The Student Rider: How Matt Drohan Got a Leg Up on His College Career

By Candace FitzGerald

Through his remarkable drive and passion for learning, Centenary College sophomore Matt Drohan has taken charge of his destiny and positioned himself for success in the equestrian industry.

Matt grew up in urban Brooklyn, New York, where he learned to ride at Jamaica Bay Riding Academy, ultimately becoming a member of their IEA team. When it was time to look at colleges, Matt already knew that he wanted to pursue an education that involved horses, which helped to shape his school search. Eager to find a way to learn more about the colleges he had targeted, he discovered the College Preparatory Invitational (CPI) through his trainer and IEA coach, Jane DaCosta, who was the CPI Alumni Challenge Champion in 2011.

According to Matt, two of his teammates had competed at CPI in 2012, and came back with great reviews so he applied for the 2013 event in Wellington. He was motivated to apply because it was midway through his junior year and while he had done serious research, he really wanted to meet the various coaches to narrow down his choices.

Matt describes showing at CPI in 2013 as a “rewarding experience.” Like many of the students who apply to CPI, he had already been exposed to the IEA competition format so he was quite comfortable with the notion of drawing a randomly donated horse and only having two warm-up fences before going on course.

He notes that being exposed to the many college representatives at the CPI College Fair offered him an invaluable opportunity to meet potential coaches, ask questions and learn more about their various programs. Matt recalls that “speaking with the different coaches made it easier to visualize which program I could see myself immersed in.”

According to CPI President Lindsay Martin, this is a typical experience as representatives from more than 35 colleges attend the CPI event each year. “The CPI is a really unique way for students involved in equestrian sports to showcase themselves to colleges, and to learn more about the schools they might be interested in attending. It can even be an opportunity to discover schools they hadn’t known about before.”

2014 CPI interning under Peter Cashman Matt (second from left) pictured at the 2014 CPI with Peter Wylde (third from right) 

The following year, Matt jumped at the opportunity to intern as the Assistant to the CPI Horse Show Manager, Mr. Peter Cashman, of the United States Military Academy.  Matt describes the internship as an opportunity to differentiate himself from other candidates “…this was such a beneficial opportunity, because I was able to be behind-the-scenes as horse show management and showcase my strong work ethic to observant college coaches.”

The CPI now offers students the opportunity to participate in their Junior Ambassador Program, where they can earn community service hours for volunteer service work at CPI events and by hosting fundraising events for the organization’s Scholarship and Educational Fund.

Last season- Kayla Fadler Matt Drohan. Photo by Kayla Fadler 

While different factors aided in his decision to apply to Centenary – he had known of the school’s excellent reputation and IHSA success, he also listened to stories from his close friend, then junior Katie Ambrosio, (now graduated and working for Stonehenge Stables) His interest was further increased by spending time with Centenary’s coach, Michael Dowling, at the CPI event.

Dowling describes Matt as a rider that hadn’t had the privilege of owning his own horse, but he had a strong coach who had helped him develop a solid base and good horsemanship skills. He credits organizations like the IEA and programs like CPI as instrumental in developing riders that are better prepared than ever for IHSA competition.

After the CPI event, Matt planned school visits and applied to High Point, Findlay, Randolph and Centenary. Ultimately he chose Centenary, and so far he is very enthusiastic about his experience there. “Through hard work and dedication, I’ve encountered countless opportunities at Centenary, and I’m only in my first year and a half!”

Centenary is an IHSA powerhouse, consistently ranked among the top as a team, producing riders that have won the Cacchione Cup several times in recent years. Dowling now coaches Matt on the Centenary team and has him as a student in his classroom as well. According to Dowling, Matt came in to the Centenary program “very driven” and has emerged as an asset to the team by being enthusiastic, proactive and involved at every level.

1st fall 2015 show- Morgan Workman

Matt competing as part of the Centenary IHSA team. Photo by Morgan Workman 

Last season, Matt made it to Zone Finals individually in the Walk Trot Canter division and ended the year third in the Zone. He was also accepted onto the newly founded IHSA Student Leadership Committee as a representative for Centenary’s region/zone. Matt also had the opportunity to travel to the Big E with the team for IHSA Nationals as a groom, a Student Leadership Committee representative and as a reporter for Practical Horseman.

At the first show IHSA this year he earned a first in Novice over fences. He has become the second treasurer of the Centenary IHSA team and the gate-keeper at home shows when it’s not his time to show. He’s also an Equine Tour Guide through the Centenary Admissions department, and a senator on the campus’ Student Government Association.

Matt has put his time out of school to good use too. The summer before coming to Centenary, he was a working student for Eric Hasbrouck at Spruce Meadows and Eric’s home barn in North Salem, New York. During his Freshman year Winter break from Centenary he found a great opportunity to groom for Darragh Kenny at the Winter Equestrian Festival.

Matt Drohan and Peter Leone Matt Drohan and Peter Leone. Photo by Cealy Tetley 

This year, Matt landed a summer working student position at Peter Leone’s Lionshare Farm in Greenwich, Connecticut. A strong supporter of the IHSA, Leone was willing to give Matt an opportunity to join the Lionshare team as a working student. During their initial discussion Peter remembers Matt as “bright, energetic, open and honest about what he did and didn’t know about horses and what his abilities were.” Leone recalls what struck him about Matt “he was hungry – he was very serious about becoming a professional and about gaining the knowledge and experience necessary – and that impressed me.”

The position gave Matt a very important chance to learn from Peter and his group of assistants, and to gain exposure to every aspect of the horse business from riding, to training and teaching, from horse care, to client service, facility maintenance and administrative duties as well.

Matt describes working for Peter as “an invaluable opportunity, as I was able to ride six to nine horses each day and receive several lessons each week.”  He recalls the highlights of his summer as being part of the Lionshare team at Bromont, where he helped Peter prepare for the World Cup Qualifier, and again, being part of the Lionshare team at the iconic Hampton Classic.

And thanks to Matt’s hard work and Peter’s generosity, their relationship continues. In fact, Peter and Matt are now discussing the continuation of that working student position over Matt’s school break this Winter, when Lionshare moves their operation to Florida for the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington.

We asked Matt to share some advice to students looking for the right colleges and in preparing for a life within the equestrian industry.

1) Research & compare different college programs, and make an educated decision in deciding on a major

2) Reach out to potential college coaches of schools you are interested in with any questions or to introduce yourself before an upcoming campus visit – it shows initiative and that you’re taking the process seriously.

3) Your education is extremely important, as so many college courses are relevant to the equestrian industry – Principles of Management, Economics, Equine Health, Social Media Strategy etc. – all these will help you after college, so be diligent in taking notes because you will find them valuable later!

4) And in general, aside from the college process – always remain professional with a smile on your face, take something positive from every experience and just follow your dreams!

Reprinted from the November/December Issue of The Plaid Horse Magazine. Read the full issue here: