A Rising STAR
Quinn Iverson caught the eye of Debbie McDonald at age 15 and three years later is following in the footsteps of predecessor Adrienne Lyle.
C ould dressage history repeat itself for young rider Quinn Iverson? The Oregonian became a working student for dressage legend Debbie McDonald last year, bringing to mind memories of how Adrienne Lyle started her international career.
In 2005, Lyle came to McDonald’s stable at River Grove Farm in Idaho as a working student. Aside from a brief college stint, she never left, rising through the ranks to ride for the U.S. at both the 2012 Olympics and the 2014 FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG).
Iverson’s story, which is just beginning, is slightly different in that she was discovered by McDonald in a clinic where she was riding at First Level. “The horse was very green,” recalled McDonald. “He wasn’t completely on the bit. But there was something about the way she handled the situation when he wasn’t being so polite. There were glimpses of what I thought to be talent in both the horse and the rider,” noted U.S. Equestrian’s dressage development coach, who knows potential when she sees it.
For her part, Iverson says, “Being with Debbie and Adrienne, I couldn’t ask for more. They are the most spectacular people I’ve ever had a chance to work with. They both can get so much out of you. They really make you want to try for them.”
At the clinic where she spotted Iverson, McDonald had asked the teen if she were home-schooled. When Iverson said she wasn’t, Iverson remembers that the trainer replied, “You should get on that and come train with me.” It wasn’t long before McDonald received word that Iverson had started taking classes online. After being told that the only way a working-student arrangement could pan out was that she would have to keep up with her schoolwork, Iverson arrived at River Grove on her 16th birthday to take advantage of the opportunity of a lifetime. It was supposed to be a trial at first to see how it would go. It went well. “We were falling in love with the kid. She kept proving that under our kind of a system, things were moving along in a good way. It just keeps evolving,” said McDonald. Echoing Lyle’s experience, Iverson commented, “I ended up never leaving. It was a dream come true.”
Fit for the Role
Iverson, now 18, and Lyle shared a barn apartment when McDonald’s operation was based in Wellington, Florida, for the winter. “She’s like my little sister now,” said Lyle. “She reminds me a lot of myself when I was young. We were talking about all of our pony stories. She’s just another horse-crazy girl who grew up loving it. So we hope we can give her the opportunities she deserves.”
Lyle is paying forward the help she received from McDonald and her husband, Bob, as well as Peggy Thomas and her late husband, Parry. The Thomases, McDonald’s great patrons, gave Lyle the opportunity to develop and compete Wizard, her WEG and Olympic mount.
“It’s great to be able to pass it [the opportunity] on and be kind of stepping into that role that Bob and Debbie and the Thomases made for me,” said Lyle. “Quinn is cut out for this, in my opinion. She does it because she loves the horses. She is incredibly patient with them and works her butt off. She moved away from her parents and finished high
school online. It’s a huge change in your life. She never looked back.”
Comparing her two protégés, McDonald said, “I think Adrienne was further along because she had been through the Pony Club system and had purchased a horse in Europe and trained it already. The horse was beyond Third Level when she came to me. She’d been in some Young Rider clinics, such as with Conrad Schumacher.”
Iverson had a different background, and didn’t have her own dressage horse. “Quinn did a little bit of everything,” McDonald commented about her new student’s riding background. Iverson was shy at first when she assumed her new role, so McDonald had to urge her to communicate. Finally, Iverson got up the courage to ask, “Do you think I have it in me to be a trainer?” McDonald replied, “Why do you think I want you to communicate? Of course I do. One of the reasons you’re here is because there’s something I see in you.”
Added McDonald on Iverson’s wish to be a trainer, “She knows this is years down the line. I’d love for her to be able to sit by ringside and watch more, but there’s a part of it for both sides to get what they need out of the deal. She has to work.”
Not only does that involve the usual grooming chores, but it also means tackcleaning and keeping the barn tidy, right down to the bathrooms, and doing it all
From left: Iverson with McDonald and Adrienne Lyle from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., six days a week. But the advantages of her position mean Iverson gets lessons from McDonald and Lyle and has a chance to mingle with McDonald’s elite-level students, who include Laura Graves and Kasey PerryGlass, half of the 2016 bronze-medal Olympic team.
Comparing Lyle to Iverson reveals an interesting coincidence. McDonald mentioned, “Not that it means a darn bit of anything,” but both women have Native American blood and are registered with their respective tribes. Maybe there’s something to it, though—after all, the Native Americans were famed for their prowess as horsemen.
The Right Instincts
Originally, Iverson was a jumper rider who also did a bit of eventing and only competed in dressage three times a year—twice to qualify for the regional championships and once at the championships. She had taken some dressage lessons at Wishing Well Farm in Tenmile, Oregon, where she had been riding since she was 4 and became the one who got put on all the bucking ponies.
Wishing Well trainer Cindy Sanders, who started her career as a working student for another Oregon resident, Olympic eventing multi-medalist Kevin Freeman, said she knew what being a working student for an Olympian was all about and helped prepare Iverson for the challenge.
Sanders told Iverson’s parents that their daughter came from the womb in riding position. “She always had the right instincts,” said Sanders. “On a difficult pony, she never was afraid, she always just rode forward. Her balance and coordination were good. She was pretty well-grounded in the basics, but of course, I could never take her to this level myself, so it’s kind of a dream for all of us. For a kid who doesn’t own her equipment or own a horse, to go out and be discovered by someone like Debbie is pretty amazing.”
It was at Wishing Well where Iverson met Bille Davidson, a dressage rider who became her sponsor and let Iverson use her horse, Black Diamond, in the clinic that would change the young woman’s life.
“She’s been amazing, so supportive,
and she allowed me to take her boy on this journey with me,” said Iverson, who also wound up bringing the son of Painted Black to River Grove.
Davidson had always watched the kids at Wishing Well and knew that Iverson outgrew her pony at the same time she was ready to buy a new horse for herself. The idea was that she would share him with Iverson. “And then Debbie saw them as a pair and that was the end of that,” chuckled Davidson, who got herself a German Riding Pony, as Black Diamond is too big for her anyway.
“She’s a very good rider and she loves it,” said Davidson, “and everybody loves her and she is willing to do everything that is needed to get there. She has really grown in the last year and become so responsible. She’s not a child anymore.”
Having McDonald select Iverson was a very proud moment for Black Diamond’s owner. “This has not been an easy horse. But Quinn has trained him to be quite brilliant in moments,” McDonald mentioned about Black Diamond. “I’m so proud of her. She’s taking everything—fitness and health— into consideration, thinking like a professional has to. She treats the clients amazingly, always making sure they have what they want, making sure everything is the way they like it.”
Asked why she had switched disciplines to focus on dressage, Iverson explained, “It’s such a challenging thing, it’s always changing, the whole thing is just amazing. Being with Debbie and Adrienne, I couldn’t ask for more.”
Iverson did a bit of showing successfully at Prix St. Georges in national shows in Wellington in 2017, but her routine was altered when she went back to Idaho for the summer. While McDonald and Lyle were busy at the Dutta Corp. U.S. National Dressage Championships in Gladstone, New Jersey, during May, for instance, it was up to Iverson to ride all the horses who remained at River Grove and keep them going.
“Quinn is a very, very hard worker and she never takes short cuts,” said Jane Thomas, the daughter of Peggy and Parry Thomas. Thomas let Iverson ride her horse, Why Not, noting she saw a difference after the teen worked with him. “I felt how light and wonderful he was,” she said. “Quinn has a real natural feel on a horse and she always is trying to work with them, not against them. For me, that is the key to a natural rider. I think the best riders in the world are the ones who learn to work with the horses’ assets and make them like to do the sport.”
The Road Ahead
Iverson is naturally thinking about the future and how she would like to be involved with horses. “My main goal is to be able to do this as a living and hopefully someday do international competition,” she said, noting that her parents are supportive of her ambition.
“I’m so blessed to be here,” said Iverson, who loves being part of the River Grove family. “It’s such a fantastic group of people.”
Quinn Iverson was discovered by Debbie McDonald in a clinic riding at First Level.
Quinn Iverson and the 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood, Black Diamond (by Painted Black), owned by Bille Davidson
“There were glimpses of what I thought to be talent in both the horse and the rider,” said McDonald, who knows potential when she sees it.
“Quinn has a real natural feel on a horse and she always is trying to work with them, not against them,” said Jane Thomas.
ABOVE RIGHT: Iverson in the tack room in Wellington with her dog, Koda
ABOVE LEFT: In 2005, Lyle came to McDonald’s stable at River Grove Farm in Idaho as a working student. Aside from a brief college stint, she never left.