Going For Three: Can Grier School Pull Off Another National Win This Year?

Photo by Winslow Photography.

BY April Bilodeau

The Grier School is an all-girls boarding school in Birmingham, PA. The school is home to 250 students, grades 7-12.

With 170 years of demonstrating academic excellence, students are able to not only take advantage of top tier education, but also an array of extracurricular activities, including their multi-award-winning riding program.

The facility boasts two outdoor arenas, two indoor arenas, a heated viewing area, and a 62-stall barn filled with boarder horses and school horses. The program is multi-disciplinary with students riding in the hunter/jumper, dressage, and western rings.

“We have kids that compete as beginners all the way through the junior jumpers, junior hunters, and Big Eq,” Chrystal Wood, the Director of Riding at Grier School, tells The Plaid Horse. “We have riders compete at USEF Finals, Maclay Finals, All American Quarter Horse Congress, Zone 2 Finals, Pony Finals, Capital Challenge, Devon, AHA Sport Horse Nationals.

A Grier School student competes at Capital Challenge. Photo by Shawn McMillen.

While the program mostly consists of hunter/jumper riders, students in the western program focus on reining, horsemanship, and ranch riding, while dressage riders go on to compete at the USDF National Finals, FEI North American Youth Championships (NYAC) and Dressage at Devon.

Many of their riders compete in multiple disciplines and have brought home ribbons at national finals, like Anleigh Ahlert, winner of the Open Flat and Over Fences at the Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) Hunt Seat Finals this past year. Ahlert also placed in the IEA National Dressage Finals and will be competing at the IEA National Western Finals, starting June 23-25, 2023 in Fort Worth, TX. Ahlert also won the Crossover Rider award at the 2021 National Finals, accumulating the most points across all three disciplines at the national finals.

Marian Pownall, another student who competes in all three disciplines, was 7th in Team Novice Fences and Reserve Champion in Team Novice DSE. She will be competing at Western Nationals in Team Novice Ranch Riding and Individual and Team Novice Horsemanship.

The Grier School is the only school in history to win national championships at all three IEA finals. In fact, they have been the IEA National Dressage winners since the inception of the program. This year at the hunt seat finals, they won the national title for their upper school.

A Grier Student wins at USDF National Finals. Photo courtesy of Grier School.

With the Western Final coming up, the team is hoping to add another win to their list, culminating in a season of claiming the national title win for all three divisions of the IEA.

The team has also won the Team Spirit award multiple times.

“We’re known as the rowdy bunch,” Wood says with a laugh.

Their secret? Working hard and teaching all of the students that come through the riding program to do things themselves.

“They ice their horses, wrap them, poultice them,” says Wood. “We really make sure that they learn the horsemanship aspect of the sport.”

While horsemanship is a key pillar in how they build their future riders, time in the saddle is also structured for each rider depending on how involved they would like to be.

“You can ride for fun two days per week in our recreational program,” says Wood. “To ride in our junior varsity program, it is a 4-6 days per week commitment with an IEA requirement. Our varsity program requires participants to ride in a minimum of 4 lessons per week.”

While the program can be intense for the serious riders, Wood shares that there is really something for everyone.

“It’s a very down to earth program,” says Wood. “Grier is what you want it to be.”

The Grier School will be headed off to the IEA National Western Finals this week. Make sure you watch this week to see if they can take the win yet again!

To learn more about Grier School, please visit their website.