doctor Gundersen has a passion for horses and health care | Local News

Equestrian and doctor Emily Dolan won’t be in the Kentucky Derby audience on Saturday, but the competitive rider has a trusty steed on hand if she chooses to swap her stethoscope for the reins.






Gundersen Health System Internal Medicine Physician Emily Dolan tends to her horse, Bella, at Clearview Stables in the town of Shelby.


Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune


Dolan, an internal medicine doctor at Gundersen Health System, rode horses long before he started seeing patients and started riding when he was 6 years old. An animal lover, she felt drawn to horses, and although the rest of her family did not. shares his interest, Dolan was a natural from the start.







Equestrian doctor

Emily Dolan, an internal medicine physician at Gundersen Health System, rides her horse, Bella, at Clearview Stables in the town of Shelby. Despite a busy career, Dolan still finds time to ride competitively.


Peter Thomson, La Crosse Tribune


Monthly sessions became weekly and Dolan’s coach recognized his innate skills. Within a year, Dolan was traveling to compete, and at age 9 she was surprised by Annie, a gray pony adorned with a giant purple bow.

When it came time to pursue an undergraduate degree, Dolan enrolled at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, the East Coast offering more competitive riding opportunities than the La Crosse area, where she grew up. Dolan balanced his studies in biology with competing in the hunter jumper division, where a rider enters a ring and the horse performs several jumps over a course.

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Making time for classes and competitions can feel overwhelming, but for Dolan, the pressure didn’t show.

“When I go to the barn, it’s like an escape. Somewhere where I can turn off work, turn off my studies, and recharge,” Dolan says. “I feel very lucky to have a tool, to be really present with the horse, which in my eyes is one of the most beautiful and powerful animals there is.”

In her senior year of college, Dolan rode at the highest level and scored the most points in her region, which qualified her for national competition. Out of 37 collegiate runners from across the country, she placed seventh.

“It was the most empowering experience I’ve had in my life so far,” Dolan said.

Dolan chose to return to Wisconsin for medical school and opted to complete his residency at Gundersen, where his father, Michael Dolan, is also an internal medicine physician. It wasn’t a hard choice to choose Gundersen – she remarked that “the residents had this glow to them, it seemed like they were enjoying life”.

While in medical school, Dolan volunteered with the non-profit organization HorseSense and helped rehabilitate one of the horses, Bella. When she learned that Bella was sold, she didn’t hesitate to shell out the money.

“I had such a deep connection that we developed that summer that I ended up buying it, which financially and time-commitment-wise was not a great idea,” Dolan said. “But I knew at that moment that it would be the best decision for me.

“Going to medical school, going through residency without a horse in my life — it was going to be terrible,” Dolan continued. “Horses are such a big part of me, and I needed to have that companion, that outlet, to be successful and to be happy.”

Dolan competed with Bella in a post-college show and currently rides other horses in competitions, including a recent event in Florida. Now a practicing physician, horseback riding – both competitive and recreational – remains Dolan’s escape.

“I think everyone in medicine needs to have an outlet — it’s mentally taxing work,” says Dolan. “If you’re not able to reload, it’s a recipe for disaster.

“After a long day at work, if I can get out in the stable, spend time with my horse, spend time in the saddle, I know I can present myself to my patients, my colleagues, my nurses, as a version happier and healthier myself,” Dolan continues. “If I don’t take care of myself, I can’t take care of others.”







Emilie Dolan

Emilie Dolan


Gundersen Health System


The horses serve as a connection between Dolan and her Gundersen colleagues, many of whom she trails with, and her patients, who sometimes ask how a competition went or ask to see a photo of Bella.

“(Health care and horses) are two big parts of how I identify as a human being,” Dolan says. “They don’t necessarily overlap in a visible way, but it’s funny that they blend together so well. It’s a really special way of connecting with my patients – they want to know what I’m doing outside of work, what motivates me and horses are part of me.”

Emily Pyrek can be reached at [email protected]