Twin McDonogh equestrians take different rides to Division I

Grace Boston trotted into the ring on an athletic bay horse named Swiss Air.

“There’s only one person who can beat Sarah Boston, and that’s her sister, Grace Boston!” the announcer called, to their mother Sharon’s memory.

From a slower start, Grace urged her mount to pick up speed over the crowd of imposing jumps, and rode to a 0.22-second finish behind her sister in the qualifying round of the 2016 USHJA Zones 3 and 4 Children’s Individual Championship in Culpeper, Va.

It was a situation Sharon had found her daughters in before.

“When they’re riding in the same ring, one will be champion, one will be reserve champion,” she said. “In the car ride home, one will be a little reserved, and the other one will have to temper their excitement.”

The Boston sisters are now on a different kind of ride. Both 18-year-old McDonogh equestrians, after a decade of competing in tournaments across the country, earned Division I scholarships to continue riding at the college level in the fall.

There are only 16 schools with Division I equestrian programs; Baylor, Sarah’s future school, and Texas A&M, Grace’s, are two. After fielding offers from several programs, the twins each made a firm commitment by December.

While one twin will be wearing Bear green and the other Aggie maroon, they’re indistinguishable by their ribbon count.

“I think it’s actually pretty dead even,” Grace said. “No one has ever had a peak where they went much farther.”

Among numerous achievements, Grace became Zone 3 Tad Coffin Equitation champion in 2017 and Maclay Region 3 champion in 2016, and has two top-25 finishes at the USEF Medal Finals. She was the Grand Small Junior Hunter champion at the Devon Horse Show, the oldest outdoor multi-breed equestrian competition in America, this past spring — having never ridden her mount until two days before competition.

Meanwhile, back in 2015, Sarah was the Gary Baker Grand Hunter champion for Maryland in 2014, the 2016 High Children’s Jumper champion at the Washington International Horse Show and the Equitation Medal Final champion for the Virginia Horse Show Association, with a broken foot to boot, and more.

Both earned top ribbons at the US Pony Finals in 2012 and 2013, with Sarah winning a third in 2011.

This fall will be the first time the twins, despite having competed mostly at different events recently, will be truly apart.

“It was definitely in the back of our minds that we do not want to go to the same school. We kind of want to part ways a little bit because we can’t stay together forever,” Grace said.

The two debuted their riding careers in first grade, as part of a mandatory two-week physical education requirement at McDonogh, and quickly fell head over boots.

Both of their careers progressed quickly because they didn’t own their own ponies and tried so many different school mounts, according to their trainer and McDonogh director of riding Streett Moore, a trend they’ve mostly continued through present day.

“By the time they got to the national level, they’d already had tools in the toolbox,” Moore said.

But from the start, their approaches diverged.

“Sarah was brave, did whatever she could, wanted to jump huge. I was more timid about it. To be safe, wanted to go slow,” said Grace, who once as a child cried at the prospect of riding her horse.

Sarah eventually became primarily a show jumper, tackling tall jumps at high speed. Grace, on the other hand, had the personality best suited for the hunter and equitation classes, which prioritizes form and elegance.

“I was very much a perfectionist, so I wanted to do the class I was doing exactly perfect until I could move up,” she said. “Which is very unrealistic for a 7-year-old girl to get perfect. My trainers would say, ‘You’re ready,’ but no, I wanted to jump small.”

Grace learned to canter after her sister once, like a nervous player finding the right coach, her trainers, Moore and Amy Dawson, brought her a skinny gray pony named Almost Magic.

“She, to this day, gave me the most confidence. All of a sudden, I wanted to jump her, I wanted to canter her,” Grace said.

The Bostons traveled constantly throughout their pre-college careers, flying Wednesday and Thursday nights for the weekend competitions in Florida, North Carolina, southeastern New York and more.

If this all sounds like too much to fit into the summers between school years, that’s because it is.

“It gets really overwhelming,” Sarah said. “We’d have a week off every once in a while, but it was hard. But you just gotta work through it because once the school year is done, it gets a lot easier.”

Teachers sent down schoolwork for the sisters while their friends FaceTimed in to help them with their assignments.

Having made it to the other side of her jet-setting pre-college career, Sarah looks forward to the perk of Division I equestrian.

“The benefits the riding team gets is the same benefit the football team gets,” she said. “You’re more considered an athlete than you are at the high school level. We eat with the athletes, we train with the athletes. They realize it’s a sport.”

The Bostons join approximately a dozen equestrians from their home state riding for Division I programs. Texas A&M alone already has three Marylander Aggies: Brianna Sims, who attended Archbishop Spalding, and Ellie Williams and Lauren Rachuba, both from Woodbine.

In separate conferences, the twins won’t be competing for top spot as often as they once did.

When they do, Sarah will have to help defend her new school’s reign over her sister’s, as the Bears blanked the Aggies 4-0, in the National Collegiate Equestrian Association championships last year.

But, possibly just as importantly, it will be an excuse to see each other.

“Definitely being 90 miles away from each other is reassuring to us,” Grace said, “that it’s not hard to get to each other if we need each other.”

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