Molly McDougall graduated from SCAD in 2015 with a degree in equestrian studies and a minor in business management. She began horse showing as a child in the Pony Divisions and worked her way up to the Amateur-Owners and Derbies. Molly competed both on and off the SCAD equestrian team for all four years she was a student. She ended her IHSA career in the open division and won an ANRC Novice National Championship on her mare Peia. She continues to contribute to the equestrian community through her current job with Just World International, a nonprofit organization that raises money for children in developing countries.
SCADEqMag: What started your love for horses?
Molly: “I want to say I was 5 or 6 years old. My parents were encouraging me to do different activities and get involved so I was started in dance classes, ballet – I did gymnastics – and I hated it. All I wanted to do was ride horses. My family is not a horse family at all, so they said, ‘No, you’re 6 years old you can’t ride horses!’ So, when they gave me my first lesson I was about 7 years old, and from that lesson I knew there wasn’t anything else I wanted to do for my entire life. It continued and, to my dad’s chagrin, it was not a phase.”
SCADEqMag: Can you talk more about your own horse, Peia?
Molly: “She’s very large, very intelligent, very alpha mare and very opinionated. For the longest time, we really struggled with her. We started off and she’s a very capable, very strong horse…she’s very large-and-in-charge and she really didn’t always listen to everyone. It took, I want to say three years, of working with her before she actually took a deep breath and started relaxing in what she was doing. It was a little bit tough, we gave her some time off…I think after just giving her the time to be a horse, she was sort of ‘OK, I know my job now, I know what I’m going to do,’ and just bringing her back to the basics really set her on the path she’s on now. She’s just transformed into this absolute perfection of an animal. She’s the easiest and hardest horse I’ve ever ridden in my life. I can’t be prouder of her and how far she’s come…Now she’s champion of the barn; she can do beginner lessons, she can go out and jump 3’6” and I ride her bareback. I’m so proud I get to share her now with everyone else because she’s just so special.”
SCADEqMag: What was it like riding at the American National Riding Commission Championships?
Molly: “It was always on the radar to take Peia to ANRC for those first few years, but she was always a hit or miss. She would either walk-in and win or she wouldn’t walk-in the ring at all. ANRC was just too high caliber of a show for us and too important to gamble on that. It wasn’t until she kind of came around, and it happened to be my senior year that we knew she was ready and the frontrunner for it. It was an unbelievable experience to have that opportunity to not only ride and represent SCAD on the team but to take my own horse. It was something Ashley and I worked so hard just to get her to that point; we knew that this was really the pinnacle of my career.
Once we got there, she walks up on the first day and she’s rearing, she’s spinning around, won’t walk into corners, people are scared. The first day we walked in there, and I’d never ridden harder in my entire life…I rode so hard for that and Peia put up a little bit of a fight for it too…She was magnificent and we ended up ribboning in every single phase we went to, so that was fabulous. Then we had the written phase which was a lot of fun because I like that stuff, and then the jumping which was Peia’s expertise. So, going out and doing the derby was something she was perfect for. I just took a deep breath and said, hey this is going our way, and we were having fun while we were doing it.
We ended up at the top of the ribbons and winning the whole thing by a smidge. I was just so proud to represent SCAD and to be able to represent my own horse and say this is what we became.”
SCADEqMag: Was the Equestrian Team the only reason you chose SCAD?
Molly: “When I was looking at colleges, it was a family decision. My dad strongly felt that if I was going to be riding in college and also taking on the job of maintaining my career in the ‘A’ circuit with my horse, I needed to find a facility that would house both my academic and team positions but I could also continue my showing career. SCAD sort of just fell into that. I got to continue riding while in college and I was able to balance everything, which everyone can do with dedication. SCAD really was, out of all the schools I looked at, one that checked off the most ‘yeses.’ Somewhere I was able to continue my career with my horse and be able to have all the academic performances that I wanted and also have the team. Nowhere else quite fit the criteria like SCAD.”
SCADEqMag: Do you think you got everything from SCAD that you wanted?
Molly: “Absolutely, I think I got more than I could’ve wished for. I think it was because of working with Ashley and Eddie coming into play. I think if I was in a different facility I wouldn’t be where I am now. I know I wouldn’t be, not only with my riding career but who I am as an individual and a horse-person. SCAD just gave me so much. I got to take on amazing leadership roles with the team, and I had this whole home base of support behind me.”
SCADEqMag: Coming to SCAD, did you know what you wanted to do with your degree?
Molly: “I had no idea! I had no idea what I wanted to do until I got my job I have now. But I think that’s a part of growing up, and you’re always going to change and your life is going to change. I think going to SCAD gave me the ability to think out of the box. You know, there’s a lot more to our degree than just being a rider or a trainer, there’re so many things you can break off into, and it was really special to find my job with Just World. It’s so integrated and connected to the equestrian industry around the globe…it’s something that you might not think of, but it’s so rewarding.”
SCADEqMag: Can you tell me more about your job then?
Molly: “I work for Just World International, which is a charity organization that funds and supports 6,000 children in developing countries. We use the equestrian industry around the world for fundraising, for our communications and outreach. We have projects that we support in Cambodia, Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras, and we come together as equestrians to be able to give back and support these children that really don’t have everyday things that we take for granted.
Being able to work within the equestrian industry and give back so much is pretty awesome. I love it. We’re based down in Wellington, Florida, so kind of the capitol of the equestrian industry here in the U.S. It’s nice with these big name riders that everyone comes together for something that’s a little bit bigger than themselves. It’s nice to have a hand in that and I like working with the kids and making a difference in their day, it’s really gratifying.”
SCADEqMag: What advice would you give to new students coming into the program and the team?
Molly: “I would say for both; you get out what you put in. I think that there’s a place for everyone, and if you really put your mind to it, if you take it seriously and stick to what you’re doing and dedicate yourself to it, you’re going to come out on top. That’s what’s really special about this team and IHSA, in general, is that everyone has the ability to move forward and no one’s pigeonholed into one section. So, if you can say that ‘I’m going to better myself’ and put in the hours, you’ll be rewarded. Take initiative, take on leadership roles – you have the ability to make yourself what you want to be.”