By Lindsey A. Slack
Hillary Dobbs can most often be found sitting at her desk in the Rice Building on the University of South Carolina campus- usually surrounded by her work, endless bottles of Siracha sauce, and blasting the musical stylings of one G-Easy. Hailing from the small town of Sussex, New Jersey, the spicy-food enthusiast is in the midst of her third season as assistant coach for the NCAA Division One Women’s Equestrian team at USC; and for Dobbs, this is just adding another aspect to her jack-of-all-trades persona. Aside from being a division one coach, Dobbs holds a degree from Harvard University, has a track record of success in the horse industry, and is daughter of the CNN commentator Lou Dobbs.
Before coming to coach at USC, Dobbs rode to be one of the most decorated show jumpers of her generation. Horses have always been important to Dobbs and her family. In fact, they have owned the 300-acre Hickory Hollow Farm in New Jersey for more than 30 years. When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, Dobbs said, “I always knew I wanted to be involved with horses in some way.”
Dobbs’ riding career involved many trips overseas for equine competitions, including the prestigious World Cup Finals and Nation’s Cup Finals where she competed for Team USA on multiple occassions. She’s competed in places like Rome, Dublin, Buenos Aires and Sweden, and is the youngest rider ever to earn $1 million dollars in prize money. Competing in her second World Cup Finals in Geneva, Dobbs placed second in the first of four speed-jumping classes by a fraction of a second. Something of an accomplishment for most riders, but for Dobbs it just fueled her drive to win. She went on to win the next three competitions. “Hearing the National Anthem three times in a row after that, and shutting out all of the male European riders was very special to me,” said Dobbs. Dobbs’ shutout was an unheard of success. The best part of the shutout? Dobbs got to do it alongside her favorite equine, Mango Dobbs.
And who is Mango Dobbs? While Dobbs plans to be mother to children of the human species someday, currently she considers herself to be mother to two furry creatures; the aforementioned equine, Mango, and Louie Dobbs the dog, both of whom came south with her when she accepted the coaching position at USC.
Mango holds a particularly special place in Dobbs’ heart as he has been a part of her greatest successes, but also a part of one of her biggest disappointments. In 2010, Dobbs suffered a career-altering knee injury. Dobbs and Mango were the front-runners in a big speed class, but unfortunately, Mango tripped and fell completely to the ground, landing on Dobbs, and rolling over her knee. Dobbs tried to dismount, but was unable to when her foot got stuck in the stirrup.
Dobbs recounted Mango’s slow reaction as the best it could have been given the situation. “It was cute, in hindsight. Any other horse would have trampled me completely,” said Dobbs. Thanks to Mango’s instincts, the accident only handed Dobbs a tear in her meniscus.
Dobbs’ reputation in the equine world played a central role in her career jump to USC. Boo Major, head coach for the USC Equestrian team was shocked upon hearing that Dobbs was interested in the assistant coaching position. “THE Hillary Dobbs?” said Major. She wasn’t certain that Dobbs would be serious about coaching at a university in the South. “Once we talked on the phone, it was divine intervention,” said Major. “Hillary was dropped into my lap through a former student’s connection, and I bulls-eyed her,” Major said. After an initial conversation, Major was sold and ready to offer her the position. Three seasons seasons later, the head coach is delighted with Dobbs’ impact on Gamecock Equestrian. “She’s an excellent coach as far as knowing what she’s doing and her ability to communicate, and she relates to the girls well,” said Major.
Major cites trustworthiness, and work ethic as two of Dobbs’ key strengths. “Hillary would be a zebra,” said Major. “Because she has to be something like a horse, but she’s also very black and white- what you see is what you get.”
Dobbs accepted the position at USC under the assumption that she’d be moving to live on the USC equestrian center farm in the small town of Blythewood, South Carolina. She felt prepared for the move as she grew up in a small town, but was surprised by one thing in particular. “There is a grocery store around the corner from the farm- this is mega for me,” said Dobbs, who was used to having to drive at least 30 minutes to the nearest store. Turns out small-town Blythewood suited Dobbs just fine, and little did she know, she’d also meet one of her dearest friends there.
Maggie Barton is the beloved barn manager for USC’s equestrian team. Known for her attention to detail with the horses, and her loving attitude towards the student-athletes, she and Dobbs clicked almost instantly. “Our friendship is great,” said Barton. “We’re always there for each other, and it was awesome that we ended up living on the same property. We got along so quickly and easily.” When asked what she had most in common with Dobbs, Barton said “Besides horses? Well, we both really like to marinate our sushi in soy sauce, which is weird, but we bonded over that.” Barton described Dobbs as being one of the most caring and thoughtful people she’s ever encountered. “She’s always putting others before herself,” said Barton.
A former rider of Dobbs, Samantha Kraus, spoke similarly about her. “Hillary is always wanting the best for us, and doing everything in her power to make sure we have everything we needed to be successful, especially on competition days,” said Kraus. Kraus rode on the team with Dobbs for two years, and has nothing but great things to say about the experience. “Hillary was easy to relate to as a coach because of her age, and being closer to the age of the members of the team made her more approachable. We really respected her for her success prior to USC and the rigorous routines that she brought to school that we were used to at home to the collegiate arena.”
Kraus praised Dobbs for pushing her and the other members of the team to ride better every single practice, and was thrilled by the higher level of instruction that Dobbs was able to bring to the table.
Madeline Valenzuela, now on the equestrian team, said she admires Dobbs’ confidence above anything else. “She’s laser focused on meet days, and always believes that our team has the ability to be successful.” Success for Dobbs came early on in her career at USC- in her inaugural season, Gamecock Equestrian went 12-5 and continued on to win the National Championship. Not too shabby for her first year.
Dobbs is always working to be successful, whether it be in the show jumping arena, or the classroom. “I always knew I wanted to go to Harvard, ever since I was little,” said Dobbs. And she did. Dobbs graduated Harvard University in 2010 with a degree in government studies, and in doing so, she achieved her life-long desire follow in the footsteps of her father, who she says is her idol. Lou Dobbs attended Harvard University and played on the football team.
Dobbs said that her dad has always inspired her to do her best. “He instilled in me the drive to succeed,” said Dobbs. “And he’s fiercely loyal, I’ve always admired that about him.”
Her father has always supported her, even prior to her riding success. “His career never stopped him from being a great horse-show-dad,” said Dobbs. Despite his busy schedule, Lou Dobbs has only missed two of his daughter’s riding competitions, and makes his way to as many Gamecock Equestrian meets as possible.
Although Dobbs was initially intimidated by the idea of coaching 40 college-aged girls, she doesn’t regret her decision to come to USC in the slightest. “I miss competing tremendously,” said Dobbs. “But coaching at the University of South Carolina fills that void in a special way.”
Slack is senior mass communications major, as well as a member of the NCAA Division One Women’s Equestrian Team at the University of South Carolina.