by Katherine O. Rizzo (first published in the June 2024 Equiery)

On August 8, McDonogh School will host the Maryland Horse Forum, which is a public, day-long conference held every five years to discuss various issues related to Maryland’s horse community. McDonogh is an ideal place hold the 2024 forum because it has hosted a premier riding program for 98 years!

McDonogh School celebrated 150 years of education in November 2023, however McDonogh’s riding program is a mere 98 years old. The school, located on over 800 acres in Owings Mills, was founded November 21, 1873, with 21 boys from Baltimore City as students. The school is named after former Baltimore resident John McDonogh, whose estate originally funded the school. Col. William Allan was McDonogh’s first principal and structured the school as a semi-military program for orphan boys who worked on the farm in exchange for tuition, room, and board.

The school was tuition-free for all students until 1922, after which time scholarships were still awarded to local boys as required by the terms of John McDonogh’s estate. The school welcomed day students for the first time in 1927.

Retired calvary officer Major Louis E. Lamborn became McDonogh’s headmaster in 1926 and brought along with him four horses from his farm on the Eastern Shore. This was the start of McDonogh’s riding program. During his time as headmaster, Major Lamborn, known best as “Doc,” greatly expanded the school’s herd. By the 1930s, all 120 horses and ponies at McDonogh were owned by Major Lamborn and made available to McDonogh’s students for lessons and competitions.

According to a Maryland Horse article titled “McDonogh Now Has 85 Horses And Ponies,” published in March 1962, Major Lamborn’s fondest memory of the early riding program was when the school’s hunt team won at the Pikesville Armory over General Patton’s team just before World War II. The winning team’s riders included Bobby Rasche, Jack Sadler, and Billy Rasche. The horses were Toots, Baby Face, and Medler, and the course was a series of 24 obstacles measuring 4’ in height.

When Major Lamborn retired in 1952, the school purchased all his horses to continue the riding program. Major Lamborn’s son, Dr. Robert L. Lamborn, became McDonogh’s headmaster, while former student Willis Lynch, who had graduated from McDonogh in 1928, became the head of the riding program.

The main stables and original indoor riding hall were built around 1935 from a munitions storage building transported from Curtis Bay. The school purchased two buildings from Curtis Bay and set one up as the riding hall and another as a storage house. During the 1960s, the riding hall was expanded to measure 220’ x 100,’ adding additional stalls. The riding hall remains standing today, though it has gone through several renovations over the years including the addition of several annexes for storage, offices, and stalls.

During Lynch’s tenure as head of the riding program, McDonogh’s reputation for producing top riders and top horses meant the school never had to purchase horses. Many were donated to the program or even bred by the school, which stood both Thoroughbred and Arabian stallions. Horses today are still donated to the program, primarily from Heritage Farm in New York. Racehorse trainers Gittings Boyce, Harry Love, Fife Symington, Ben Griswold and Irvin Naylor all donated retired Thoroughbreds to the program in the 1960s, according to the Maryland Horse article. The school also received a gift of 12 Norwegian Fjords from Humphrey Finney during that time.

McDonogh’s breeding program was mainly a product of the Remount Service, which assigned stallions to McDonogh each breeding season. Remount provided stallions to thousands of farms across the country to breed to their own mares. Offspring were then sold to the U.S. Army if they passed the Remount Service inspection. Through this program, Thoroughbreds Chilly Beau, James P. Silo and Dr. Schwartz all stood at the school during the 1960s, as did the Arabian Mohalhal and his son Billy Hal. Billy Hal produced outstanding ponies including Easter Hal, Eldorado, Boodles, Miss Pepper, and Honey Bee.

The semi-military style program was abolished in 1971, and the school went co-ed in 1975. The school’s riding program expanded to include polo, show hunters, fox chasing, and eventing. Early Maryland Combined Training Association (MCTA) horse trials were held at McDonogh through the 1980s. One of the most famous event riders to come through the McDonogh program is 1968 graduate and five-time Olympian Bruce Davidson, Sr., who has won two gold medals and two silver medals for the U.S., in addition to five Pan American Games medals and four World Championships. Two-time Olympic Show Jumper Hugh Wiley also graduated from McDonogh. He rode Nautical, who was made famous by the Disney movie The Horse With The Flying Tail.

Streett Moore became McDonogh’s riding director in 1986 and started slowly turning the stables into the equestrian facility it is today. He competed often at McDonogh during his junior and adult careers and, although he did not attend the school, he was offered the job by then headmaster Dr. Mules. “I phased out the eventing because it was becoming costly to maintain the courses and fences, plus showing is what I knew best,” he said. The show grounds were moved from the original location (where the tennis courts are now) to the stable area, to keep everything central to the barns. In addition to being McDonogh’s riding director, Moore is also a USEF-licensed hunter/jumper judge and course designer.

The facility is now called the Boston Equestrian Facility thanks to generous donations from the Boston family. Both Boston girls, Sarah and Grace, are McDonogh graduates who went on to ride for collegiate teams after earning numerous awards with McDonogh horses. “That 2018 class was a group of eight girls that all went on to ride at the collegiate level,” Moore stated. The Boston girls were also past winners of The Equiery’s Perpetual Hunter Award, which was won four out of five seasons by McDonogh students.

The facility currently features three outdoor riding rings and two heated indoor arenas. The barns are heated too! “It never gets below 40 degrees in here which is great for everyone,” Moore said. “Pipes don’t freeze, people and horses are happy.” The original indoor was widened over the years with additional stalls and amenities added. The larger heated indoor was built thanks to funding from McDonogh graduate Irv Naylor, whose children also attended the school. “We have plans for a new indoor that we hope will be done by this winter,” Moore added. The new indoor will be replacing one of the current outdoor rings.

Approximately 60 horses and ponies now live on the property and are turned out on 40 acres of pasture, which includes 25 paddocks for private turn out. “I like the private turn out much better,” Moore said. “The horses are calmer that way and no one is kicking anyone else.”

Recently, a 50-stall competition stabling building was added to the facility as well as an auxiliary supply building with a built-in manure pit and plenty of room for shavings and hay storage. “I designed all of this,” Moore said while giving a tour of the facility. “It’s all covered but well-ventilated,” he added. “And the extra stalls are used as a staging area before shows and also to quarantine horses when they return from Florida and other places.”

Moore is the driving force behind the design of most of the facility, from the layout of plants and shrubbery to using recycled turf from the athletics field to make walkways from barns to arenas which cuts down dust and dirt. “We also got a lot of alumni to donate funds by buying pavers with their names or favorite horses on them,” Moore said. These pavers are used in high traffic areas where people watch competitions and lessons, which again keeps the dust, mud, and dirt to a minimum.

Today, the riding program offers McDonogh students varsity and junior varsity athletic equestrian teams as well as a middle school educational equestrian team and a middle school competition team. In addition, there is a physical education program through the school in which students get introduced to horses over a three-week mini program. “That’s how Jacob Pope first got interested in riding,” Moore explained. “He was in third grade and told me much later in life that he watched me jump some big fences in a demonstration and decided it was what he wanted to do too.”

Pope is one of the more recent McDonogh graduates who has gone on to national and international success. After earning many top honors on the A-circuit with McDonogh, including MHSA’s Gittings Final, the Maclay Medal, and after being on a Nation’s Cup winning team and winning the USET Talent Search, Moore set Pope up as a working student at Heritage Farm in New York. Pope then went on to work for Lauren Hough in England before coming back to Maryland to ride for ESP Farm in Brookeville. Pope is now a successful professional rider and trainer for Team Rakowsky Equestrian in West Palm Beach, Florida.

“That really is our goal here at McDonogh. To take people as far as we can and then set them up with other professionals who can help them advance their riding and careers,” Moore said. “I believe the greatest service we can do for these riders is set them up for success and then let them go.” Pope still returns to McDonogh from time to teach clinics to the next generations of riders.

McDonogh’s riding program is also open to non-students and has a junior equestrian competition team, a pony pilot program, a general lesson program, an emerging athletes program, and a boarding and leasing program. “We started the lease program around 2009 and now the barn is full of top show horses that riders of all levels can learn from,” Moore explained. Riders can lease a horse or pony month to month, or for a whole season, so that as they progress past the current abilities of one horse or pony, they then move on to the next one that will teach them the next levels. “It’s a very open-ended ladder system so riders can shift as they develop,” Moore added.

McDonogh also offers summer programs including a half day pony program, full day equestrian program and counselor in training program. “I’d say in total we have about 80 riders a week coming through here for lessons,” Moore said.
The McDonogh show management hosts 10-12 USEF nationally rated competitions a year as well as 12-14 Maryland Horse Show Association and local member competitions. “This year we switched the show rings up a bit and put the hunters in the larger ring and jumpers in the smaller ring,” Moore explained. “So far people seem to like it. They have more room in the hunters now for the longer lines.”

Jumpers are something Moore and McDonogh are focusing on a lot these days as they try to attract different competitors to the rated and schooling shows. “We’ve added more jumper classes and really want to encourage people to come try it out,” he said. “When the new indoor is open we also want to open the facility up for schooling to bring the community into the property more, too.”

Moore stated that all the improvements to the facility and the longevity of the program are due to the support of students, their families and alumni. “We have great alumni and alumni families that are dedicated to keeping this facility going well into the future,” he said.