Participating in equestrian competitions is a big deal to Maggie Nealon. When her classmates at Eastside Catholic High ask about what she does away from school, the Redmond resident discusses teaming up with her horse at events, and notes that it is not a hobby.
“Just like any other sport, you’ve gotta be strong and athletic. It’s a lot of hard work and dedication — and blood, sweat and tears,” Nealon said.
The Crusader senior has notched many victories at prestigious competitions and recently signed her national letter of intent to take her talent to the next level at Texas A&M University. On Nov. 13, she signed on the dotted line for her scholarship alongside four other Eastside Catholic NCAA Division I athletes-to-be in the track-and-field, volleyball, baseball and soccer realms.
“I’m really excited to have a whole team atmosphere and feeling,” said Nealon, adding that she always aspired to attend a big sports school with tons of spirit like Texas A&M. The people and teammates she’s met and the equestrian facilities at the university are all top-notch.
Her former trainer Cara Anthony’s two daughters rode in college and Nealon wanted to tackle that terrain as well. Nealon started riding at age 6 and later trained with Anthony at Potcreek Meadow Farm in Redmond. She began competing at shows when she was 8 or 9 years old and has traveled to events in the United States and Canada during her career.
Over the years, Nealon has won multiple classes at competitions in Florida, qualified for national finals in Kentucky and Pennsylvania, participated in key events in California and more. She rides in the equitation division medal classes, during which the rider and horse are judged together on how well they maneuver the course and clear jumps. Riders are also evaluated on their position.
Nealon currently rides her 7-year-old Holsteiner from Germany named Quitello. They train at Waldenbrook Farm in Snohomish under the guidance of John French.
“I love working with the horse because it’s just really different. You can’t talk to them. It’s like any animal, like a dog, you just have a connection with them,” said Nealon, whose mom, Lynnly, works at Waldenbrook and has been a rider since she was a child.
“It’s about trust, ‘cause they’re huge animals,” Nealon said with a laugh. “It’s individual, but you’re a team with your horse.”
Nealon both rides and helps take care of Quitello, who is treated like an athlete through chiropractic work along with receiving visits from a veterinarian and dentist.
Throughout her equestrian career, Nealon has grown as a person and learned life lessons.
“I’ve had trainers that have pushed me and taught me that hard work pays off and to never give up,” said Nealon, who was voted to be a junior representative for the Washington State Hunter Jumper Association.
The Reporter asked Nealon a series of questions to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse into her life:
What super power would you like to have?
Teleportation, that would be cool.
What kind of music do you listen to?
I really like any kind of music, like country, pop, rap. Anything.
What’s your dream vacation spot?
The Bahamas or Hawaii.
What’s your favorite restaurant in the Redmond area?
I like Coho Cafe or Red Robin. The soup at Coho… the seafood bisque, it’s pretty good.
What’s your biggest pet peeve?
When people over-hype something, like way more than it should be.
Who’s an inspiration to you?
The top athletes, not only equestrian, but also football and baseball and basketball, hearing their stories and just how hard they’ve worked and everything they went through.
What a good thing to do with friends?
Hang out, drive around, listen to music, get food. (On Eastside Catholic sports events): Let’s get ready together before, hang out and we’ll all go to the game together. Making it special.
If you played football, what position would you want to play? (She was thrilled about Eastside Catholic winning the 3A state football championship.)