Robert “Bob” McDonald Apparently Cleared of Allegations of Sexual Misconduct, Lifting of SafeSport Lifetime Ban

WOW… :neutral_face:

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Yeah. Big wow. I commented on the “People attempting to undermine SafeSport” thread about this as well. But it seems like Debbie and USEF are in a tricky zone now in the wake of this article. She either comments in support of the multiple statements her husband made to a reporter about the case… or she says nothing. If she says nothing… then what does USEF do? She’s still a “Technical Advisor”to the team I believe. And her husband has now essentially told a reporter that the complainant involved in SafeSport case against him is a vindictive liar. And the allegations are false (specifically he claimed he didn’t even know the complainant).

That’s really tricky… because technically, it seems like he now needs to go and make good on the alleged threat to sue SafeSport in US District Court (and perhaps pursue a suit against the complainant for defamation, or violation of SafeSpirt rules). If he doesn’t, and just leaves the allegation that he made to the reporter that the primary complainant is a crazy vindictive liar hanging out there in the public eye in a sort of limbo… it seems like that could be interpreted as harassment of a SafeSport complainant. Which is prohibited.

Clearly the complainant lost confidence in SafeSport and backed away from the arbitration process. And then contacted John Reid with the OC Register and got her story out there. And that’s prohibited as well (the whole thing was supposed to be kept in confidence by both parties)… but now that the story is out there, and McDonald has denied it and counter accused… it seems like Debbie and USEF are in a bad position in the middle.

What a sad story, and a mess.

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I’ll say. :frowning_face:

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Can someone cut and paste the article? I’m hitting a paywall and I really have no reason to subscribe to the Orange County Register!

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If I read that article correctly it sounds like Debbie the current wife might also have been an underage girlfriend, or at least a very young adult? The article states she started working for him and previous wife at age 14, and it sounds like Bob left his first wife and married her fairly precipitously. They’ve since obviously had a long marriage that seems to have worked well for both of them.

We had a similar case locally where two cool young teacher dudes running an outdoor program for a local high school in the 1970s were serially preying on 16 year old girls.

One of them ended up marrying one of the girls, and they were still married 30 years later when the criminal charges were laid, and she was his biggest/only defender. There was no suggestion he continued chasing school girls after he married one. His wife wasn’t complicit in grooming or overlooking his behaviour. And she clearly didn’t feel like the sum total of things made her a victim of sexual assault.

So I think it’s asking a lot of a wife of 30 or 40 years who started out in this situation herself to have any kind of public position on the situation.

I do think it’s unfortunate that the victim here decided to not participate in the formal process, but just go to the media.

Sure. I’ll copy and paste it all into this comment.

Title:

SafeSport documents detail sexual abuse allegations against horse trainer Bob McDonald

U.S. Center for SafeSport documents and statements contradict McDonald’s claims that allegations were ‘proven false’

By SCOTT M. REID | sreid@scng.com | Orange County Register

PUBLISHED: February 5, 2021 at 9:26 a.m. | UPDATED: February 5, 2021 at 9:51 a.m.

Bob McDonald, a world renown equestrian trainer for more than four decades, was banned for life from the sport by the U.S. Center for Sport in June for “sexual conduct involving minors.”

The lifetime ban stunned an American equestrian community that had witnessed McDonald’s rise to international prominence for his reputation for spotting equine talent and as the longtime coach and advisor to his now-wife Debbie McDonald, an Olympic equestrian medalist and currently a top advisor to the U.S. Olympic and national dressage team.

That community was rocked again when the U.S. Center for SafeSport announced just two months later it was issuing an “administrative closure” of the case prior to an arbitration hearing, resulting in McDonald’s ban being lifted.

McDonald said at the time the allegations had been “proven false.”

But the U.S. Center for SafeSport this week said it continues to stand by its initial findings that McDonald, according to previously undisclosed confidential SafeSport documents obtained by the Southern California News Group and interviews, had sexual intercourse with two underage girls in the mid-1970s.

The U.S. Center for SafeSport found McDonald had sexual intercourse with an underage girl on “many occasions” in California over a nearly two-year period, as well as during a vacation trip to Nevada, according to SafeSport documents obtained during an eight-month investigation by the Southern California News Group.

The Denver-based SafeSport also determined that McDonald had sexual intercourse with another Orange County teenager in 1974, according to the documents.

This article is based on more than a 100 pages of confidential SafeSport documents including the center’s formal notice of decision, and the 50-page “Confidential Investigation Report” outlining the findings of the center’s six-month investigation as well as emails related to the case.

SafeSport “ultimately found by a preponderance of evidence that (McDonald) 1) engaged in sexual intercourse on numerous occasions, with a minor athlete between January 1974 and December 1976. 2) Engaged in sexual intercourse with (the second teenager), a minor athlete, in Spring 1974,” according to the center’s confidential June 10 notice of decision.

The first teenager was K.D. who worked for McDonald to pay for the riding lessons she took from him and to board her horse. One day in 1974, K.D., 13 years old, was riding in a truck with McDonald, then 27 and an Orange County horse trainer and equestrian coach.

“During the time period that I worked for Bob, he would work up excuses to bring me over to the studio apartment at the Versailles,” K.D. recalled in a recent interview with SCNG, referring to a Costa Mesa complex. “A lot of time it was innocent. He would just stop in and pick something up. This was before cell phones, he would stop and make a phone call.”

But since that March, the stops at the Versailles increasingly led to McDonald molesting K.D., according to the U.S. Center for SafeSport report.

This day, McDonald again led her into the apartment where “events unfolded quickly,” K.D. told the investigator. McDonald removed condoms and lubricant from a cupboard next to his bed, put on a condom and “jumped on” her, she told SafeSport.

“At that moment,” K.D. told the investigator, “he took my virginity.”

Nearly 46 years later, she said she has only recently begun to realize all that she lost that day.

“I don’t know how to explain it other than to say that being raped was like someone stealing your soul,” she said. “You’re just gone afterwards. It’s almost like you’re not even there.”

McDonald, 74, now splits time between Idaho and TyL (“Thank you Lord”) Farm in Wellington, Florida, a dressage facility he designed for Kylee McVaney, an equestrian enthusiast and founder and CEO of Nextworld, a Denver-based corporate software company.

“I don’t know why you’re digging into something that has already been dropped,” McDonald said during a brief telephone interview this week, referring to the allegations. “I was cleared of all that.

“All of it is not true.”

McDonald, in fact, was not cleared by the U.S. Center for SafeSport, a SafeSport spokesman said this week.

SafeSport officials decided to issue an “administrative closure” because of the reluctance of the two alleged victims to participate in the arbitration process. The victims each had concerns about how the center had conducted its initial investigation, according to four people familiar with the case and SafeSport documents.

SafeSport has the option of reopening the case, the spokesman said.

McDonald alleges SafeSport dropped the case after he provided the center additional information prior to an arbitration hearing triggered by his appeal of the lifetime ban.

SafeSport, however, in especially strong terms for the center, said both of McDonald’s assertions that the allegations against him were “proven false,” and that the case had been dropped because of new information, were “not true.”

“Absolutely not,” Dan Hill, a spokesman for SafeSport, said this week.

“The center is aware of his statement and it is not accurate as far as the center’s position,” Hill said.

Any additional information McDonald might have provided SafeSport, Hill said, had “absolutely nothing to do with the center’s” decision regarding arbitration.

McDonald denied knowing K.D. during the telephone interview. He was then informed that K.D. had provided SCNG photos of McDonald riding “Charlie” a horse she said she owned, a photo of Debbie McDonald riding the same horse, of Bob McDonald water skiing, McDonald driving a boat on the Colorado River, and of a ski boat K.D. said McDonald owned. The name of the boat was “Hot to Trott,” she said.

“I don’t know that person,” McDonald responded.

He also denied knowing the second alleged victim in the phone interview.

“I don’t know her,” he said.

A day after McDonald’s denial, his attorney said “He did not deny knowing (the second alleged victim.)”

When asked what additional information he had provided SafeSport prior to arbitration, McDonald referred the question and further questions to his attorney.

“You appear to be quoting from the U.S. Center for SafeSport’s Notice of Decision or Investigative Report, both of which are confidential documents under the SafeSport Code,” Howard Jacobs, McDonald’s attorney, said in a statement to SCNG. “I am sure that you are aware that whoever provided this to you, which I presume to be one or more of the claimants, violated the SafeSport Code by sharing that document or documents with you.

“In any event, SafeSport’s Notice of Decision and Investigative Report represent SafeSport’s belief, and none of the allegations have been heard by a neutral fact-finder. Bob McDonald was prepared to present his defense to these false allegations to a neutral arbitrator, and an arbitration date had been selected, when the U.S. Center for SafeSport suddenly closed the case. In notifying Mr. McDonald that it was closing the case, the U.S. Center for SafeSport specifically advised that the Notice of Decision (which I believe is the very document you have quoted to me) had been withdrawn and that all sanction(s) imposed therein were lifted. Under those circumstances, we disagree that SafeSport could re-open the case; but in any event, there has been no indication that it intends to do so.”

Jacobs added: “Mr. McDonald does not recall (K.D.).”

SafeSport documents contradict McDonald’s assertion that he was not given a chance by the center to defend himself during the investigation.

“Unfortunately, the system in place does not allow for individuals to be given the opportunity to effectively defend any of the allegations prior to a ban,” McDonald said in a statement at the time of his banishment.

In fact, the SafeSport report cites McDonald’s “refusal to participate” with the investigation.

McDonald on Jan. 30, 2020, his birthday, received from SafeSport “a written copy of the Notice of Allegations,” according to the center’s report. McDonald, the report said, “denied several repeated, written requests” over a four-month period “to participate meaningfully in an interview with the Center Investigator.”

“I will not produce myself for interviews with the U.S. Center for SafeSport due to the Center’s use of the single investigator model and the lack of substantive and procedural process and lack of substantive and procedural process rights of provided by the Center’s code,” McDonald said in a May 14 sworn affidavit he provided SafeSport.

McDonald also threatened to sue SafeSport in U.S. District Court.

McDonald at the time was represented by attorney Russell Prince, an outspoken critic of the U.S. Center for SafeSport. Prince has represented a series of individuals accused of sexual, physical and verbal abuse by SafeSport or national governing bodies, including former U.S. Olympic gymnastics coach Maggie Haney. Haney was suspended by USA Gymnastics for eight years in 2020, after a panel found she had physically, verbally and emotionally abused young gymnasts. Her suspension was later reduced to five years by an arbitrator who ruled Haney had not received proper notice of some complaints. Those complaints have since been resubmitted.

Prince said he is no longer represents McDonald.

“I did not have an inappropriate relationship of any sort sexual or otherwise, with minors athletes between 1973 through 1976 or any other year,” McDonald said in the affidavit to SafeSport. “I categorically deny any/all alleged wrongdoing. I believe the conduct of those (who) have made these allegations, and that of the Center, is purely vexatious and meant for the purpose of harassing myself, my wife, her participation in the Olympic games and movement, and our business interests.”

McDonald also submitted affidavits to SafeSport from Susan Burt, his wife from 1964 to 1976, and Jane Thomas, who was coached by McDonald in Orange County during the time of the allegations. Thomas is the daughter of Parry Thomas, the late influential Las Vegas casino financier who was also a financial backer of Debbie McDonald’s equestrian career.

Jane Thomas said in her affidavit that none of the other student riders she knew coached by McDonald “mentioned inappropriate sexual relationships” with him. Burt said in her affidavit that she had no knowledge of inappropriate sexual relationships by McDonald with minors and characterized the allegations “outrageous” and “untrue.”

“However, the Burt Affidavit or the Thomas affidavit make no specific, by-name reference to either of the two (alleged victims) here,” the SafeSport said.

K.D. first contacted SafeSport on Aug. 2, 2019, according to center documents. However, she was not contacted by Bruce Tucker Smith, the SafeSport investigator assigned to the case, until Dec. 30 that year.

K.D. agreed to be identified for this report by her initials. The second victim requested she not be named because of the nature of the subject matter.

K.D. said it was inappropriate that Smith questioned her about her sexual history prior to McDonald’s alleged sexual abuse.

K.D. also said the SafeSport report contains a significant error. The report twice refers to statements attributed to a childhood friend of K.D. that she told the friend she had oral sex with McDonald. K.D. told SCNG she did not have oral sex with him and told Smith she had not

“The SafeSport experience, it was retraumatizing,” K.D. said in an interview with SCNG. “I can’t even tell you how re-traumatizing it was. When the investigator was interviewing me on video camera, he asked me if I was a virgin at the time of my rape. He asked me if I was virgin at the time. When I was reporting my childhood sexual abuse by Bob McDonald that happened between the ages of 14 and 16 and he also asked me if I performed oral sex on Mr. McDonald and I answered that I did not, he got that incorrect in the report.”

Equestrian success

Bob and Debbie McDonald formed one of the most successful partnerships in American equestrian history.

“Bob is my biggest fan and always gives me the support I’ve needed; truly someone that has gotten me through some tough times and is always there for me,” Debbie McDonald, known as the “First Lady of American dressage,” told Sidelines, an equestrian magazine. “I couldn’t be where I am today without him!”

“It’s been a good run,” Bob McDonald told Equestriancoach.com.

They met when Bob McDonald was the married father of a 4-year-old daughter. He was running an equestrian business with his wife. Debbie was a 14-year-old obsessed with horses.

They soon joined forces in buying and selling horses in hopes of eventually finding one to compete at the highest levels.

“Bob, who has a great eye for potential equine talent, would find me prospects that looked as if they were on their last legs – skinny and unattractive, with long, unkempt coats and tangled manes,” Debbie McDonald wrote in “Riding Through,” her autobiography. “More than anything, I loved turning those horses into swans. I would groom them forever and do everything I could to make them look good, filling them with nutritious feed, alfalfa and molasses. Even today, some of the most fun moments I have involve spending that kind of time with my horses – bathing, clipping and just hanging out with them.”

Bob McDonald’s most famous discovery was Brentina, a Hanoverian mare that Debbie McDonald would ride to groundbreaking success.

Parry Thomas, whose biography was titled “The Quiet Kingmaker of Las Vegas,” was also a prominent equestrian patron and developed a friendship with McDonald when he coached Thomas’ daughter in the 1970s. Later the McDonalds trained horses for Thomas at his River Grove Farm near Hailey, Idaho.

“One day Parry said to me, ‘Do you think we could make the Olympics?’” McDonald recalled in an interview with equestriancoach.com “And I said ‘I don’t know why not.’”

They, McDonald told Thomas, “just had to find the right one.”

That one was Brentina, spotted by McDonald at a German auction in 1994.

“I said, ‘Debbie, we’re buying that one and she will be the best horse you ever own,’ and she has turned out to be just exactly that,” McDonald recalled.

Debbie McDonald and Brentina won gold medals in the individual and team competitions at the 1999 Pan American Games. McDonald atop Brentina in 2003 became the first U.S. rider to win a FEI World Cup final. The following year McDonald won a bronze medal in the team dressage event at the Olympic Games.

The couple worked for Thomas for more than 30 years and they now split their time between Idaho and Wellington, Florida. Debbie McDonald retired from competitive riding in 2009. A year later, she was hired as the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s developing dressage coach. She was named the U.S. national dressage team’s technical advisor in 2018 with primary focus on the Olympic Games in Tokyo this summer. Debbie McDonald also continues to coach Olympic medalist Laura Graves, the first American rider to be ranked No. 1 in FEI’s World rankings.

Growing up with a love of horses

K.D. also grew up obsessed with horses as the adopted daughter of older parents. Her father had served as an Air Force gunner in World War II and had been a POW.

“Both of my parents are older,” K.D. said recently. “They had traditional values.

“I was a very, very shy child. It was actually a suggestion of our family doctor to get me a horse because it was just something I was interested in from the beginning of time.”

She was 12 when she got her first horse.

“I was in 6th grade,” K.D. recalled. “My mom was a farm girl. Something we could do together. She walked while I rode.”

But a year later, her mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. “She had a lobectomy after that she really wasn’t available to watch over like previous years,” K.D. said.

It was around this time that K.D. first met McDonald, who was then running an equestrian business out of the Hillsview Saddle Club in Santa Ana.

She began working for McDonald to pay for training and to board her horse. She continued to work for McDonald when he shifted his operation to the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa.

“In hindsight, I believe the grooming began from Day 1,” K.D. told SCNG. “I recall the very first time I went there, him winking at me. And all the special attention he gave me.”

Before long, she was one of the gang, K.D. said. There was Sue McDonald, Bob’s wife who ran the equestrian business with her husband, the couple’s young daughter Kimberly, and Debbie.

“Sue and Debbie were close friends,” K.D. said.

Debbie and Sue both owned Dalmatian dogs, K.D. said. They drove matching Volkswagen bugs, Sue yellow, Debbie orange. In addition to working for McDonald at Hillsview and later the Orange County Fairgrounds, K.D. traveled with the group to work for McDonald at horse shows, according to interviews and SafeSport documents. She went to Los Angeles Kings games with Bob, Debbie and Kimberly, K.D. said in interviews and SafeSport documents. Debbie named a dog Rogie, K.D. said, an apparent reference to Kings goaltender Rogie Vachon.

“Bob was very nice. I think that was actually his molestation tool was being so nice,” K.D. said. “He won the trust of my parents. I can recall my dad bragging to our neighbors and our friends that all the special interest he was taking in me.”

Within months of their first meeting, that interest turned physical, according to the SafeSport report.

Beginning in March 1974, McDonald “frequently entered the horse stalls where (K.D.) was working, would touch her, fondle her and kiss her,” according to SafeSport’s “Finding of Facts” section of its investigation report, which was based on interviews with K.D. and others and other evidence.

McDonald, the investigation found, also repeatedly told K.D. “that he loved her and asked her if she loved him.”

K.D. believed McDonald’s “expressions of love were disingenuous and part of his grooming process,” according to a SafeSport summary of her interview with Smith, the center’s investigator.

She told McDonald to stop the romantic gestures, according to the SafeSport interview summary.

“She said she told him to stop kissing and touching her,” the summary said. “Nevertheless, he persisted in his overtures.”

The 1974 incident at McDonald’s apartment was the first of what the SafeSport investigation found to be “many occasions” when McDonald did “commit sexual intercourse with a minor (K.D.) between March 1, 1974 and December 31, 1976.

“(K.D.) said that after her first sexual encounter with (McDonald), there was no conversation, hugging or kissing,” the summary said. “Thereafter, (McDonald) drove (K.D.) back to the stables. She reports that after the intercourse, she was physically hurt.”

“After that, I just kind of went along with things,” K.D. told SCNG. “I didn’t know how to process it. I didn’t have any adults to talk to. In my mind, I framed it like he was my older boyfriend. I had no other way to process it.”

SafeSport found that after the first incident, McDonald “through 1975” had sexual intercourse with K.D. “at least monthly” at the Costa Mesa apartment. Under California law at the time, it was unlawful to have sexual intercourse with a woman under 18 that wasn’t the perpetrator’s wife.

He also had sexual intercourse with her while attending a horse show in Santa Barbara and during a July 1975 vacation trip with Debbie, K.D. and Kimberly, McDonald’s daughter, to Cottonwood Cove, Nevada, on the banks of Lake Mohave, SafeSport found.

“Bob was always in a frenzy, an absolute frenzy,” K.D. said. “I think most of the time I just froze. I just have kind of intermittent memories of it and after the sex he had this really weird bed-making ritual where he would smooth the sheets and smooth the sheets, and I think he would make like hospital corners and I just remember back then thinking how bizarre it was.”

During the Nevada trip, McDonald “had (K.D.) alone in his gray ‘dualie’ pick-up truck, ostensibly to go to the grocery store,” according to the SafeSport report. “On the way home, he turned his truck onto a dirt road toward a different cove on the Colorado River (which feeds into Lake Mohave).

“Once parked (McDonald) made sexual advances toward (K.D.). She tried to avoid his advances by getting out of the truck and walking into the water.

“I jumped out of the car and ran into the water and he ran after me and tried to have sex with me in the water,” K.D. said.

McDonald followed her into the water, the report said, and the pair had sexual intercourse near the shore.

Nevada law at the time defined statutory rape as the “carnal knowledge of a female under the age of 16 years with her consent, by a male person of 18 or older.”

Afraid to report the abuse

K.D., according to the SafeSport report “was afraid to report (McDonald’s) conduct, lest she lose her paid job and her ability to ride and to train with her horse.”

But K.D. did confide in a junior high friend about McDonald on an almost daily basis, according to SafeSport documents. The testimony of the friend proved critical in SafeSport reaching its ruling against McDonald.

The friend, in a Jan. 10, 2020, interview with SafeSport’s Smith, described K.D. “at the time as being shy, ‘a latchkey kid’ who did not have parental emotional support,” according to the center’s summary of the interview.

The woman “detailed personal conversations about (K.D.’s) sexual relation with (McDonald). (The friend) said that in 1975 and 1976, the two friends talked every day that (K.D.) shared the details of her sexual relationship with (McDonald),” the interview summary said.

The friend, the summary continued, “remembered that (K.D.) expressed her fear, frequently, of (McDonald) and her fear of leaving the relationship. (K.D.) told (the friend) that she wanted to ‘get out of the relationship’” but “felt trapped by (McDonald).”

The woman, according to the summary “specifically told (K.D.) that McDonald was committing ‘statutory rape.’”

The final SafeSport report stated: “Perhaps most compelling is the information supplied by (K.D.’s) childhood classmate, friend, and confidant. (The friend) has no apparent association with (McDonald) or anyone else in the U.S. Equestrian movement and has no demonstrable reason to fabricate her recollections of (K.D.’s) statement made to her over 45 years ago.

“It is particularly noteworthy that (K.D.) told her friend about her ongoing sexual relationship with (McDonald) contemporaneously with those events. Thus it is highly unlikely that (K.D.’s) reports are either a recent fabrication or a deceit and are more likely true than not.”

McDonald also had intercourse with K.D. in 1976 at a condominium he shared with Debbie, who was by then his girlfriend, according to the SafeSport report.

K.D. said she stopped having sex with McDonald after learning that he was engaged to Debbie.

“To me that was absolutely stunning because I felt like such a fool,” she said. “I felt invisible. I didn’t even know how to respond to it. The thought was ‘OK, he’s engaged to her. Who am I?’ And here I was by that time I was 16 and there had this been quote secret relationship or whatever it was going on for a couple years and anyway at that point and time, and I had always had this fear, but at that point in time I withheld sex. I didn’t cooperate with his games anymore. And he, I was still working for him and I distinctly remember coming down to the barn and I had a very nice horse at that time and he had moved the horse from the barn to an outside stall and basically told me that I couldn’t work for him anymore to pay for the bills on my horses.

“I guess that I had no adult to go to. I was just devastated.”

The second alleged victim began taking riding lessons from McDonald at the Hillsview Saddle Club in 1972. She was 12.

In the spring of 1974, approximately two months before her 14th birthday in June, McDonald picked her up at her home on his motorcycle, according to the SafeSport report.

It had a “gray or silver gas tank with a stripe on it,” she told Smith in a Jan. 9, 2020, interview with Smith, according to the SafeSport report.

They stopped at a coffee shop and then went to his Costa Mesa apartment where McDonald had sexual intercourse with her, SafeSport found.

The woman has “no recollection of any event immediately after the sexual encounter. She does not remember how she got home,” according to the report.

It was the only time McDonald had sex with her, the woman told Smith, according to SafeSport documents.

Like K.D., the second woman provided SafeSport with a description of McDonald’s Costa Mesa apartment, and also like K.D. submitted a drawing of the apartment.

“The accuracy of (the woman’s) recollection of her only sexual encounter with (McDonald) is bolstered by her memory of (McDonald’s) apartment at the Versailles Apartment Complex in Costa Mesa, California,” the SafeSport report said. “Her particular recollection that (McDonald) kept condoms and lubricant in a bedside table on the left side of his bed is identical to (K.D.’s) memory of the same fact. Her account of physical pain she felt for days after (McDonald) had sex with her seems highly reliable.”

A decision to come forward

In 2016 and 2017, K.D. who had since moved out of state, began reading about Larry Nassar, the former U.S. Olympic and USA Gymnastics women’s team physician accused of sexually abusing hundreds of young girls.

“When I saw Nassar,” she said, “I knew it was only a matter of time” before similar allegations surfaced in equestrian.

Starting in “2018 from time to time over the years I’ve done Google searches – ‘Bob McDonald’ ‘molestation’ ‘horse trainer’ – just to see what came up,” she said.

Nothing did.

But she did find in 2018 published reports that Jimmy A. Williams, a Southern California Hall of Fame horse trainer and coach of several Olympians, had raped and molested young girls for decades. For years, Williams drove a golf cart around barns and horse shows with a sign that read: “Jimmy Williams is a clean old man, amen.” Williams died in 1993.

Robert Gage, a San Diego County World Cup Grand Prix rider and trainer, committed suicide in 2019 after being banned for life by SafeSport for sexual misconduct with a minor.

“There was the article on Jimmy Williams,” K.D. said. “I saw an article on Rob Gage, both horse trainers I knew personally, worked for. I was not a victim of either one. I knew most of the women (named in the reports) and felt a moral obligation to report to SafeSport, to do a report” on McDonald.

Within weeks of Gage’s suicide, she contacted SafeSport.

The two women first met as teenagers and continued to cross paths at horse shows when they were in their 20s, but were unaware of the other’s alleged abuse by McDonald, they told SCNG. They had not been in contact since 1984 or 1985, K.D. said. When SafeSport’s Smith asked K.D. in January 2020 about other potential victims, she mentioned the other woman as a possible victim, K.D. said. Smith asked her to contact the other woman, K.D. said.

K.D. recounted to SCNG that she asked the woman if she had followed news reports about sexual abuse allegations against other high profile trainers and “then I told her I had been abused by Bob McDonald and she just lost it. She went, ‘Oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh, oh, my gosh. He did it to me too.’”

“It took years for me to really fully grasp it,” K.D. told SCNG, referring to McDonald’s alleged misconduct. “I knew by definition it could be considered statutory rape but Bob was such a salesman, I don’t know how else to put it. It’s like he played the role of what a 14-year-old would want as a (boyfriend). I had such ambivalence. At one level, I didn’t even like him, I didn’t find him attractive. I would go through things in my mind. He was balding on top. It was gross. But once I got into the situation, I didn’t know how to get out. I felt trapped.

“Horses for a young girl, especially as someone as shy as I was. That was my entire world.”

She was terrified of coming forward, a fear that eventually gave way to thoughts of another generation of shy, young girls riding through their own uncertain worlds.

“I think for some of us older athletes,” K.D. said “I think if we don’t step forward nothing is ever going to change for the younger generation.”

End of Article

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OK - one additional data point to add to this story… I posted this comment on the other SafeSport thread in the HJ forum, but it’s relevant context to share here too, especially in direct relation to the reporting from Scott Reid with the OC Register.

This is the public statement from Debbie McDonald as of 08/23/20 when the complaint against Bob was administratively closed…

“ Statement from Debbie McDonald

To say the last few months have been challenging would be an understatement. We are relieved and grateful to hear that the lifetime ban against my husband Bob has been lifted and that the case is closed, but we are by no means considering this a celebration. He has never wavered his position on the accusations being false and we are both appreciative of all of our family, friends and supporters who have encouraged us and supported us during this time. From the beginning we cooperated and allowed the process to take place with SafeSport. Bob understood the seriousness of the accusations and that is why we were committed to clearing his name. We do not take any type of abuse lightly. There is nothing worse than having your character, or the character of a loved one questioned. I wanted to personally thank you for your support and kindness towards my family and me. Bob and I are looking forward to putting this behind us and focusing on all the things we love.”

End of statement

**Sooo… after reading the article from the OC Register, it seems quite clear someone is not being forthright abd accurate with regard to the facts of this situation, and how this complaint and investigation unfolded. **

Per the article in the OC Register, Bob McDonald refused to cooperate with the SafeSport investigation, and threatened to sue them in US District Court. Furthermore, as of Feb 5, 2021, according to Dan Hill, the official SafeSport spokesman… McDonald was NOT cleared. Not at all. The complaint was simply administratively closed.

So either the SafeSport documents regarding this investigation and complaint that were provided to the reporter are all messed up, inaccurate, and Bob and Debbie really did cooperate, and on top of that the SafeSport spokesman ‘misspoke’ when he declared that McDonald wasn’t ever actually cleared…

OR

The McDonalds are not telling the truth about how they responded to the investigation and Debbie ‘misspoke’ when she specifically said in this statement that Bob had been cleared.

Meanwhile, from what I can gather, USEF has said nothing publicly about the OC Register article from 02/05/21. I guess they think all the Safe Sport training and town halls are working great, and the little inconsequential people who care about these stories, and the issue of sexual exploitation of athletes by powerful people in sport should just be satisfied with the token measures. I guess they are just hoping that none of us read newspapers, and think critically, and then take note when public statements from key advisers to the US Dressage Team about allegations of serious sexual abuse of minors are at odds with detailed reports published in newspapers, and statements made by the official SafeSport spokesperson.

This is really disappointing… to put it mildly.

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so why are you disappointed?

From what I understand, the proceedings for Safe Sport are not in line with legal proceedings.
the ban is - whether or not rightfully - given at the onset of the allegation. Publically.
But generally, no reason is given, Which can cause confusion. Like in the Barisone case. he is ‘only’ accused of attempted murder, not abusing children. However his mere ban has cast that shadow over him as well.
I didn’t pay attention to the other guy, supposedly a verbal incident with witnesses at a show. No sex scandal, but this is the assumption he now has to fight as well.

Are you disappointed in the accused defending himself? Not cooperating?
I am not sure how cooperation can save your hide. I would refer to my lawyer on that, who will charge me dearly for the privilege.
That they assumed they have been cleared with the closure of the case, and the lifted ban?
I am sure the McDonalds would prefer a clean bill there as well. But laypeople may be excused from confusing the issue.

So now the shadow of a doubt will always linger.

the sports need to work a little harder to keep predators out.

At the same time, the industry needs to step up and protect the vulnerable!
Not keeping things quiet, not shutting up when the prey is headed for the trap!

That goes for the beginners headed toward bad barns and trainers as well.

the procedure leaves the accused guilty.
and even if they are found free of wrongdoing, most people will associate the name with the ban more than any positive things they have accomplished.

I find the goal important and laudable, but the organization as a whole trouble some

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I’m disappointed because after reading through the recent OC Register article, it seems EITHER the McDonalds, or SafeSport itself are lying to the public about how this investigation unfolded. And EITHER the McDonalds or SafeSport itself is lying about whether or not Bob McDonald was actually cleared of the charges made against him.

You are correct that McDonald was in NO WAY obligated to cooperate with the SafeSport investigation into his complaint. Whether this is a legal proceeding or not, he definitely had the right to remain silent, and I for one don’t judge anyone for remaining silent. But the fact is, he and Debbie made a public statement last August declaring that:

  1. They cooperated with the SafeSport investigative process
  2. Bob McDonald was ‘cleared’ of the charges against him, and that was why the complaint was administratively closed, and his lifetime ban from USEF was rescinded.

But then, along comes this Feb. 5, 2021 article in the OC Register. Details from the SafeSport investigation report were clearly provided to the reporter (likely from the conplainant themself), and 4 people affiliated with SafeSport, as well the SafeSport spokesman spoke to the reporter, and they all state that:

  1. The McDonalds consistently refused to cooperate with the SafeSport investigation, and at one point, Mr. McDonald actually threatened to sue SafeSport in US District court…
  2. They (Dan Hill) state, on the record, in strong terms, that Bob McDonald was NOT cleared of the charges against him. The complaint was closed because both the complainants had cold feet about going through with testifying during the arbitration process. But closing the case, reinstating McDonald, and deciding not to defend the lifetime ban decision… that in no way meant that there was actual exculpatory evidence that ‘cleared’ McDonald. To the contrary, it seems pretty obvious from the OC Register report that there is substantial evidence of wrongdoing.

Soooo… I’m disappointed because someone is lying to the entire sport community about this whole matter. Either it’s the SafeSport people, or it’s the McDonalds. Neither option seems like a good thing to me. Personally, I was hoping he really was cleared because I’ve always admired Debbie McDonald. And she’s a prominent coach in the sport at the highest levels. But if he really was cleared, then that means the OV Register article is garbage, and multiple folks from SafeSport have lied about the facts of how the complaint unfolded when speaking to the reporter… and that’s a horrible thing. If that’s what happened. But we don’t really know for sure. We just know that either people were being deceptive last August in terms of their public statements… or people are being deceptive now. Neither one is a good thing.

I hope that makes sense. If you haven’t yet read the Feb. 5, 2021 article about the complaints… maybe read it. It’s pretty horrifying and sad. Maybe it’s all BS… maybe not. But the allegations are certainly serious, and I for one am disappointed that the sport STILL has a broken process when it comes to serious allegations like this involving complaints against people who are coaching at high levels.

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As for this part of your post… at this point, since the complainant herself has reached out to the press, and shared details of her complaint, it seems like IF he really has the evidence he says he has, evidence that clears his name, evidence that he says he would have presented if they ever went through with the whole independent arbitration process…

Well…

It seems like he should contact a lawyer and sue the complainant for libel. Detailed allegations related to multiple incidents of statutory rape were provided to the press. If she’s lying… that’s libel, I would imagine. So McDonald doesn’t need a flawed SafeSport arbitration process to clear his name anymore. He can just launch a civil suit.

If he’s innocent and this whole mess is truly all the result of some sort of vindictive lie from a former student, and a screwed up investigation process by SafeSport, and then an irresponsible decision on the part of a reporter to publish a shocking article detailing this woman’s awful allegations in the OC Register for public consumption… then geez… he should sue the heck out of someone.

But that’s a lot of “ifs.” And I’m pretty shocked by all the details in the recent OC Register article. And my guess is that Scott Reid thoroughly checked these details before printing this story. He’s an experienced reporter, who has followed other major SafeSport allegations related to prominent gymnastics coaches. This is not his first rodeo.

Just my perspective.

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well, his name isn’t cleared.

And ‘just launching a civil suit’
I am sure that will help him get his name cleared of the suspicion of child molestation. ?sarcasm. While he might win, he will lose. The damage is done.

So the process is flawed, the outcome unsatisfactory.

Are you taking about Trek? I did the program in high school and the scandal broke around the time I attended

Different one, Quest at Prince of Wales in Vancouver.

I expect it was rampant in outdoors programs.

What does this have to do with McDonald? Is it just a mix up of different threads?

No, in my post above I compared the two situations and then someone asked me about that. The chat directly above should make it clear. The quote function is not as easy to use on this current platform

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Ahhh - I see now. I backtracked and reread your comment. Thx for the explanation though.

I’m still trying to figure out the new format as well.

There was a multi month investigation, a report that was in excess of 100 pages, photographs provided by the complainant documenting that she spent extensive time with McDonald back then, he and Debbie rode her horse, and apparently testimony provided from a third party that the complainant confided to about this abusive relationship while it was happening back in the 1970’s, that confirms the complainants allegations…

Yes… it does seem like there were flaws in the process. The complainant herself describes frustrations she had with the assigned Safe Sport investigator. It seems fair to infer that some of those specific issues influenced the decision of both complainants to not testify during the arbitration proceeding, abs that is apparently why SafeSport administratively closed the case. And thus, the decision to issue a lifetime ban was rescinded.

But overall, it seems like there was a thorough investigation, there was substantial evidence that supported the complaints, and the decision on SafeSports part not to follow through with arbitration was not because it was a meritless case.

You are correct… his reputation is damaged. But the report in the OC Register is shocking and very sad, and I find it hard to have a lot of sympathy for his loss of reputation.

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I am only marginally interested in either. I just stumbled across it as another prominent equestrian was removed from the ban list.

the point being that the organization needs to shape up their process.
at least 2 people now have the stigma of sexual impropriety attached to their name even though their offense was nowhere related to that. Just by virtue of SS actions.

Somewhere I don’t get the Safe Sport thing.
Why not pursuit this criminally, as it should be done?

Then again, there are so many people involved in the coverups (I do tend to forget that SS is not just the horse industry)
Maybe we need better sex education in this country, so kids know when things aren’t right.
and less hero worship and more accountability of the people around the perpetrators.

I suppose you will find out whether or not McDonald will follow through on his threats.
It is still a white man’s world. His odds aren’t bad.

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You do understand that SafeSport covers more than just sexual abuse allegations, don’t you? People can violate multiple different aspects of the code, and penalties that are handed out can vary, depending upon the specifics of the violation.

So there’s that.

Is SafeSport without problems? Of course not. Neither is the criminal justice system. Nor our legal system that addresses civil complaints. Nor the EEOC Complaint process. Nor the process the military engages in for UCMJ violations. Nope. None of these processes sbd systems are perfect. All screw stuff up at times. Safe Sport is young. Refinements to the process will happen, undoubtedly, as time goes on.

So that’s how I see it. Clearly something was less than ideal during the course of the McDonald investigation. The recent article published in the OC Register seems to indicate that a major issue was the SafeSport investigator who followed up on this complaint, took testimony from witnesses, and wrote up much of the report. It seems as though a lack of confidence in this investigators work, and a considerable amount of discomfort with how the investigator questioned the complainants played a role in the eventual decision by both complainants to refuse to testify at the arbitration hearing. And when that happened, SafeSport chose to administratively close this complaint, preserve the right to reopen it later, and to go ahead and reinstate McDonald. It’s all unfortunate… but this stuff happens during processes like this sometimes.

There is a lot of piling on in terms of any and every SafeSport decision now that people perceive as problematic. Folks should pause abs consider why that is. Perhaps… perhaps… part of the issue is that there are multiple folks at the top of the sport who feel very threatened by SafeSport, very concerned about it, and are encouraging others to doubt and question every ruling that comes out. That’s a bit of a problem. SafeSport was created for a reason. There are MAJOR cases in equestrian sport, USA gymnastics, figure skating, swimming, etc etc etc where top tier coaches abused minor athletes with impunity for DECADES, and people looked the other way. It’s a serious issue. Look up the charging docs in relation to John Geddert. It’s all over the news… because he took his own life yesterday.

Anyway… my point is that people within equestrian sport are STILL really fixated on trying to tear down SafeSport. Abs they seem to have forgotten why it came about at all. Or just yo be a bit uninformed. Or perhaps to be caught up in all the arguments put forth by influential friends and associates of some of the big names that made their way into the lifetime ban list. I find all of that deeply troubling.

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It was called Quest before it was Trek. It was a great program at least in the time I was there but teachers and guides were extremely professional. It is easy to see how a predator could use weeklong trips with no parental supervion to their advantage though, kinda like how it is with horse shows. Sorry to derail but it was a decently big scandal in Vancouver at the time.

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