?
LM: I have been fortunate to be able to incorporate my experiences with horses into the books I write. All of my stories are drawn from the horses, people and circumstances that have made my journey down the aisle so special.
To date, I have published five books: Making Magic: Breeding & Birthing a Healthy Foal (Non-fiction 2007), Musings of a Horse Farm Corgi (Fiction 2012), Tic-Tac (Children’s Literature 2013), Down the Aisle (Short Stories 2016), and Journeys with Horses (Short Stories 2016).
GM: So many great stories! Do you have a horse-related inspirational anecdote to share?
LM: In 1987, I was schooling a fractious mare who reared, threw herself over backwards and rolled between my legs, severely breaking and separating my pelvis. I had previously experienced riding accidents, but never one so extreme. However, it took far longer to heal the emotional damage than the physical. For the first time in my life, I was confronted by my own mortality and it terrified me. I seriously wondered if I would ever be able to continue to do the thing I most enjoyed in life.
My healer proved to be a wonderful Dutch Warmblood schoolmaster named Tusquin who I purchased to help restore confidence in myself and my abilities. With time and patience, he far exceeded all expectations, ultimately carrying me down the center line of the Grand Prix dressage arena.
One of my greatest strengths as an instructor evolved from that near career ending accident. I gained insight into what genuine fear feels like which gave me the ability to truly relate to a student’s fears or uncertainties to help them move forward to achieve their goals as I had.
GM: Leslie, that is a profound story. Reading about your accident, I can only imagine what you’ve been through. To get back in the saddle, regain your confidence, and now help others is admirable. What is your best advice for novice riders?
LM: Years ago, my dear mentor, Major Anders Lindgren, shared an important piece of advice that I always pass along to all my students. T…T…T…: Things Take time. Be sure to allow the necessary time for you and your horse to achieve your goals. Set realistic goals and don’t be afraid to step back and reassess them if they become too challenging. Don’t push the timeline to reach a skill or competition level until you and your horse are ready.
GM: Sound advice for every rider – every discipline. What should a rider look for when purchasing their first horse?
LM: Before beginning the search, define your goals and be realistic about your abilities. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses as well as the type of horse that is most suitable for your discipline. If you are a novice rider, don’t over face yourself with a horse that is beyond your ability level unless you have an experienced trainer to help you on the journey.
GM: What does horsemanship mean to you?
LM: First and foremost, always consider your horse’s welfare. Take the time to educate yourself not just in the saddle, but to horse care on the ground as well. Your horse is your responsibility, so it is important to learn as much as possible regarding his needs and requirements. Above all else, always listen to your horse to understand his strengths and limitations.
Connect with Leslie…
Facebook: Full Cry Farm Dressage
Amazon Author Page: Leslie McDonald