I was born on July 27, 1957, in
Great Falls, VA. I was the youngest of five
children, with three older brothers, Lad, George and
Buddy, and the next youngest, my sister Patty, who is six
years older than me. We lived on an 18-acre
property in Great Falls called Dogwood Lane Farm.
Ever since I can remember, all I
wanted to do was ride horses. My parents tell me that my
first word was 'horsy'. We would be driving in
the car when I was about a year and a half old, I would
look out and see a speck on the horizon about a mile away
and say 'horsy, horsy!' when none appeared to be in sight;
but sure enough, when we got closer, there would be a
Riding Amiga with my brother Buddy.
I was totally horse crazy from the start.
Perhaps it was my parents fault for naming me
Phyllis, which means 'Lover of Horses.' I
had a marvelous collection of Breyer model horses,
and my mother built me fabulous barns for them.
Problem was, I always had a few more horses than
stalls, and had to find somewhere to put the
extras. This is a problem I seem to
have carried into my adult life with real horses,
and still have today!
I began my riding career at age
three on my brother's cow, Jenny. She
would be lying down in the barnyard, and I would
go climb on her back and kick and whoop until she
would get up and walk around. When she
would get tired of the game she would lie back
down, and no amount of persuasion would get her to
her feet again, so I would have to get off.
After that, I graduated
to occasional rides on my sister's horse, a mare
named Amiga. She was way too big for me to
ride by myself, but sometimes I could coerce one
of my older siblings into taking me for a ride.
When I was four, Santa Claus brought me a pony for
Christmas. I had been asking for one incessantly for about
a year. One of my earliest memories is
visiting 'Santa Claus's Pony Farm' at Thanksgiving of that
year. Whenever we made the trip to visit my
Grandparents in Charlottesville, VA, we passed this farm
where they raised ponies, which my Mother always told me
was Santa Claus's Pony Farm. This time, we
stopped to take a look. Mom said 'Well, I'm
sure Santa will not be able to bring you a pony, but just
for fun, let's pretend. If he were to bring
you one, which one would you want?' Without
hesitation, I chose a little Shetland pony that was about
a year and a half old. She was a sort of
dappled brown color with very long hair, four white legs,
a white stomach and one blue eye. I thought
she was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen!
Well, sure enough, on Christmas
morning, I found this pony under the Christmas tree,
literally, in our living room. I wasn't quite
sure how she had gotten there, but my father explained
that Santa Claus, being magic, had made the pony small,
brought her down the chimney with the other gifts, and
then made her big again. This explanation made
perfect sense to me! I was ecstatic, and I named the pony
Twinkle Toes - I thought she was the
most beautiful thing in the world.
Twinkle Toes was about the most unsuitable pony imaginable
for a small child, but I loved her. She would
bite me and kick me, and when I rode her she would drag my
leg along the barbed wire fence and lay down and roll on
me. I used to regularly fall off her and lose
my shoes and socks. I suppose I must have been
very determined, since I didn't give up, and having an
untrained pony at age four perhaps started my lifelong
policy of training my own horses from the start.
Eventually I outgrew Twinkle Toes, and she
developed laminitis and couldn't be ridden, so my
parents promised me a new pony for my seventh
birthday. We went to a local horse
dealer's stable, and he had quite a selection of
nice and well-trained ponies for sale.
I immediately spied a poor dejected looking half
starved gray pony standing behind the barn looking
pitiful, and I said 'I want that one!'
Nothing my Mom or my older sister said could
dissuade me, so against their better judgment, we
came home with a five year old unbroken pony whom
I named Buster Boy. The first week I
had him he bucked me off and broke my collarbone,
but we went on to have a great relationship for
many years, despite his tendency to buck.
On him I learned to jump, gallop and trail ride.
I rode him in Hunter Shows for years, participated
in 4-H, and spent many happy hours trail riding
with my friends and their ponies. After I
outgrew Buster when I was about 12, I taught
lessons on him for many years, and kept him until
he died at the age of 31.
Riding Buster Boy
My first horse I inherited from my sister Patty when I was
12. She was a wonderful bay mare, mostly
Thoroughbred, named Twinkles Parade, more commonly called
Twinks. With her, I Foxhunted, did Hunter Shows, Pony Clubbed,
and got my introduction to Eventing. She was a
wonderful jumper out in the open and cross country, but in
the ring she could stop in front of a fence so suddenly, I
can't count the number of times I went flying over her
head! She taught me an enormous amount, and
went on to teach many other riders as well. I
kept her also until she finally died at more than 30 years
My first serious Event horse was a homebred that I bought
from my sister (my parents bought my ponies and my first
horse, the rest were all up to me to buy!) when I was
about 14. He was named Virginia Gentleman, but
his stable name was Demon, which was perhaps fitting.
He was quite nice to ride, but very bad mannered in the
stable, with a tendency to bite and kick. When
I first started with Demon, he didn't really want to go
cross-country. I will never forget my first
event, I had no jumping penalties cross-country, but 171
time faults. I jumped the first fence, and
then the course went into the woods and down a hill.
Demon wouldn't leave the start and go into the woods until
the horse that started behind me went by, then we followed
that horse the rest of the way around the course!
I did work out my cross-country problems with Demon, and
ultimately I Evented him through the Intermediate level.
Unfortunately he got a severe case of colic, and died
following surgery in 1975.
Demon and I at the 4-H Fair in 1971
Demon and I beginning our Eventing careers in 1973.
Not long after I started riding Demon as a teenager, I
also bought a weanling named Royal Banner. He was
the first horse I trained totally myself. He was
very talented, but as I was just learning about training,
I made many mistakes with him, and he used to run off with
me regularly. He was a bold jumper, but very strong;
I remember sometimes running him into trees to slow him
down. I rode him in many Pony Club rallies and Events,
eventually getting him up to the Intermediate level.
Because of my inexperience I did not make the most of his
potential, but I certainly learned a lot from riding and
I also completed the Old Dominion
100 mile Endurance ride on Banner; that was a great
experience, and I finished in the top ten, completing the
100 miles in about 23 hours.
Riding Royal Banner
at the National Pony Club Rally.
Shortly thereafter, I bought my next horse, Freedom
Flight, as a replacement for Demon. He was a
dappled gray gelding that I bought from Dr. Joe Rogers in
Hamilton, VA. He hadn't done much at the time,
but I fell in love with him at first sight (I have always
had a tendency to do that when buying a horse).
He went on to become my first Advanced level Event horse.
One of my first Events with Freedom Flight
After I graduated from Herndon High School in
1975, I went to the Potomac Horse Center in
Potomac, MD, and took their Advanced Horsemaster's
Course. After that I went to
Unionville, PA as a working student with Bruce
Davidson, leading American Event rider and
two-time World Champion. I learned a
tremendous amount from Bruce, and continued to
work with him for many years. Bruce is
responsible for much of what I know today.
Under his tutelage, I
moved Freedom Flight from the Training level to
Advanced in a year and a half. I went
on to compete him at the Advanced level for seven
years, and gained a huge amount of valuable
experience on him. Despite less than
desirable conformation and terribly shaped feet,
Freedom was one of the toughest and soundest
horses I have ever owned. I think the
experience I got competing Freedom Flight was
largely responsible for my later successes on
I was riding, training and competing a number of horses by
this time, and have very fond memories of most of them.
Tomorrow's Challenge, Lady Luv, Royal Banner, Timeless
Flight, Shenandoah, and Storm Warning were some of the
early horses I competed and learned on. One
that will always have a special place in my heart is
Mountain High. I bought him from Chip Embury
in Upperville, VA. He was part Thoroughbred
and part Percheron. He was a 17.2 hands gray
gelding, and extremely strong and fast. He ran
away with me most of the time! He was way too
big, way too bold, and had an incredible charming
personality. I moved him up through the
levels, and gained an enormous amount of experience on him
at the Advanced level. I rode him at the
Boekelo Three-Day Event in Holland in 1985, which was my
first experience riding with the United States Equestrian
1985, I went to England and bought Albany II.
I moved him up to Advanced level in 1987, when he placed
second in the Chesterland CCI***, and finished 6th
in Kentucky at the Olympic Selection Trials in
1988. That was one of the biggest and most
difficult cross-country courses I have ever jumped.
This qualified us for the 1988 Olympic Team to travel to
Riding in the Olympics, and
finishing 10th individually, has certainly been
one of the high points of my life. I will
never forget the feeling I had when I rode down the
centerline of the Dressage arena in Seoul. I
think I had tears in my eyes, and I was thinking, 'My God,
I have finally done it. I'm here, riding in
the Olympics!'. I looked up at the big
electronic scoreboard in the corner of the arena, and it
said: 'PHYLLIS DAWSON, ALBANY II, USA'. The
feeling I had when I finished the cross-country course at
the Olympic Games with no jumping penalties is a high I
will never forget. It is something I had been
working towards all of my life.
Albany II and Phyllis at the 1988
Olympics in Seoul, Korea.
Since then, I have had the privilege to ride and compete
many really wonderful horses. I have trained
quite a few young horses to the International levels, and
had the good fortune to ride with the United States
Equestrian Team on a number of occasions. Half
Magic won Three-Day Events at North Georgia, Essex, NJ and
Checkmate, Canada. I represented the USA at
the Open European Championships at Burghley, England, in
1997 on Snowy River. I twice completed the
four-star at Rolex, Kentucky at the Lexington CCI**** on
I have ridden around courses with
a variety of horses, and all of them have been special
individuals. The experience and mileage that I
have gotten on all of these different horses has helped me
develop the skills to select and train the elite
competition horses that we now specialize in here at
Windchase. To all of these horses of my past I
owe a special debt. Their memories are dear to
me. There is a saying that 'Good horses make good
riders,' and I have been lucky enough to have the
opportunity to ride some wonderful horses over the
~ Phyllis ~