Little Girls with Big Dreams

By Adrienne Lyle, June 22, 2016

Photo copyright 2016 by Nancy Jaffer
Credit: Photo copyright 2016 by Nancy Jaffer
Maya Black and Doesn’t Play Fair at Rolex Kentucky.

This spring, I had the thrill of watching my younger cousin, Maya Black, finish third at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event.

It was incredible to watch her achieve something she has worked to accomplish over her whole life. On top of that, she was just named the traveling reserve for the U.S. Olympic eventing team with Doesn't Play Fair.

That got me thinking about how two Whidbey Island, Washington, girls who came from non-horsey families were able to chase their dreams of becoming top riders in their disciplines and making it to the Olympics.

Photo courtesy Adrienne Lyle
Credit: Photo courtesy Adrienne Lyle
Adrienne and Maya growing up “like sisters.”

Maya and I grew up together on our family farm. She is my cousin, but to me, she is more like a sister. The one thing about our childhood that stands out to me is that horses were always “our own thing.”

Maya and I may have not had much early formal training, but what we did have was endless hours on horseback. From the time we were little, we would hop on the ponies and head onto the ranch and literally ride until the sun went down. Even then, it often wasn't enough, and we would sneak out of the house at night and go galloping bareback across the field in the moonlight. We spent every waking moment on a horse, riding through the woods and fields and swimming them on the beaches.  There is no substitute for hours in the saddle.  You learn to anticipate the horse's reactions to things, so the way they move and act becomes second nature to you.  Soon you are seeing the world through the horse's eyes, and you begin to think like a horse.  If you can't think like a horse, you will never be a good rider or trainer.

Courtesy, Adrienne Lyle
Credit: Courtesy, Adrienne Lyle
Adrienne swimming her pony, Captain.
Courtesy, Adrienne Lyle
Credit: Courtesy, Adrienne Lyle
Adrienne jumping Savannah.

Courtesy, Adrienne Lyle
Credit: Courtesy, Adrienne Lyle
Adrienne on a trail ride in Washington State.

We had to drag our poor parents into the whole horse thing. They were wonderfully supportive, letting us keep horses at the farm and getting us to horse shows and lessons when needed. But Maya and I were always the driving force behind these activities.

Our parents allowed us the freedom to do what we wanted with our horses, but in no way were “horse show parents” and never pushed us to do anything. As a result, all the ambition came from the two of us. I think that instilled a work ethic and a passion that was all our own.

From a young age, we were expected to be largely responsible for the care of our horses: Feeding and watering, mucking out paddocks, blanketing, etc. It was a lot of never-ending work, but it made me come to enjoy the day-to-day regimen and find peaceful satisfaction in the routine barn chores.

I don’t think anyone would stick with horses if they didn’t love the daily monotony. The exciting moments of glory in competition are few and far between, so there has to be a much deeper desire that keeps you going.

The other thing about our childhood with horses that comes to mind is that we learned a lot through trial and error and gained knowledge from anywhere we could.

Neither of us had much formal training when we were growing up. After we joined Pony Club,  we would get the occasional group lesson, but most of the time we were unsupervised and left to ourselves to try to figure out what worked and what didn’t.

We tried to absorb all the knowledge we could from reading books, watching videos or hanging around other barns and watching the riders there. It may not have been the most efficient way of learning, but I think what it did was make us tune into the horse’s reactions and be open-minded about discovering how to approach a problem.

Photo copyright 2012 by Nancy Jaffer
Credit: Photo copyright 2012 by Nancy Jaffer
Adrienne Lyle on Wizard at the 2012 Olympics.

I learned that there is more than one way to get a result and you have to sometimes be creative about finding a way of explaining things to the horse, so that it understands what we want. That taught us to listen to the horse’s reaction and read whether they were becoming stressed or upset.

We both dabbled in different types of riding and through the years worked for trainers from different disciplines, dealing with everything from miniature driving horses to Arabians, foxhunting and western gaming mounts.

I learned something I could take away from each of these different experiences. It could have been some little trick for training a western horse that I found useful on my dressage horses, or even something as small as a favorite grooming tool to get the show ring shine that I learned from the Arabians.

Most important, I found that you always need to keep an open mind with horses and that there is always something more to learn. That is what continues to fascinate me about dressage to this day. Just when you think you understand something, you learn something new and realize how much more there is to learn. Every horse teaches you something new, no matter how long you’ve been riding. This inquisitive mindset and thirst for knowledge is something I attribute to my childhood with horses on the farm and having the chance to experiment and find any way possible to gain knowledge.

Neither Maya nor myself grew up with fancy horses in expensive barns. In a sport that is often referred to as elitist, I think the fact that Maya and I were both able to find a path to riding at the top levels of our sport is a testament to the old motto, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”.

We both moved across the country and traveled the world in pursuit of education and opportunities, and were very fortunate to have been able to make careers out of our passion.

I hope we can inspire some of those horse-crazy kids out there to chase their dreams, even if they seem far away and they’re not sure how they can make it happen. With passion, hard work and a thirst for knowledge, we've proved it's possible to find a way.

 


A Season of Developing Emerging Talent

By Adrienne Lyle, March 23, 2016

Ally Dunlop
Credit: Ally Dunlop
Adrienne Lyle and Betsy Juliano's Horizon.

The Wellington show season is coming to an end, so we are beginning to think about the tedious process of packing up our “traveling circus” and moving 17 horses from Florida to our summer base in Idaho.

 This was a particularly fun and rewarding Florida show season for me, as I got to compete several talented upcoming horses. The process of training and developing a horse always has drawn me to dressage and continues to fascinate me every day.

I love learning how each horse thinks and reacts, while trying to figure out what makes them tick. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to work with several developing horses at the moment, and I am thoroughly enjoying the training process with all of them.

 Betsy Juliano’s Horizon and Kylee Lourie’s Harmony’s Duval both have been stars this season, and I really have had a good time training and competing them. Duval has been with me for more than three years, while my partnership with Horizon started a year ago.

Ally Dunlop
Credit: Ally Dunlop
Adrienne Lyle and Kylee Lourie’s Harmony’s Duval

Two weeks ago, I rode Duval in his show ring debut. We competed at fourth level and he acted in no way like a rookie, scoring a 75.5 percent and then an 82.5 percent. He  came into my life as a lanky, timid five-year-old who had never been ridden.  Bob McDonald, Debbie McDonald's husband, has an incredible eye. He picked out Duval from a field of youngsters at Harmony Sporthorses in Colorado.

In no time, I fell in love with Duval when he was sent to us so he could begin his training.  Clearly quite intelligent, he also was a bit jumpy and easily flustered at the time. He always has been a perpetual motion machine. Duval just wants to be going, going, going, which means one of our biggest challenges involved getting his brain to slow down enough to focus on the task at hand. Yet I always knew if I could channel all that energy into his work, he would be pretty special.

Duval was scheduled to return to Colorado after a few months of training. But when I fell in love with Duval, Bob McDonald stepped up for me and called Leslie Malone at Harmony Sporthorses to see if he could work out a deal to keep him. Through Leslie's generosity, they were able to make an arrangement to purchase the horse for me to ride. Bob believed we could make something great out of him, and wanted to give me the opportunity to try. I also owe a big thank you to Pam Jones, who came in as a co-owner for past two years, which again allowed me to continue my journey with him.

Under Debbie McDonald's expert guidance and instruction, we have developed a great partnership and Duval has grown into an impressive show horse with a heart of gold. Most recently, Kylee Lourie of TYL Dressage, has taken over ownership of Duval to allow me to develop him further. A big congratulations to her. Many special people have touched this horse's life already to allow us to get to this point, and I know he has a very bright future.

 Betsy Juliano’s wonderful mare Horizon continues to impress me with her talent, work ethic and showmanship every time she goes down centerline. She is another energizer bunny with an engine that never stops. I have to give a lot of credit to Debbie (who I have dubbed “the mare whisperer”) for helping me understand this mare’s thinking and how to approach things with her.

Ally Dunlop
Credit: Ally Dunlop
Adrienne Lyle and Horizon with owner Betsy Juliano.

I have come to realize that any error this mare makes is because she is trying too hard. Never do I have to use a strong correction with her, or she gets worried and tense. She is sensitive to my seat as well, so it is my job to give her confidence by maintaining her balance with a centered seat and quiet aids.

 Horizon has been living up the potential that Betsy saw in her when she purchased her as a three-year- old from PSI in Germany. I started the season showing Horizon at fourth level, then moved her into the Prix St. Georges. My goal for her this year is to try for the U.S. Equestrian Federation's Developing PSG National Championships, where the top 15 horse and rider combinations at this level are invited to compete.

 Horizon has been making quite a statement this show season, with a 77 percent in her first-ever open PSG and then another 77 percent and 73 percent in the Developing PSG last weekend. Betsy and Horizon have a very special relationship--she has believed in this mare since she was a youngster. I feel so honored to get the chance to develop this special girl and build my own relationship with her. We are all very excited about what lies ahead for her.

What I find special about this sport is not only the relationships that develop with these horses, but also the relationships that develop with these wonderful owners. I am so fortunate to be involved with such great people, who love and respect horses as much as I do. They appreciate and enjoy the process of developing a dressage horse. It is a wonderful journey to share with such great company.


Winter in Wellington

By Adrienne Lyle, January 27, 2016


Salvino and Adrienne on the Adequan Global Dressage Festival showgrounds.

You know it's show season in Wellington when you wash your white breeches after the last class on Sunday and they are barely dry as you grab them off the rack for the next show.

The annual craziness has begun again. We have 13 horses here with me that I ride on a regular basis, as well as four others at the barn for riders I teach.

Despite my best efforts I have yet to discover a way to fit more hours into a day--but I'm working on it. No matter how well-prepared I think I am every season, it always feels as if I am running a three-ring circus down here. But the craziness of the Wellington season is something that must be embraced and tackled head on, and I really do love it.


Karen MacMillan’s Argentinia

I have had several clients who already are competing this year, and I am very proud of their accomplishments. I also will be competing more this season, and I'm excited about that. After pretty much sitting on the sidelines last year, I am itching to get back out there in the show ring.

One very exciting new equine partner who I will be showing this year is Betsy Juliano's 9-year- old Oldenburg mare, Horizon (Hotline x Don Schufro). Horizon and I made our show ring debut last weekend at Fourth Level, winning both her classes with 70.9 percent and 72.8 percent. I couldn't be happier with the way Horizon handled everything. She is a hot and spicy mare, but she seemed unfazed by everything at the show, even the near-hurricane-force winds during our second ride. You've just gotta love a good mare.

Ally Dunlop
Credit: Ally Dunlop
Adrienne Lyle and Horizon competing at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival.

I also have a lovely 8-year-old gelding, Schufro Gold, who I will be competing in the Developing Prix St. Georges at the show this weekend.

And of course, there is also the big and beautiful Salvino (owned by the syndicate of Juliano/Yamazaki/Garcia-Cannavino/Hlavacek). He is doing very well, and I am really excited about his progress.

He continues to get stronger and more secure with the Grand Prix work every day. He is such a gentleman and a joy to work with and ride. I feel so lucky to get to be a part of his life. I have not yet decided when I will take him out to compete the first time, but I did take him to an exhibition ride at the Global showgrounds a few weeks ago.

We got to ride in the main stadium, at night, under the lights, and he was amazing. So calm and focused and confident. I was really impressed with him. Next week, I will ride Salvino in the U.S. Equestrian Federation Dressage Observation and Strategic Training Session with Robert Dover.

A few of the syndicate owners will be flying down for that week, and I am excited for them to see how far their boy has come since they last saw him last summer.

I am very thankful to the wonderful owners of these horses I get to ride. I feel so fortunate to have such a great group of people and horses in my life. I have a very busy and exciting show season ahead of me. Now, if could just figure out how to add some extra hours into the day...

 


Human Sports Science and Medicine Program: The Balanced Rider

By Adrienne Lyle, November 22, 2015

Photo courtesy, Adrienne Lyle
Credit: Photo courtesy, Adrienne Lyle
After the pilot session for the Human Sports Science and Medicine program, Andy Thomas came to Wellington to watch the participants ride our own horses. Here I am on Salvino.
I recently had the privilege of attending the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s pilot session for their Human Sports Science and Medicine program. It is available to the top dressage, eventing and show jumping riders in this country thanks to the support of Elizabeth Juliano. The program is designed to help riders improve their preparation for competition and performance by working on injury prevention and their imbalances.

The program was held in Fair Hill, Maryland, during the time that Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International Three-Day Event was running there. I didn’t really know what to expect going into the sessions with Andy Thomas. He has worked with many top athletes around the world, in many different sports, including Valegro's rider, Charlotte Dujardin.

My private session was only about a half-hour, but within the first few minutes, he was able to pinpoint every imbalance in my body. He runs through a series of relatively simple tests to figure out which side is your "tight/strong side" and which side is your "loose/weak side."

The first thing he did was have me lie on my back on a table, with my legs up in the air and knees bent.He held my right foot and rotated my leg outward, to test my range of motion. My leg easily swiveled well past 90 degrees from its starting position, yet I felt hardly any tightness or resistance in my hip. Then he tried the same thing with my left leg, and I was shocked when he could barely rotate it outward at all. It was so tight and started to hurt when he tried to rotate it. Andy explained that people usually have a strong side in their hip area and they will always tend to shift weight towards that side. This consequently usually makes their strong side also very tight, as the muscles contract for stability.

Next he had me stand against a wall, with my heels, butt, back and head touching the wall. He told me to raise my right leg toward my chest, and not let my body move side to side at all. Raising my right leg was easy, as all my weight was transferred onto my left side. But when I tried to pick up my left leg, I wobbled all over the place, because my right side was unstable for bearing the weight.

I was a surprised by these findings, because I am right-leg dominant. I kick a soccer ball with my right leg. Wouldn’t that be my strong side? But as Andy explained, "No, when you kick a ball with your right leg, you are shifting all your weight over into your left hip and leg to stabilize yourself." Very interesting! And it totally makes sense, when you think about the mechanics of what is going on.

We ran through a series of these body tests, to pinpoint all the imbalances in my body. The basic result was that I am tight on my left and weak on my right (in the general hip/core/upper leg area). Andy then gave me a series of simple exercises to do every day, to help balance myself and become a more symmetrically strong athlete, and thus a more symmetrical rider.

What was really fascinating to me was learning how these imbalances impact your riding. Every rider has their own little "bad habits" with their position; things that they constantly have to work on and remind themselves about. For instance, my left shoulder likes to twist forward and upward, while my right shoulder likes to twist down and back. I always have to tell myself, "Keep your left shoulder down" when I’m riding. What I wasn’t aware of is why this was happening.

I asked Andy how this was related to his findings, and he gave a very simple example. He had me stand up and shift my weight to the left, pushing my hips to the left (which is what we found out my body likes to do to stabilize itself when I’m riding).

How did my upper body automatically react when I did this? My right side caved in, causing my right shoulder to drop, and my left shoulder automatically went up and forward, to compensate and keep myself in balance So, rather than always fighting to just "keep my left shoulder down" when riding, what I really needed to do was focus on shifting my balance so I was pushing more into my right hip and settling into my right hip/leg to stabilize myself and become more symmetrical. My left shoulder coming up was more a symptom than the actual problem, which is why I’ve been working on it for years, yet still have to constantly remind myself about it.

The exercises Andy gave me will help me become more symmetrically strong. By focusing on fixing the imbalances in my body, my position in the saddle will become more balanced and therefore the horse will have an easier time executing movements symmetrically and correctly.

Every rider knows that their position is of the utmost importance, and we all work on it constantly. I can watch a rider and instantly pick out their position flaws or imbalances, but what was so great about this program was that it allowed me to get a much better understanding of why a rider would have these problems with their position. Finding the origin of these asymmetries and imbalances allows a rider to correct the problem at its true source, making them a more balanced and effective rider, enhancing the horse’s performance and ultimately competition results.

As a follow-up to Fair Hill, Andy came to TYL farm in Wellington, Fla., where I am based for the winter. He wanted to watch the riders from the original clinic on their own horses and analyze them while they were in the saddle. That way, he could see how his findings translated to our position on a horse, so that he could give us more help.

I recently arrived in Florida with 15 horses for the winter. I am ready to jump into this show season with all I have, and my fitness program  now will have a great new component to it, thanks to what I learned at the Human Sports Science session. I'm excited to see if the exercises from this program can improve my riding. I'll let you know!

 

 


Summertime

By Adrienne Lyle, September 15, 2015


A view of the beautiful trails from horseback.

As summer is drawing to an end (it always seems to do that way too soon) I find myself savoring every last drop of it.

There is something particularly magical about summertime and horses. For me, summer is a time to decompress after a busy Florida show season. It gives me the opportunity to focus more on training and less on showing, while getting a chance to reconnect with my inner "horse kid." There is something about lazy summer evenings that makes me want to hang around the barn a little bit longer, and just enjoy the relaxing company of the horses.

I am so lucky to be able to call the Thomas family's River Grove Farm in Idaho my home for the summers. Their amazing facility is nestled up against the base of soaring mountains, with arenas scattered throughout the property. Trails go through the woods and down to the meandering river that runs through the property.

It is a quiet and peaceful place to focus on training, and there is nothing I treasure more than being able to head out for an early morning trail ride before schooling a horse, or having our "Friday play days" when we ride our horses out in the big jumper ring and get up into a two-point so they can gallop and play a bit.

You can see the joy in the horses' expressions when we let them move out like that. I think it is so critical to do everything in our power to keep the horses happy, fresh and interested in their work by varying their routine. It seems that the more we get the horses out of the arena to have fun, the better their work in the arena becomes. After a summer in the Idaho mountains, our horses are refreshed and ready to hit the Florida circuit again with a renewed spark.


I have been riding Harmony's Duvall, a 7-year-old Dutch gelding by Rosseau since Bob McDonald bought him from the Malones in 2013. Duvall is now co-owned by one of my wonderful clients, Pam Jones.

This is not to say that we aren’t working during the off-season here. My day starts at the barn before 8 a.m., and I usually ride between eight and 10 horses a day. I finish up at River Grove at 5 p.m., then head out to teach my students at nearby barns. I usually finish up around 7 p.m., thoroughly exhausted but quite happy.

I love teaching anyone who is really passionate and motivated, whether they have a fancy horse or a backyard buddy. I wouldn’t work such long hours if I didn’t love it, and it's hard to say "no" when you have so many enthusiastic people seeking your help.

When we are in Florida, I work seven days a week, but at home in Idaho for the summer, I make it a point to keep my weekends free to play and enjoy our beautiful mountains. Horses aren’t the only ones that need some play days, after all! I have filled up every weekend with hiking, camping, concerts and good friends.

I have a very fun group of horses coming up and the work they are starting to give me is quite exciting. I enjoy the training process so much, and it is such fun to watch these horses, who were gangly 5-year-olds just a few years ago, become "grown ups" and transform into elegant and powerful FEI horses.

This summer has been particularly exciting because of some talented new equine partners that came my way. I am very excited about the wonderful 8-year-old stallion we call Vinny (bought by the syndicate group of Yamazaki/Juliano/Hlavacek/Garcia-Canavino).

I have been having a great time getting to know him and beginning to build a relationship with him. He is such a gentleman and so talented, and I am very excited to work with such an incredible horse. I am also thrilled to have two additional horses belonging to Betsy Juliano with us now.

They are Horizon, an 8-year-old Oldenburg mare (Hotline x Don Shufro), and Riccidoff, a 10-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Riccione x Don Davidoff).

I feel so fortunate to enjoy these talented additions to our herd, as well as the wonderful people with whom they are connected. They have made my summer here even more special, and I'm looking forward to what the future holds for them.


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