Debbie McDonald Training Package Auction Raises $240,000 For Dressage Team

In a history-making fundraising effort for the United States dressage team, the Debbie McDonald Training Package Auction raised $240,000 in live action at Celebrate With The Champions, the benefit dinner held on Saturday, June 19, in San Juan Capistrano , California . Three bidders tied up the action at $80,000 and were each rewarded with the ‘winning bid' for “The Package” – McDonald agreed to match her initial offer for all of them. The high bidders are all dressage riders from California : Linda Edwards of Rancho Sante Fe, Elma Garcia of Marin County, and Melanie Cornwell of Escondido. Each of the winning bidders receives one month's training with Debbie McDonald at River Grove Farm in Sun Valley , Idaho , complete with board for her horse and accommodations in a condominium.

”Oh, my god, I had no idea it would go like this,” said McDonald, noting she had originally thought the package might garner $15,000. “The fact that we could triple it and add even more money to the pot was unbelievable. Thanks to the Thomases, that was a possibility. I will work really hard to make them feel like they got their money's worth. I still can't believe it.” Peggy and Parry Thomas are McDonald's sponsors of more than 30 years and own River Grove Farm, the condominium, and McDonald's mount Brentina. With her busy schedule, McDonald still has no doubt that she can handle three packages – each of the riders will receive five lessons per week for a month. “We'll work it out,” she said. McDonald acknowledged that this type of fundraiser could be done again. “Absolutely. I'll be back to raise money for the team any time. They've been great to me.”

With 450 in attendance and four bidders participating by telephone, the bidding started at $10,000 and quickly escalated to $72,000. With the three determined bidders locked at that price, five-time Olympian Robert Dover who was participating as a spotter along with two-time Olympian Guenter Seidel, announced that he would match Debbie's package for the ‘loser' – which brought a whole new element to the auction. The bidding war rapidly jumped up to $80,000 when it was decided that there would be no losers here tonight! McDonald and her sponsors, Peggy and Parry Thomas and their daughter Jane Thomas, agreed to make it three separate packages, awarding one to each of the high bidders. Asked about Dover 's spark to the three-way win idea, McDonald said, “I thought it was fabulous.”

The three winners were equally thrilled at the outcome. “I've known Debbie as a hunter/jumper rider for years. I used to ride jumpers,” said Linda Edwards. “She is amazing to me. I always wanted to train with her and when I heard about the auction, I said I'm going for it, no matter what! I'm thrilled beyond belief.” Edwards said her trainer, Lauren Ogden, who trains with Guenter Seidel, would accompany her on the trip. How far was Edwards prepared to go to win the package? “All the way,” she beamed. “No matter what. Determined. I'd like to know who was on the phone though!”

Of the four initial teleconference bidders, three dropped out in the early stages but Melanie Cornwell, whose husband Larry handled the phone bidding, was equally determined. “I did the bidding because she was too nervous,” Larry said. Melanie rides at Third Level and trains with Debbie Robeson. “This was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Melanie said. “I was so excited to even be able to consider doing it.” Cornwell has never met McDonald but has been watching her since she began competing on Beauregard years ago. “I loved the way she did everything. Out of all the riders out there, she is the one I'd most like to emulate.” Cornwell is more than excited about her upcoming training trip with McDonald. “I still can't believe it's actually happening! I thank Debbie so much for even offering to do this.”

Elma Garcia, who attended the auction with her trainer Darren Kaplan, said she walked into the auction with one thought on her mind, “I wanted it!” But she had set her limit at $80,000. “I was right on the edge there,” she laughed. “I knew it would be high tonight. I work for a living, but riding is my art, my passion, and I knew I could do this. I've seen Debbie ride and I sat next to her at a show once and saw she was little like me. She's a big inspiration. Brentina is amazing, a wonderful athlete and Debbie is an amazing athlete.” Garcia noted that she was inspired by a quote from Debbie in an article in Dressage Today . “She said it doesn't matter what level the rider is,” Garcia said. “I'm an OK rider, but I'm not a competitive rider. I'm a beginner.” Garcia has ridden since she was a young child, but started training in dressage just four years ago. “I love horses. It's a beauty I enjoy and that's really what it's about. I'm not going to the Olympics, Debbie gets to go to the Olympics, I just want to become a beautiful rider and become one with my horse.”

With nearly a quarter-million dollars in the coffer for the evening's effort, Dressage Chef d'Equipe Jessica Ransehousen was elated. “Wasn't that wonderful!” she said. “That shows you dressage is an important discipline of the United States Equestrian Team. It really touches your heart. We can be very proud that dressage has gotten so popular and has such wonderful support.” Ransehousen tallied up some of the expenses for the team after the Selection Trials – shipping the horses to Europe for three more competitions, stabling, accommodations and per diems for the riders, transporting equipment including giant fans and generators, and shipping to Athens and home. “Our budget was close to $300,000, so this is really helping a lot,” Ransehousen stated. “We have an enormous attachment of equipment that is necessary to do a good job with our team. It's been a wonderful night and the generosity has just been overwhelming.”

Ransehousen was quick to point out how McDonald's role not only brought success to tonight's event but will also impact future fundraising. “Debbie is the darling of the team, so having her offer this was not only generous, but because she does hold that kind of a position in the team it's very meaningful. Her personality and her wonderful sportsmanship and gentle nature have really endeared her to the vast majority of people who know anything about her at all. I think people will look at the possibilities here and say, if they could do it, I could do it. It's great and that's the way it should be.”

“It's incredible,” said Marilyn Adams, Director of Dressage Activities. “I am so thrilled that Debbie offered herself for a month to work with someone at her facility – and it started with us sitting at a table at a convention in a conversation! She asked me if I thought it was a good idea and I told her, ‘that's an amazing idea!'” Adams acknowledged that tonight's success went “significantly” beyond the expectations of that initial conversation. “Debbie is an incredible person.”

In addition to the Debbie McDonald Training Package Auction, the evening's fundraising also included ticket sales to the party, an elaborate silent auction and donations from patrons who underwrote the benefit. The party proved to be the perfect venue for the excitement and success of the live auction. John Long, United States Equestrian Federation CEO, stated in a presentation prior to the auction, “We all owe a tremendous thank-you to Dick and Jane Brown for organizing this event.”

Related Links
Horsesdaily "On the Scene" at the 2004 USEF Olympic Dressage Trials
Horsesdaily Scoresource: 2004 Festival of Champions