Joanna MacDonald

(1938 - 2018)

Inducted in 2024

Nominated by: Cheryl Anderson , Jane Hunt , Dorothea Larson

1 A.   Enter at ordinary serpentine.
   X.   Sprawl.   Salute.

2 C.   Stop dead.   Stare in horror at judge and shy to left.
         Continue at ordinary working gallop.

3 E.   Stagger left 20 or 15 or 22 meters in diameter circle or pear shape or five pointed star.
         Avoid excessive crossing of legs.

4 K.   Begin to halt.
   Z.   Keep trying.
   F.   You can do it.
   B.   Pull on rein. Give up. Continue at out of hand gallop.

5 H.   Regain right stirrup. Continue at ordinary trot, bouncing.

6 MKT Change rein. Free Walk loose reins. Remove horse from judge's luncheon table.
            Ask judge for leg up. Jump back into ring.

7 Z.   Turn down centre Line.
          Halt. Grin. Scratch. Burst into tears. Leave area at free walk on long reins, loose language.


Dressage riders around the world have laughed at this searingly insightful comment on the insanity that is dressage.  The Amazing New Dressage Test for Horses Unsuitable to Become Anything was written in May 1974 by Joanna with Karyn Curtis, Joan Macartney, Lorraine MacDonald, and Sue MacMillen following, as Joanna put it, the dressage show from hell.

Even before writing this, Joanna was an accomplished author.  In 1959, she won the prestigious Stegner Writing Fellowship to attend Stanford University’s Creative Writing program in Palo Alto, California.  Many of her classmates became well-known American writers in the 1970s and 1980s, including Ken Kesey, author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; Larry McMurtry, of Lonesome Dove series; and Peter S. Beagle, author of The Last Unicorn.  In 2002, Larry McMurtry reminisced about this class in The New York Times Review of Books, and remembered her:  “Except for the lovely Joanna Ostrow, protected by her elegant Afghan dog, we were all young males.” 

In 1970, Joanna published a novel about Scotland, In the Highlands Since Time Immemorial which was a best-seller and republished as a Book of the Month Club selection.  Joanna also published short stories, including two in the prestigious The New Yorker magazine.  After she moved to Canada she regularly corresponded with Canadian greats, including Margaret Laurence, Margaret Atwood, Mordecai Richler and Leonard Cohen.

As we say now, “life intervened” and Joanna stopped writing in the late 1970s.  She turned her attention to the equestrian world and more specifically, to running Spiritwood farm and building dressage as a sport in Ottawa.

At that time, dressage was starting to flourish in the Ottawa area, and Spiritwood farm was “a place to be”.  Joanna’s Tattie, and later, Elliott, were extremely well known in the Advanced classes.  Spiritwood had ponies for kids and horses for adults. And shows. And social events. Until recently, anyone who was anyone in Dressage in Canada had a link to Spiritwood:

· Both Joan and Lorraine became FEI dressage judges, and still travel the world.

· Sue Rothgeb, and Cara Whitham, also FEI dressage judges and Kerstin Blaeske, the first female Bereiter, all regularly taught at Spiritwood.

· Ruth Koch, who was instrumental in putting Canadian juniors and young riders on the map, taught at Spiritwood until she left to run her own stable.

· Other leading clinicians such as John Lassiter and Walter Zettl regularly came to Spiritwood.

Over time, the riding school closed, the ponies left and the barn evolved to an adult-amateur boarding establishment that held shows and clinics.  Joanna’s shows were well-attended because she made sure the atmosphere was welcoming and pro-rider. (Sadly, her Jack Russells never quite got the message.)  Joanna focussed on schooling and trillium level shows because she felt that was where the average rider could have a good showing experience. Schooling shows were entirely flexible to ensure terrified riders and unseasoned horses would have the best chance of a good experience.

One of Joanna’s favourite quotes about the horse industry was “in the world of the blind, the one-eyed man is king”.  She believed that it was critical to educate the equestrian community through regular comment from qualified, proven “outside” judges and trainers. This is why she carefully vetted judges and clinicians before they were invited to judge at her shows or teach at her barn, many offering alternatives to what are now accepted to be inappropriate training methods.

Joanna was a foundation of the dressage community in Ottawa for over 40 years, quietly supporting the horse and dressage community in ways that many of us may never fully understand.

In 2013, Spiritwood Farm closed, and in 2019 Joanna passed away.  As her daughter Sally noted in her eulogy “Joanna did not see herself as a writer who stopped writing; instead, she had faith that the very best part of herself was fully realized in the world she created at Spiritwood.”