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Merit Scholarship

Woodside-area Equestrian Merit Scholarship Award

The Mounted Patrol Foundation and the Woodside-area Horse Owners Association (WHOA!) jointly sponsor this $10,000 award to a high school senior involved in equine-related activities in the San Francisco Bay Area who has been accepted to and plans to attend a college, university, trade school or other continuing education program each fall.

Both MPF and WHOA! share a deep interest in the next generation of equine-motivated individuals. The two organizations are committed to helping people further the interests of the equine community in their career, avocation or equine-related goals.

Application for 2024 opens March 15th.  Submission Deadline: May 10, 2024

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Who Should Apply

Eligible applicants are high school seniors involved in equine-related activities in the San Francisco Bay Area

Education Plans

Applicants will have been who have been accepted to a continuing education program this fall. Such programs may include: college, university, trade school, or other educational programs.

Application Process

Applicants will need to provide a complete application online and provide all supporting material for consideration. Incomplete or late applications will not be considered.

Reference Letters

Applicants will need to provide at least one reference letter from an individual such as a teacher, counselor or trainer who can attest to their equine involvement. Up to three reference letters will be accepted.


Finalists will be required to provide transcripts showing their GPA.
The transcripts must be provided for the application to be considered.

Financial Need

Finalists will be required to show financial need by submitting a FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid) or equivalent documentation. Strong emphasis will be placed on financial need. Proof must be provided for the application to be considered.

Meet our Scholarship Recipients

Sofia will attend Tufts University in the fall. 

Sofia, who plans to major in biology at Tufts University this fall, put this into practical perspective.I am so, so grateful to receive this scholarship award. The $10,000 award is equivalent to 500 hours of work, or 500 hours that I can focus on learning and achieving my goal of becoming a veterinarian to help animals and their people.

Introducing Sofia Seto

“Exceptional and motivated,” is how Sofia is described by the manager of the riding lesson program where Sofia began as a volunteer and later worked as the lesson office manager and a riding and horsemanship instructor.

“She can take lessons she learned from her horseback riding and apply them to learning difficult concepts in biology,” remarked her biology instructor.

“Sofia takes initiative and makes time management look effortless when balancing her rigorous coursework, school life and horseback riding,” said her school counselor.

Sofia describes herself as a “summer camp kid” who graduated to half-leasing, then full-leasing a horse. With sheer determination and hard work, and without owning a horse of her own, Sofia gained expertise and experience in eventing competition, eventually earning the US Eventing Association Novice Gold Medal.

Excelling scholastically, with a 4.312 weighted GPA, Sofia earned awards as a National Merit Commended Scholar, an AP Scholar with Honor, and achieved the World Language Award for Latin. She is a reader, musician, artist, and volunteer in addition to a dedicated equestrian, and credits her parents for being supportive of her goals and dreams.

Looking Ahead

Sofia describes a clear parallel between her developing confidence in eventing competitions and how she works to achieve goals in all aspects of life.

“Though I occasionally pull rails down in my stadium rounds, I always approach the course with a clear plan, keeping any panicked thoughts at bay. Rather than becoming paralyzed by fear in the show ring, I react quickly to any issue that needs to be remedied. And I eagerly await the intoxicating thrill of cross-country, bursting with newfound courage and confidence in my ability.”

“I readily apply this confidence in every aspect of my life. Through arguing my point in Socratic seminars in English class, projecting my voice while teaching young equestrians, and even asking employees questions while shopping, I prove to myself, again and again, that nothing is stopping me from doing what I want to do.

“Whenever I feel unqualified, embarrassed, or discouraged, I emulate the eventing version of myself; the self-assured, composed, unflappable athlete that stands calmly in the cross-country start box.

“The strengths I gained from my career as an eventer allow me to take risks and react to any hindrance without freezing. With this approach, I will propel myself toward my dream of becoming a scientific researcher, with a specific focus on horses and equine disease, to give back to the animals that revealed my courage.

“Beyond that, I dream of taking opportunities to grow without wondering if my qualifications are enough. My success in eventing has proven to me that my skill can surprise me and that achieving my goals is worth the risk.”

Iliana will attend Stanford University in the fall. 

“It is an incredible honor to receive this scholarship,” Iliana told members of the WHOA! Steering Committee and the Mounted Patrol Foundation when they met for the scholarship presentation.

“A college education is a high-cost endeavor, and my earlier cancer diagnosis and treatment complicated my family’s financial planning for college expenses. This scholarship will assist me not only by helping me pursue my education at Stanford University, it will allow me to continue volunteering at the Stanford Red Barn and the animal fostering charity close to my heart, Rescue the Underdog.”

Iliana applied to Stanford University because she wants to pursue a rigorous academic plan that allows her to collaborate with and learn from professors as well as fellow students.  She says, “At Stanford, I will have access to world-class resources, enabling me to continue my research into inflammatory and rare diseases. Partnering with Stanford’s diverse, entrepreneurial student body will allow me to broaden the scope of my non-profit charity, EcoLogic Health, and further develop its outreach methods. After completing my undergraduate degree in Human Biology, I hope to pursue the co-terminal master’s program at Stanford in Community Health and Prevention Research.”

Looking ahead, she remarks, “My hope for the future is to use my education to give back to the community through research, education, and outreach. I know that my academic success, my actions, and my contributions to the community will all reflect upon WHOA! and the Mounted Patrol Foundation, and I will work to make a positive impact on both the equestrian community and society as a whole.”

Equestrian Activities

From her early childhood in New Mexico to present day training and competition as a member of the Stanford Red Barn/Woodside IEA team for the past 4 years, Iliana has always been hooked on horses. She calls her 20-year-old horse Biscuit (AKA Just Plain Royal) the best “learning horse” she could have. Even though the Oldenburg mare is older, she is peppy, forgiving, and sweet, helping Iliana grow as a rider along the way.

After purchasing Biscuit at Webb Ranch where she trained with Sarah Vickers, this “perfect partnership” moved on to train and compete in equitation and hunters at Northern Run Equestrian with Cindy Brooks. “I qualified for IEA National Finals in 2021 and 2022, but prior to 2020, I was not competing due to late effects from cancer and coinciding treatment, but I continued to participate in team training. Now her activities include 4 days a week of training in addition to her IEA lesson, and competing in five to six shows per year with Biscuit.

A member of USHJA and USEF, the Athletic Equestrian League and the Stanford Riding Academy, Iliana also completed the US Equestrian Interscholastic Athlete Program every year from 2016-present. She also volunteers at the Stanford Red Barn during summers and at IEA and IHSA shows, provided grooming, horse care, and handling.

Academic Achievement

As a recent graduate of Carlmont High School in Belmont, California, Iliana has built a foundation of accomplishments that will serve her well in the future. She was president and founder of the STEM club, where she leveraged social media to acquire data for research on rare diseases, and analyzed gender biases in medical diagnoses. As a member of the Climate Change club, she researched eco-friendly meals and practices to increase sustainability.

“I participated in the UC Berkeley BioEHS competition through Carlmont High School, where my team and I researched sustainable water production, including a novel system that combines atmospheric CO2 collection and the Sabatier reaction,” she explains.

As a pianist from first grade and a trombonist since fifth grade, Iliana was able to further develop technical skills and study music theory with the Carlmont High School Concert Band, rehearsing and performing pieces for pep rallies and concerts. Membership in the French Club helped to round out her high school experience.

Community Service

Volunteering connects Iliana to interests and ideals that are close to her heart. Since 2020, she has volunteered for the Hemophilia Foundation of Northern California, managing social media accounts, inviting and organizing campaigns and events, and designing graphics invitations.

“I’ve organized eco-friendly food drives, including with the Samaritan House, and participated in local beach cleanups,” she recounts, “and I’ve promoted environmental policies through online social media campaigns to develop sustainable solutions for environmental protection, and provided foster care for unwanted dogs and social media outreach for Rescue the Underdog.”

As an online volunteer for Zooniverse, which utilizes the concept of big data to leverage technology and public participation to collect and analyze data for research in environmental conservation, Iliana assisted in the remote identification and categorization of animals in a wildlife preserve in the Serengeti to examine species coexistence, competition, and trophic interactions.

It’s all connected, from her interest in animals, to health, to sustainability on our planet.

Work Experience

Iliana didn’t wait for high school to be over to begin meaningful work that has the potential to change lives.

Founder and CEO of EcoLogic Health, a non-profit organization working toward sustainable solutions for health, humanity, and ecology, Iliana and her co-founder and sister Sabine Close promote public health policies that support human populations and protect the environment. You can find the organization website at where the sisters blog and post relevant research.

Describing her work with EcoLogic Health, Iliana says, “We’ve provided eco-friendly meals for communities in need and organized local clean-ups at beaches and public spaces. My responsibilities include planning research projects, fundraising, and coordinating our social outreach strategy.”

That’s not all she’s accomplished to date. “I was fortunate to have an internship with Dr. Edwards (JHU) and Prof. Henter (Karolinska Institute) in which we discovered new environmental risk factors for inflammatory cancers. Our research was published in Pediatric Research in 2022: Close, I.R. et al., Seasonality of Birth Month in Patients Diagnosed with LCH,” Iliana recalls.

“I also participated in the Stanford Clinical Internship Program in 2021, where I researched pulmonary embolisms, and the Stanford Neuroscience Program in 2021, where I researched AI and neuroimaging-based detection for COVID-19 and Alzheimer’s disease.”

Meet Olivia Bodner
“I am extremely appreciative,” Olivia remarked after learning the $10,000 Woodside-area Equestrian Merit Scholarship Award would give her a boost into the years of higher education that await her. “It’s exciting to be able to move forward with the help of this scholarship, and I am so grateful to Woodside-area Horse Owners Association and to the Mounted Patrol Foundation! I appreciate what these organizations are doing in the community, not only with this scholarship, but with all their activities.”

Equestrian Activities
Olivia began working at a local horse camp at the age of 11, progressing through increasingly responsible roles as she gained age and experience, culminating in her responsibilities as head instructor.

Eventually, Olivia became a working student at another barn where she is currently responsible for the feeding, care, and management of 15-20+ horses, tacking and untacking horses in training, preparing and packing for shows, holding horses for veterinarians, and more.

“This has been a learning experience in the best possible way, allowing me to learn hands-on from trainers as well as veterinarians,” Olivia explained.

Photo/Matt Petty

Olivia’s own horses have been inspiration for her life goals. The early retirement of her 13-year-old Thoroughbred was a crash course in the science and the expense of his diagnosis and ultimately his retirement lifestyle. That inspired her to pursue a veterinary medicine education, with the goal of pursuing research to develop new approaches in equine orthopedic surgery. Currently, her other horse, a five-year-old off-the-track Thoroughbred in its first year of non-track training, provides continuing motivation for Olivia to pursue her goals.

Academic Achievement
Olivia recently graduated Carlmont High School and the Cañada Middle College program, in which she spent her junior and senior high school years at Cañada Middle College in a program that allows students to finish their high school graduation requirements, along with college courses, as dual enrollment students.

Olivia’s academic studies included every AP or honors course available to her, which increased the level of rigor and accelerated the course pace. Her academic awards include a Certificate of Merit for Outstanding Achievement (Precalculus Honors), and she was named a National Merit Commended Scholar.

Music has provided Olivia with another avenue of study. She has played the tenor sax since 4thgrade, participating in audition-level band classes through middle and high school, and the College of San Mateo Concert Band until the pandemic halted their performances.

Olivia will be attending the University of California, Davis, this fall as an animal science major, with the long-term goal of becoming an equine veterinarian. An audition for the band at UC Davis is also in her plans.

Community Service
Through her high school’s music mentor program, Olivia has tutored music students in local elementary schools. This voluntary mentoring program provides students the opportunity to receive small group and individual tutoring that they would not otherwise get in their large group band classes. For Olivia, it provided a way to help foster her love of music with others.

Not surprisingly, Olivia has been deeply involved in animal rescue and care. She participated in a two-week animal rescue project in Costa Rica, working in low-income area spay/neuter clinics and at an animal shelter. At the clinic, Olivia provided hands-on help where it was most needed, from handling intake and prepping animals for surgery, to monitoring vital signs through surgery and into recovery. At the shelter, she helped care for the dogs and provided them with daily exercise.

Before Covid closed it down, Olivia began training to work in the SPCA kitten nursery at her local shelter, and also assisted with rehoming kittens that were surrendered while she worked at a large pet food store.

Rebecca, a Los Altos resident, is currently a novice rider for Stanford Red Barn’s Interscholastic Equestrian Team, has lettered in the United States Equestrian Federation’s High School Equestrian Athlete Program, and has been a counselor at Camp Cardinal, Stanford University’s youth horse riding camp, and a volunteer at Stanford horse shows and team tryouts.

Rebecca will attend Stanford University in the fall, where she plans to join both the dressage and hunt seat teams with the goal of competing all four years. She will study physics at Stanford, and conduct research, to prepare for a physics PhD program and ultimately, her dream career: scientific researcher.​

Apply for Merit Scholarship Award

Application Procedure

Required for complete application

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Contact WHOA!

2995 Woodside Rd. Suite 400-466, Woodside CA 94062

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