WWU equestrian alum works with dressage team at Olympics
|7/30/2012||Mary Ann Beahon|
|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE||(573) 592-1127|
Any equestrian understands that being a groom at the upper echelons of the sport is a difficult task during which sleep comes rarely, planning is unpredictable, and dedication isn’t only required, it is vital.
No one understands this better than Lauren Donahoo, a William Woods University equestrian graduate who is serving as a dressage groom during the Olympics.
Dressage— sometimes called “horse ballet”— is a French term meaning “training.” Its purpose is to develop the horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to work, making him calm, supple and attentive to his rider. It is arguably the most elegant sport of the Olympic Games.
Donahoo was selected by Tina Konyot of Palm City, Fla., a Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI)-level rider, to serve as a professional groom in London. Her responsibility is Calecto V. Calecto, a dark brown Danish Warmblood stallion that Konyot owns and personally trained.
“I am grateful she took me on so that I could raise my standards and education to that of an international competition groom,” Donahoo said.
“Tina did hand-pick me, I suppose. I had solid references and a lot of enthusiasm to learn. She's also expressed that she needed someone who was a fast-paced person, and I appreciate multitasking and staying busy so I adapted pretty well to her expectations,” she said.
“I had prior experience handling a stallion, though exponentially different, and I think that helped as well. When she offered me the job, I did not hesitate for one minute to say ‘yes.’ This opportunity is unheard of, and worth every risk I took! I could not put a price tag on this experience.”
“It is just really exciting,” Laura Ward, assistant professor of equestrian studies at William Woods, said of Donahoo’s participation. “We have had students working overseas, but not for an Olympic contender. And of course ‘groom’ at this international level is a gross understatement. When Lauren got the call from Tina, we all told her she had to go! The horse was one of the top 10 in the U.S.”
Donahoo described being in Europe as “Unbelievable … The whole atmosphere is electric and really warming up. Being surrounded by the top six Grand Prix horses and their riders is spoiling me and teaching me so much. The USEF staff is incredible; all of it is truly amazing.”
While in college, Donahoo gained experience with breeding and showing stallions and riding Grand Prix schoolmasters working during summer and winter breaks. She worked with dressage notables Mary Claeys, owner and trainer at Bridled Passion farm in Cleburne, Texas; Anne Gribbons, owner and head trainer at Knoll Dressage near Orlando, Fla.; and Karen Pautz, clinical instructor of dressage at William Woods University.
Donahoo, who is from North Richland Hills, Texas, also worked as the assistant trainer at Lyndon Rife Dressage in Pilot Point, Texas, where she was mainly starting young horses and preparing/exercising show horses.
Since 2010, Donahoo has worked as a trainer of Iberian horses at MyLeah Andalusians, a small farm in Calwood, Mo., owned by a 2010 WWU graduate, Leah Hohmeier Strid, and dedicated to breeding and showing Andalusians.
“Working with Lauren has been a dream come true for us. The Iberian horse has a unique temperament, and finding a trainer who can bring them along correctly while maximizing their potential was a challenging task for us,” Strid said.
“Watching her have the chance to live her dreams at the Olympics is a humbling experience, and we look forward to the day she is competing there herself—maybe on one of our horses!”
Donahoo earned her bachelor of science degree in equestrian science from William Woods University in 2011 and stayed on as a graduate assistant, where her job entailed keeping track of the equine health records.
She also continued to work at MyLeah, showing a young horse at one of WWU’s dressage shows and participating in a clinic with Pierre St. Jacques, a trainer of dressage horses and riders who has represented the USA at numerous international competitions.
When Donahoo was given the opportunity of being an Olympic groom, Strid and the WWU equestrian faculty encouraged her to accept the challenge, and Donahoo began work with Calecto in December, 2011.
As a professional groom, it is Donahoo’s sole task to take care of Calecto, including noticing any mood swings, change of eating habits, and spending every waking moment with the stallion.
“This entails being a nanny, a caddy, a butler, a personal masseuse, an office assistant, equipment manager and security guard all rolled into one,” Donahoo said. “I have been helping Tina prepare with Calecto since the day I arrived. Everything to do with the horse is my responsibility, from medications to farrier to vet visits and even being her eyes-on-the-ground when she is away from the team coach.”
She added, “I took the position knowing that I would not have the opportunity to ride because my focus has to be 110 percent Calecto. I have essentially been out of the saddle; I do not train with Tina, but I have the elite privilege of walking Calecto occasionally, which is a thrill I cannot put into words.”
Strid said her friend puts in 12-15 hour days and often barely has time to grab a sandwich for lunch.
“Grooming at this level is intense, and Lauren is a perfectionist, so she goes above and beyond taking care of Calecto.”
During the trip over the Atlantic, Donahoo was originally scheduled to ride in Calecto’s crate with him to make sure he handled the plane ride without stress. Plans changed, however, because there wasn’t room for her.
“It’s not a job for the faint of heart,” Dr. Brendan Fulong, the veterinarian for the American eventing team, said. “You need to have someone who is a very confident flier and who can intervene quickly to calm a stressed horse.”
This will be Konyot’s first time to ride in the Olympics, fulfilling a lifelong goal. She will compete Aug. 2, 3, 7 and 9 in both the team and individual dressage events. In addition to Konyot, the United States 2012 Olympic Dressage Team, which is coached by Ann Gribbons, consists of Steffen Peters, Adrienne Lyle and Jan Ebeling. Ebeling will ride Rafalca, a horse he co-owns with Ann Romney, wife of presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
In June, Konyot and Calecto had a strong showing at the USEF Festival of Champions, which doubled as the U.S. Olympic Dressage Team Selection Trials. Over the course of two weekends, they put in four strong scores, ending the competition in second place overall. They also had a special personal accomplishment as one test garnered a score of 80.149, the first time the combination has ever topped 80 percent in competition.
While numerous WWU students have worked around the world with various trainers and riders, Donahoo is excited to be the first to work with the Olympics.
Her alma mater, William Woods University, has a reputation for providing one of the finest equestrian studies programs in the country – filling a national, regional and local demand for graduates holding a four-year equestrian science degree.
In 1972, WWU was the first school in the country to offer a bachelor’s degree in equestrian science. An equine administration degree was added in 1992. Last year, a new equine general studies major was added. The major is meant to be combined with a concentration in art, equestrian leadership, equestrian studies, equine media or therapeutic riding to give students more specialized knowledge and more career options after graduation.
Calecto V. nuzzles Lauren Donahoo.
Tina Konyot rides Calecto V. in competition.
U.S. dressage riders Jan Ebling, Adrienne Lyle, Tina Konyot and Steffen Peters.
Calecto at rest on the lush training grounds.
Airline crate for Calecto
Calecto at rest on the lush training grounds.
Airline crate for Calecto
A British dressage rider proudly carries the Olympic torch.