Emily Donaldson is a dressage trainer and rider based in Chester County PA. She just completed a winter residency in Wellington with trainer Lars Petersen, which is where we met up with Emily and her "lifetime horse" Audi, a happy Equithrive customer.
Real people. Real results.
Name: Emily Donaldson
Based: Parkesburg, PA
Featured Horse: Audi (14yo KWPN-NA Gelding)
Q: Where does this story begin?
Emily: I got a car loan to buy this horse. Ironically, his name is Audi. He was the first horse I bought on my own.
I bought him as a 2-year-old, and started him myself and have done all the training.
Q: What were your goals for Audi when you bought him?
ED: I had goals of developing him to FEI, and it’s been quite a journey. I’ve learned about the good and the bad along the way. When we hit some road bumps I didn’t think he’d get to the point where he is right now--holding his own in FEI competition with the best in the world, is pretty cool.
When I moved to Eastern PA in 2014, he was competing at Third Level at the time, and he was having issues with flying changes. My husband [Dr. Mark Donaldson] is a vet and pretty patient, but eventually felt like it made sense to pawn me off on somebody else. So we went to New Bolton and Elizabeth Davidson, who's a good friend, and determined he had some problems in the SI area. Elizabeth said, pretty honestly, she didn’t think the horse would ever go FEI. We had serious concerns about his topline and discomfort in his back--he has kissing spines.
So I pretty much thought I have nothing to lose. So I rehabbed him, SI injections, took my time and he was able to work his way up to Prix St Georges in 2016.
Q: Talk about your approach to training and managing your horses.
ED: I don’t do a whole lot really, even though I have a husband who can do stuff. I really don’t do a lot of joint injections. Audi gets Equithrive Joint, Purina Ultium and SuperSport, and that’s about it.
We do a lot of hacking and I have a routine with training that I think helps keep them sound and healthy. He has a great farrier, Dave Werkiser, and I think I know him inside and out and know when to push him, when to back off, and how to keep him happy. I know every trainer struggles with that, it’s a constant juggle, but having him on Equithrive has been a great decision. The results definitely speak for themselves.
I start a lot of young horses, and more and more I realize they have to move. All my horses get turned out; the more they move around the better. In the past I would give my horses a day off, but I find that getting on and hacking them or taking them on a hand walk is better. So I try to work them in the ring probably 4-5 days a week, and not all those days are the same--some Cavaletti, some Pessoa, I'm learning more about long-lining--just try to create some diversity to their routine so they don’t get burned out.
Q: Why is dressage the discipline for you?
ED: There’s this feeling that just when you feel like you’ve figured something out, it’s like the rug gets pulled out from under you and you realize there’s so much to learn. Since coming down to Florida and training with Lars [Petersen], I feel like I’ve dissected myself and I’m starting to put myself back together again. It really tests your nerves and your ability under pressure and your training. There’s something about the precision, and the feeling of riding a dressage horse that’s unlike anything else. It’s just this harmony, and it sounds corny, but that feeling of totally being one. It’s silly but it’s really cool.
So that’s what keeps me going back for more. You feel like you’re struggling and you wake up the next day and you're right back it. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Q: So there is obviously extra emotion when you're working with your own horse versus a client's horse?
ED: Sometimes it’s easier to train horses that aren’t your own. We know each other so well that I put too much pressure on myself, and he knows that, and I’m his person and he tries so hard for me. He’s so sensitive, he should be a mare. I like to own my own horses, I like that relationship, I like to develop them and hold myself accountable for the good and the bad. It's not that having a client horse that's successful is any less valuable or significant, but there's just something about having your own, who you pay the bills for and that you've earned every bit of it that makes it a little more special.
What fuels our drive and passion for improving the health and wellness of your horses? You. When we hear from customers that our products making a difference it reaffirms this labor of love, and it also pushes us to continue elevating the industry standard. Got a story to tell? Give us a shout - john(at)thriveah(dot)com.