For the past 33 years, Jeanne McDonald has brought her talents to Dressage at Devon (DAD), first as a rider in the performance division, then as a competitor in the breed show with Tantris (Traumdeuter/Aktuell/ Volturno) and many of his offspring bred at her farm. In the past 12 years, she has served on the judging team at DAD in both Breed and Performance divisions. And DAD is lucky to have her.
Jeanne was an equitation rider and eventer before becoming a dressage queen, and is now a FEI**** and USEF “S” dressage judge, a retired USDF/USEF dressage sport horse judge and a USDF bronze, silver and gold medalist. She’s still an active competitor, having competed in dressage for more than 26 years and trained all three of her horses to Grand Prix.
Since 1990, she has owned and operated Turning Point Farm located near Devon, Pennsylvania, a boarding, training and breeding facility.
Like many equestrians, Jeanne’s parents “didn’t understand” their horse-loving daughter. But they supported her, and she got her start at New Canaan Mounted Troop, grooming and mucking to make money for her lessons while working on a Connemara breeding farm.
As an adult, Jeanne started out with a day job — working in medical research at Harvard. But, as Jeanne said, the real start to her life began when she purchased Moleque (a Portuguese slang term for a smart but naughty and funny boy). She trained and learned with Moleque, eventually showing him Grand Prix as a 22-year-old. After moving to Pennsylvania and one more attempt at a normal job, she turned to horses full time and forever.
As a trainer, Jeanne moved from teaching Pony Club to becoming equine director at Harcum Junior College to training the upper-level riders she works with today at her farm.
While she clearly loves all aspects of her equestrian life, when the name Tantris comes up, Jeanne smiles. “When Con Brio, the horse I’d been training from Prix St. Georges to Grand Prix was to be sold, Mo Swanson said, ‘Jeanne, why don’t you get a stallion?’ I said, ‘Sure Mo, find me an approved stallion, between 16.3 and 17 hands, with four good gaits — character, canter, walk and trot.’” Jeanne counts “character” as the most important “gait.”
While horse shopping in Europe, Jeanne met Tantris just out of the 100-day testing in December 1992, but was told he wasn’t for sale. Not to be deterred, she went back six weeks later and was able to purchase him. It turned out that not only was Tantris a great dressage horse — he won the GAIG/USDF Reserve Championship at Intermediaire II and Grand Prix at Region 1, New Jersey — as an approved Oldenburg sire, he consistently passed on his positive traits of a kind and willing attitude and quality walk and canter while adding an uphill topline with a very strong back and super-quality feet.
A Judging Career
Jeanne began her education as a judge because as a rider and competitor, she wanted to understand what judges were looking for. But the more she learned, the more interested she became, and today she’s in high demand from national and international shows around the world.
Judging has changed quite a bit in the last few decades, according to Jeanne, particularly in scoring. For instance, she says, in the mid-90s, the scoring of the tests was “opened up,” encouraging judges to use the entire scale of marks. Plus, she said comments were often infrequent. “I always try to give constructive comments. If I give an 8, I try to tell the rider how it could be a 9.”
Her history with Dressage at Devon has allowed Jeanne to watch changes there as well. “When DAD started, it had a big presence on the circuit, with status and size. Today, it continues to be a very important dressage show with a strong tradition. The volunteers and supporters of Dressage at Devon have put a great deal of effort into making it a ‘full positive experience,’ both for competitors and spectators — providing excellent exhibitions, shopping and dining. It’s unique among dressage shows.”
Jeanne added that DAD has had a positive impact on U.S. breeders. “The show has always been very supportive of U.S. breeders. The ‘Born in the USA’ award was first initiated at DAD, and has since been replicated at many shows around the country. This award showcases horses born in the U.S., proving that excellence in breeding is not just a European phenomenon.
“There are so many classes at DAD that it requires the participation of many judges. It’s a wonderful place to catch up with friends from around the world,” added Jeanne.