Dressage Today Podcast Transcript: Interview with Adrienne Lyle

In this special Olympic podcast, sponsored by Vita Flex, co-hosts Stephanie and Aviva share recent personal news, and Aviva answers another great question in "Ask the L." Then listen in on their interview with leading Olympic contender Adrienne Lyle as she talks about her background, her horses and her Olympic experience. Enjoy!

In this special Olympic podcast, sponsored by Vita Flex, co-hosts Stephanie and Aviva share recent personal news, and Aviva answers another great question in “Ask the L.” Then listen in on their interview with leading Olympic contender Adrienne Lyle as she talks about her background, her horses and her Olympic experience. Enjoy!


[00:00:00] Stephanie Ruff: [00:00:00] Hello, I’m Stephanie Ruff. And I’m Aviva Nebesky. We’re the hosts of the dressage today podcast, where you can find us talking about anything and everything dressage related. Our conversations span the world of dressage from leading riders to local level dressage heroes. We’re talking training advice, showing tips and sharing stories to inspire your own dressage journey. So tune in then tack up.

Welcome to this special Olympic edition of the dressage today podcast sponsored by Vita Flex. This is going to be a great episode. Aviva and I have the honor of speaking with Olympic front runner, Adrian Lyle, who has not one, but two horses named to the short list. Salvino ranked number one and Harmony’s Duvall currently ranked number six.

That’s pretty amazing Aviva, isn’t it?

Aviva Nebesky: [00:00:58] That is just [00:01:00] incredible. What a remarkable rider and what fantastic horses she has.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:01:05] I can’t, to get shortlisted as an accomplishment, but to have two horses?

Aviva Nebesky: [00:01:10] I can’t even, I can’t even imagine, I can’t wait to talk to her. That is something so exciting for us to look forward to later this evening.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:01:17] It is. But before we get to that Aviva, you have some of your own news to share.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:01:24] Not quite as exciting as being shortlisted for the Olympics, but I do have some exciting news. So on our last podcast, we talked a little bit about our riding horses and I shared with our listeners that my horse Leo is a little bit of a difficult child and that I had reconciled myself to the fact that I probably wasn’t going to make it into the show ring with him.

And he probably was not going to be the horse that was going to earn me my Prix St. George scores for my silver medal. And a couple of months ago, I accidentally fell into a [00:02:00] lease on an older gentlemen who’s been there and done that who’s competed up to the fourth level, very successfully I might add both with professionals and with amateurs and I leased him for a couple months and just fell head over heels in love with this guy.

He’s not all that much fun to ride. He’s opinionated and maybe a little bit grumpy under saddle, and we’re getting to know one another, but there’s just something very special about him. And I just, the first time I met him, I just fell in love with him. And after having him in the barn for two months, I talked to his owner and made her an offer.

And I can tell you that I am the proud owner of a wonderful 19 year old gelding, whose name is Tiger, and I’m very excited to be on a new journey. And I think he’s the one who’s going to be earning me my medal.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:02:55] That is very exciting. Congratulations. Cheer, [00:03:00] woo hoo. Clap clap. Clap.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:03:03] He’s super. He’s super cool. He’s a big boy. He’s not quite 17 hands. And he’s I called him a mahogany Bay. My trainer called him a blood Bay, so

Stephanie Ruff: [00:03:13] nice.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:03:14] Just has this wonderful presence about him. Everyone who’s worked with him from my vet to my farrier, to the woman who does my long lining to the person who does my magnet waiting.

Everyone has just fallen in love with him. He’s just a class act and a 19 year old horse still sound and willing and, Oh this is just a dream come true for me. He’s, I’ve always had two horses to ride and since the pandemic I’ve only had Leo and to have a second horse, it’s funny, Stephanie, even Leo is going better.

Not to anthropomorphize, but I think he’s a little bit jealous. Oh, of all the attention that he’s now [00:04:00] sharing. I think it’s also, you take the pressure off one when you start putting some pressure on the other. And I can now go from one to the other. And if I have a bad ride on one, the other one might be a good ride and I’m not feeling the sense of pressure to do the things that I feel like I need to do on either one of them.

I’m just enjoying riding again.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:04:21] Good. And that’s important.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:04:23] Yeah. So stay tuned.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:04:25] Yes, definitely. We will be expecting updates.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:04:29] He’s not real fit so it’s going to be months before we’re ready to go into the show ring, but my goal is to hopefully hit the show ring in the fall.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:04:38] Yup. That seems that sounds like a good goal. And you have your bronze metal, correct?

Aviva Nebesky: [00:04:43] I do. And I have my scores for fourth level. I got them on one horse and then he broke and then I got them on another horse who unfortunately was very sick at the time that I was getting the scores.

He has a bizarre metabolic disorder that took us a [00:05:00] year to diagnose and He was going to be my FEI horse, but instead he’s fat and happy and living in the field with Tiger and having a marvelous life and eating me out of house and home.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:05:12] Of course,

Aviva Nebesky: [00:05:15] I’m up to five now.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:05:17] Okay. At least you have two that are rideable, so that’s a good thing.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:05:20] Exactly. It’s 40%. So that’s better.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:05:23] And yeah so we will check back with you from time to time and see how everything’s going there and hopefully hear about all your positive progress.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:05:32] Sounds good to me.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:05:44] For our ask the L segment. We have another great question for you. This one comes from Mary Pat and it is: is a schooling show, a show, or is it schooling?

[00:06:00] Aviva Nebesky: [00:05:59] Ah, that is a good question. Thank you, Mary Pat. I like this one. It’s very similar to the one that I answered in the last podcast about where do you, at what level do you compete?

And we talked about the difference between schooling shows and licensed competitions. So it’s, this is a very interesting question because I know that depending on who the organizer of a schooling show is, the answer to that question can be very different. I do a lot of judging for the Frederick area dressage shows, which is a loose collaboration of area barns who put on their own shows and there’s no membership.

It’s just, they’re fun. And for the most part, those shows are schooling. So if you come down center line and you make a mistake and you make a circle, It’s okay. If you want to [00:07:00] repeat a movement, if you talk to the judge ahead of time and say, I’m really here for the schooling. If I make a mistake, I might repeat something.

If you tell the judge that upfront, usually that slides pretty well, and everybody’s pretty comfortable with that. So for those shows it’s schooling and it just happens to be with a judge sitting at C and you get a test sheet and you get comments from the judge. I’m also a member of a couple of GMOs here.

One of them is Potomac Valley dressage association. I’m also a member of Virginia dressage association. And I can’t remember if I paid my dues this year or not for Maryland dressage association. But I do judge generally for all three of those GMOs and those are more serious. And those, while they are still schooling shows, I would say that those are shows you don’t have the Liberty of making a circle.

If you made a mistake, you don’t have the Liberty of redoing a movement. If you want to see how you [00:08:00] do it, you are riding through the entire thing. And at the end, most of the judges will give you some comments about what you did well and what you need to work on. So depending on where you go and depending on who the organizer is, that can be a very different answer.

My recommendation to you, Mary Pat, and to anybody else who is listening to this, who has this question is if you want to go and school and by school, more than just ride through the test and see how it goes, but also repeat movements if there is a mistake, talk to the show manager before the show and talk to the judge before you enter, when they ring the bell or blow the whistle depending on the number of entries and depending on the times that have been assigned to rides.

You may have a little bit more flexibility in schooling. And it’s certainly worth asking if that’s what you want to do. And it’s a great [00:09:00] experience. And especially for those horses that have figured out that going from the warmup ring into the show ring means that they can get away with a whole bunch of stuff in the show ring.

It’s way of teaching them that no, you still have to listen and be on my aides in the show ring. Cause guess what? We can repeat that movement until you get it right?

Stephanie Ruff: [00:09:22] Yeah, I used to actually I showed quite a bit and those schooling shows for PVDA and what we called VADA Nova, the Northern Virginia chapter.

And I used to consider them really mini licensed shows because there was good competition. There are a lot of people there that then would show at a licensed show later. They’d use it maybe as a warmup or getting a young horse out or something. But that, those were definitely better competition shows and it was still a little more relaxed than the licensed competitions, but they were definitely more serious.

Aviva Nebesky: [00:09:58] Yeah. The new [00:10:00] USDA schooling show awards. I think it’s important to note that if you do want to do schooling at some of these, quote, recognized schooling shows. You will probably need to ride HC, which means that you’ll get a score and you’ll get a score sheet and you’ll get comments from the judge, but you won’t place in the class because these are serious.

And people are looking for high score awards at these various shows and it is serious competition and it isn’t always just warming up for the licensed competition. A lot of people with the expensive showing now are choosing to spend a lot of their dollars on schooling shows and really perfecting things before they go down the center line at a licensed competition.

Because as we talked about in our last podcast, if you’re going to go spend that kind of money, you want to go out and you want to be competitive and you want to do well. So this is a great way to seriously get your feet wet before you head down that licensed show line.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:10:58] Yeah. That is [00:11:00] also great insight again. And I appreciate your perspective and we thank Mary Pat for that question. And remember if you, our listeners have a question about showing or judging, feel free to email me at or reach out to us on dressage today’s social media.

We are going to take a quick break. And when we come back, we will have our interview with Olympian, Adrian Lyle.

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American dressage rider and Olympian. Adrienne Lyle has been a front runner in the country’s top ranks of dressage for more than a decade. Born and raised in a small town in the state of Washington horses have always been a part of Adrienne’s life. She first had the opportunity to ride with her future coach and Olympian Debbie McDonald as a working student in 2005. In 2006, Lyle [00:13:00] earned the ride on Wizard, the 1999 Oldenburg gelding owned by Peggy and Perry thomas. The combination would move to the Grand Prix level together and win numerous prestigious titles, including the 2008 U S E F young adult Brentina cup.

They also competed individually at the 2012 London Olympics. In 2018, she was selected to her second WEG team after competing on all three us dressage nation cups teams, helping the U S earn gold at FEI dressage nations cup USA. Bronze at the FEI dressage nation’s cup, the Netherlands and silver at the FEI dressage nations cup Germany. She currently has two horses on the shortlist for the Tokyo Olympics, Savino and Harmony’s Duvall.

Adrienne, I want to thank you so much for taking some time out of your very busy [00:14:00] schedule. And even though you’re feeling a little bit under the weather I want to thank you for joining us today on the dressage today, podcast.

Adrienne Lyle: [00:14:07] Thanks for having me.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:14:09] So to start with, we always like to hear a little bit about people’s backgrounds. So how did you get interested in horses and riding?

Adrienne Lyle: [00:14:17] Yeah. I’ve been interested in horses my whole life. It was never specifically dressage. I grew up on a little farm and we just had backyard horses and, ranch horses that we trail ride on and stuff.

And I was always just obsessed with them from the time I was a little kid and, we had them on the farm and we had access to them and I’d just spent my days, being around them and playing with them. And there was always a fascination there.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:14:41] Were you one of those little girls that fell in love with horses and never grew out of it?

Adrienne Lyle: [00:14:46] Absolutely. My dad was waiting his whole life for me to outgrow the phase. I think he’s slowly, beginning to accept that it might not happen.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:14:53] Okay. Maybe at this point it’s time for him to realize that.

Adrienne Lyle: [00:14:57] I think so.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:14:59] Who [00:15:00] were some of your mentors or people who have influenced your writing over the years?

Adrienne Lyle: [00:15:04] Starting way back at the beginning I, my first, any kind of thing, formal instruction I had was through the United States pony club and our local chapter of it. And the South would be pony club and there are too many wonderful parents and moms to list there, but it was really, a community effort to haul our horses around and let us kids get together and ride together.

And without their support, for sure, it would have been hard to pursue what we wanted to Then on the Island, I rode with Carol McCardell and Trinna Atkins a little when I started to getting into dressage. And then from there, obviously I sought out the help of Debbie McDonald when I was a little bit older.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:15:39] So did you always plan on wanting to be an equine professional or did you have something else in mind?

Adrienne Lyle: [00:15:47] Yes, that is all I ever wanted to be. I didn’t know in what capacity. We weren’t really from a horse show family. I didn’t really know if that was going to be in my cards necessarily, but I always knew I wanted to work with horses somehow.

And I actually have [00:16:00] very vivid memories of being in, I don’t remember maybe fifth grade or something, and we had these people come in for career day and you had to do aptitude tests. Then we sat down and you filled in all these bubbles, where you go to this, would you like to do this? And I remember telling my teacher that I didn’t need to participate because I already knew what I was going to do.

I was going to train horses and I remember her very politely going well that’s nice, sweetie, but that’s not a real job. You have to complete this test. And I was just knew in my heart. I said, no, I don’t. I already know what I’m going to do.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:16:28] You followed through that’s for sure.

So then what is it about dressage that attracted you? How did you get really serious into dressage?

Adrienne Lyle: [00:16:40] Yeah. I think a lot of people were surprised actually that I did become fascinated in dressage. Cause I was a dare devil as a kid. I always wanted to run the fastest on the horses and jump the biggest and swim the farthest on them and do all of that stuff.

But I think what really fascinated me by dressage was the fact that I was on my own a lot. I didn’t have a whole lot of [00:17:00] instruction. I jumped all the jumps at our farm. Put all the standards up to the highest thing. And since I didn’t have anyone telling me how I could do that better, but I got ahold of some dressage videos and I watched them and I just thought it was so fascinating.

And I thought, Oh my gosh, this is complicated. This I can spend all my days on and still not be able to get it.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:17:18] And so now you have currently you have two horses shortlisted for the Olympics. Could you tell us a little bit about each one of them, what their personalities are like and what they’re like about the, around the barn and in the competitions?

Adrienne Lyle: [00:17:33] Yep. Absolutely. So the first one is Salvino, who’s a Hanoverian stallion owned by Betsy Juliano. We got him when he was an eight year old. We found him in Spain. He is just an absolutely incredible horse. I always feel so honored just to be able to ride him. He’s the kindest, sweetest stallion you’ll ever be around, but he is like truly an amazing competitor.

And he always seems to take whatever’s going on outside [00:18:00] the ring, if there’s ever any issues, he puts it aside. And when he goes down the center line, he’s got your back for you. And it’s a pretty amazing feel.

And then the other one, who’s another wonderful horse is Harmony’s Duvall who’s a year younger. He was bred here in the U S at harmony sport horses. He is owned by a syndicate of people now, but he’s been in my life since he was just turning five years old. And he hadn’t even been saddle broke yet. So he’s been in my life a little longer and we’ve done the whole journey together from training level on up.

And so they’re both really wonderful horses and it’s pretty amazing to have them both shortlisted for sure.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:18:38] And this isn’t even your first trip to the Olympics. So can you tell us a little bit what it’s like to compete there and how does it feel to have the chance to go back again?

Adrienne Lyle: [00:18:49] Yeah, I think, the Olympics is always the pinnacle of everyone’s competition dreams for, multitude of reasons, but the Olympics is really, yes, it’s the, the top competition, but it’s [00:19:00] also so much more than just a horse show. You have to athletes from all around the world, you have a real sense of comradery of the world coming together and uniting behind something.

And I think it’s just a really special atmosphere that’s you don’t get anywhere else in the world and there is such a honor for representing your country. When you go there, you really realize how many people are behind you. How many people are watching at home, how many people traveled there to cheer you on, and it’s an incredible feeling.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:19:29] But dressage is generally a solo sport or at least solo you and the horse. Anyway. So what is it like to be part of a team? And is there a difference competing with the team compared to competing on your own?

Yeah, I think there is definitely a big difference.

It is a solo sport when you go down the center line, but there is such a huge, your own personal team behind you, to always to get you to these competitions of your trainers and your vets and your farriers, your owners, and everyone behind that. But then [00:20:00] when you’re riding on a team to where it’s not just the result for yourself that matters, but the result matters for your teammates.

I think it’s an added honor and an added pressure for sure. But it’s also one of the coolest feelings to know that every other teammate is watching your, every footfall out there. Every step you take matters to not just you, but to everybody in that kiss and cry area in that holding box as well.

Yeah, no pressure at all.

Adrienne Lyle: [00:20:27] I also think it helps, having the camaraderie there. It really. You can feel it when you go in the ring, and you see all the USA flags waving, especially if you’re at an international competition, you don’t realize what a contingency you have.

And all of a sudden you go out in that ring and you see the flags and the banners waving and you hear the people cheering and it’s a pretty cool feeling.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:20:46] So do you typically get nervous in that type of environment?

Adrienne Lyle: [00:20:51] I think everybody gets nervous before big competitions. I think if you just say you have no nerves, you’re not alive for [00:21:00] sure.

But I think my big, most helpful thing is that you just come to expect it, so that if you do feel a little bit of nerves, you’re not saying, Oh my gosh, I’m getting nervous. You just say, this is a big competition. This is to be expected. And then once you throw your leg over and you’re in the saddle, at least for myself, those nerves are always gone, but I always find to be the longest hours are the hours leading up to getting on the horse through you’re sitting and waiting and planning and going through the test in your head.

But once you’re on the horse, you’re so focused on them and it clicks into your every day routine. Things you’ve practiced 10,000 times over. And then you’re just in the moment.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:21:37] So then, do you have a typical routine that you do before? A big competition?

Adrienne Lyle: [00:21:42] Yeah. Everything in your preparation you’ve tried through trial and error and have tweaked little things around and say if it’s a night class, say the competition is going to happen in the evening, maybe I have to get on in the morning and stretch them a little bit, maybe X number of hours before I take them out for a hand walks so he’s a [00:22:00] loose. This many hours before he gets a magnetic blanket and these are all things you play around with. So by the time hopefully you get to a big competition, you have found a routine that works best. And then I think it is really important for the horse that you don’t then change it up when you’re there.

They don’t know if it’s a big competition and we don’t want them to know it’s a big competition, so we want everything to stay routine. So they just feel like this is what I do every day. I know my job. My people aren’t worried. There’s no nervous energy around me, just another day at the office for them.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:22:29] Do your two horses, do they have different kinds of routines that you need to get them ready or are they fairly similar?

Adrienne Lyle: [00:22:38] They’re a little bit different. They’re a little bit different personalities. Salvino I would say is much more. He’s got that stallion self-confidence, he can walk into a big stadium and never gets flustered by the energy.

Duvall is a little bit more insecure and he looks to his people a little bit more for needing confidence. So Duvall for example, when we were [00:23:00] at Aachen for the 4 star there a few years ago, he was fairly overwhelmed by the amount of people and the crowds and the vendors and everyone standing around the stadium area.

So I think I must’ve had him out hand walking 10 times a day, get him out, let him see it. Put him back. We got him out. Let him see it, feed him some carrots, make it a positive experience. And just so his brain can process all that where Salvino needs to get out and see it once or twice. But he’s fairly unimpressed by most situations.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:23:30] He’s the most important thing there.

Adrienne Lyle: [00:23:32] He thinks so. Yes, exactly.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:23:33] So you mentioned the crowds and the flags and all that sort of thing, but this Olympic games is going to be different because it’s not going to have spectators. So how do you think that will change the event and the environment?

Adrienne Lyle: [00:23:48] I think it will be different from previous Olympics, for sure. I think any athlete then makes it to this Olympics understands what a huge undertaking it will have been to pull it [00:24:00] off. So I think we will, they will be glad to have it go on in any kind of capacity. And that’s, even more reason that your team needs to be cheering extra loud, but make no mistake that the competitors are going to be just as serious and just as competitive and just as hungry as if there was a crowd, because the title is still the title and you can bet that each rider there and wants to win it.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:24:23] Oh yeah. Yeah. I’m sure. Then the last question I have for you is something that I like to ask everybody, and that is just what in your mind makes a good horse person?

Adrienne Lyle: [00:24:37] That is a great question. I think there’s a God, you could answer that one for days, but I’d say, I think one of the most important things is listening to them in whatever format, that comes in and realizing that just cause we have a plan and have an idea of how things go doesn’t necessarily mean that’s always going to be their idea.

And I [00:25:00] think being a good horse person means reading the horse in the situation is the understanding, is he frustrated? Why is he acting out? Where are you miscommunicating? And then being humble enough to change your approach. There’s been plenty of times where I said I thought I was explaining it perfectly clearly.

I’ve trained many other horses this way, but obviously you’re not getting it. So I need to back up a few steps and I need to figure out how to explain it to you differently. And I think never letting yourself get an ego to where you think they need to learn it your way. They don’t need you. You need to learn how to explain it to them in a way that they understand.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:25:36] That’s very, yeah. That’s very true. Andnot always easy.

Adrienne Lyle: [00:25:43] Nope. And they will always keep you humble that’s for sure.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:25:46] That’s the one thing I’ve learned over and over again, it doesn’t matter what level you’re at. How many horses you’ve owned, what discipline you ride, horses will definitely keep you humble.

First of all, I want to wish you the very best of luck. I look forward to if all goes [00:26:00] well, I will be at the observation event in June. So I wish you the best of luck with both of your horses. And I definitely appreciate you taking the time to talk with us today.

Adrienne Lyle: [00:26:13] Thank you very much for having me. It’s my pleasure.

Stephanie Ruff: [00:26:16] Thanks again to Adrienne Lyle for joining us today. And thanks also to our sponsor Vita Flex. Visit them at to learn more.

Thanks for listening to the dressage today podcast. If you’ve missed any episodes or to subscribe, go to Apple podcasts, SoundCloud, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. While you’re there. Please rate and review the show. Learn more and read in-depth training articles at or you can visit our subscription video site Be sure [00:27:00] to give us a follow on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. Happy riding and we’ll see you at X.

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