The Grier School: A Triple Threat in the Equitation, Dressage, and Western Rings

Upper School Hunt Seat Team National Champion.

BY April Bilodeau

It’s pretty rare to see a rider crossover from the hunters to dressage to western disciplines. At Grier School, however, that’s just another normal day in the arena.

Grier School is an all-girls boarding school in Birmingham, PA, that’s home to 250 students in grades 7-12. Students are able to not only take advantage of top tier education (Grier School students have been demonstrating academic excellence for 170 years), but also an array of extracurricular activities, including their multi-award-winning riding program.

The riding 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, and more.”

Cassidy Rein.

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.

Creating Cross Discipline Riders

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 was the Varsity Open Horsemanship winner at IEA National Western Finals. Ahlert won the Crossover Rider award at the 2021 National Finals, accumulating the most points across all three disciplines at the national finals.

“When I first came to Grier, I was only familiar with riding lesson horses from my own barn, going to schooling shows, and not feeling confident in my riding,” says Ahlert. “I am so grateful to be a part of such an amazing team and to be given the opportunity to ride the most incredible horses. Grier has most definitely changed my riding career for the better and I feel Grier will be my ticket to success.”

Another student, Marian Pownall, competes in all three disciplines. She placed seventh in Team Novice Fences and was Reserve Champion in Team Novice DSE. She also competed in the western finals, winning the Novice Horsemanship.

“I am really honored to have been able to be a team rider on all three national championship teams this year,” says Pownall. “The memories that we have made this year I will remember forever!”

Catie Reachard was this year’s winner of the Crossover Rider Award. Not only did she win every single regular season class in the hunt seat on the flat, she won the top prize at Nationals in the Individual Varsity Intermediate Reining class, in addition to the team awards. 

“When I came to Grier in the eighth grade I had very little confidence and lacked experience,” says Reachard. “In just four years, I have grown exponentially not only as a rider but as a person.”

Taylor Allen rides on both the dressage and hunt team teams. She won the Team and Individual Open Dressage Test and was Leading Rider of the IEA National Dressage finals. 

Taylor Allen, USDF National Finals, National Champion, 2nd Level

“To be able to come to Grier and grow my confidence in the show ring has been something I will be forever grateful for,” says Allen. “When I first came to Grier my freshman year, I had really bad show anxiety, but with the encouragement from Chrystal and the amazing horses at Grier, I am now able to flourish in the show ring.”

Championship After Championship

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.

This past June, the Grier School was awarded National Champion Upper School Western Team honors at the Western National IEA Finals. Grier made history by becoming not only the only team in the 21 year history of IEA to win National Champion in all three disciplines, but won all three in one season, securing the only triple crown in IEA history.

2023 IEA Western Nationals, Champion Upper School Team

The team has also won the Team Spirit award multiple times. “We’re known as the rowdy bunch,” Wood says with a laugh.

Horsemanship First

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 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.”

Lily Cushman and Gaugin, owned by Grier School

While the program can be intense for the serious riders, Wood says 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.” 

To learn more about Grier School, visit