It Sure Beats Playing the Piano

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Me riding the Trakehner stallion Tanzeln *Ps* at Valhalla Farm in a lesson with SRS rider Herwig Radnetter.

By Matthew Mahoney II

When I rode my first horse in 1996, that was it; from that moment forward I was hooked.  Little did my parents know that by letting me ride that first horse, they created a horse-obsessed young boy who would go on to become fiercely devoted to dressage.  I started training in dressage at the age of 15 at a local barn outside of Appleton, WI.  Shortly after, I became exposed to true classical dressage in accordance with the German training scale through monthly lessons with USDF Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medalist Shelly Reichart.  My parents did not share my love of horses or dressage, nor did they support me in this very expensive hobby, and instead pressured me to pursue other activities, such as playing piano.  Thus, I made do by riding whatever horses were available to me. 

Me horseback riding for the first time in 1996. Note: USDF strongly recommends all riders wear protective headgear when mounted.

I knew that because of my inability to get a horse of my own to train and compete on, my best bet of making progress towards my goals in dressage was to become a working student.  I graduated high school a semester early in January of 2009 and headed to Tempel Farms in Wadsworth, IL.  There, I received dressage instruction from Jochen Hippenstiel and Andreanna Patzwald on Lipizzan stallions.  Despite several of my trainers encouraging me to pursue a career as a professional dressage trainer, I knew that would not be the lifestyle for me, and instead wanted to keep dressage as a hobby.  After leaving Tempel, I started undergraduate studies at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.  The options for dressage horses to ride near Madison, WI were limited, however I did get some riding in here and there.  Shortly after graduating with a B.S. in Neurobiology, I moved to Valhalla Farm in Wellborn, FL to continue my dressage education under the tutelage of Iris Eppinger.  Conflicted on whether I wanted to pursue a career in veterinary medicine or human medicine, I thought another working student opportunity would dually serve my yearning to work up the levels of dressage and be a good resume builder in the event I decided to apply to veterinary school.           

It was here, at Valhalla Farm, that my dressage riding really progressed; riding and training a diverse range of four to eight horses per day, six days a week, with daily lessons and feedback from Eppinger.  After returning to WI in 2015, I completed the remaining scores necessary to achieve the USDF Bronze Medal on several local trainers’ schoolmaster horses.  I even went on to school the FEI level movements with USDF Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medalist Andrea Schten.  I then ended up attending veterinary school at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, but determined after one year it was not a good match for me; again realizing that horses were best kept a hobby.  Fast-forward to today – I am a first-year medical student at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, WI.  Despite being overwhelmed with medical school studies and a part-time job, I am finding time to ride quite consistently around the Milwaukee, WI area.

While becoming a physician is without a doubt my perfect career path, it has not come without a price; and for me that price is pushing back my ability to pursue training and competing up the levels of dressage.  My goal is to someday train and compete my own horse to Grand Prix and qualify for the Great American/USDF Regional Dressage Championships and US Dressage Finals Presented by Adequan®.  Presently, I hope to purchase my very own dream horse upon completion of my intern year in 2024.  I plan to fundraise leading up to this time in order to assist me in being able to make this lifelong dream possible. 

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