Adrienne Lyle’s Journey to London with Wizard
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
Adrienne Lyle of the United States at the age of 27 one of the youngest Americans to compete in dressage at an Olympics joins a swelling number of under-30 year olds in the 100 years the sport has been in the Games.
Adrienne and Wizard earned a place on the American squad to compete as an individual and becomes the second rider from Hailey, Idaho, population fewer than 8,000, to be on an American Olympic dressage squad. The other was her coach and mentor, Debbie McDonald on Brentina at the 2008 Beijing and 2004 Athens Games. Hailey is also the hometown of Picaboo Street, the Olympic multiple gold medal skier.
“It’s just starting to sink in,” Adrienne told dressage-news.com a day after her come-from-behind move up the rankings in the last of four competitions that won her and Wizard a ticket to London.
“I woke up to 400 congratulatory message on my computer. I didn’t think I knew 400 people. Then it hit me: ‘Holy crap. I’m going to the Olympics’!”
Success in making the squad required an Olympian effort by Adrienne, the 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Weltmeyer x Pica x Classiker) and Debbie who left Hailey last November for the 900-mile (1,450km) trip to California, then 2,700 miles (4,350km) to Florida for the winter circuit and finally 1,250 miles (2,000km) to Gladstone, New Jersey, in pursuit of her dream.
During the selection trials in which Brentina won a place on the team for the Beijing Olympics four years ago, she was riding Wizard in the Brentina Cup, the championship for the U.S. equivalent of the Under-25 division. She began competing Wizard at Grand Prix the following year, first in California, then in Europe in 2010 and this year the intense campaign for London.
“Now here I am going to these Olympics,” she said, with a tinge of awe and excitement in her voice. She is among the youngest American dressage riders in an Olympics, though Jessica Ransehousen was probably the youngest at the age of 21 in Rome in 1960, the first of her two Olympics.
“It has always been a dream, like so many other kids, since I was little to go to the Olympics. I didn’t think it would happen until way down the line.
“I would not have been devastated if we had not been successful. Our season in Florida was the most successful ever, so whatever happened I would have been happy because of what we accomplished.
“I think it’s incredible.
“I’m kind of used to being one of the youngest riders, and I think it’s great for drawing a whole new generation of people to the sport. Most of my friends are not horsey, which is fantastic because it helps you keep your perspective… and many of them come to watch me ride and think it’s cool.”
She is dedicating making the American squad to Parry Thomas, who will be 91 years old during the Olympics, and his wife, Peggy, 86, who own Wizard and River Grove Farm in Hailey where Debbie and her are based. Their contribution to dressage in the United States, the way Debbie and Adrienne see it, is almost incalculable from the ownership and support of their own horses and riders as well as to U.S. teams and to providing the money that led to construction of the Thomas & Mack Arena at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas that hosted the World Cups of dressage and jumping in 2005, 2007 and 2009.
“I’m so happy that he will be able to see this,” she said. “He has put so much into helping me over the last seven years so to be able to give him this experience is fantastic. He never once made me feel that if it doesn’t work I’m letting him down.”
Steffen Peters, who is the only Olympian on this year’s team, from Beijing in 2008 and Atlanta in 1996, has known Adrienne since she came on the horse scene in Southern California seven years ago. He said that aside from winning the U.S. Grand Prix Championship on Legolas this year the highlight of the event was when he watched Adrienne and Wizard ride the last Special.
“I stood with Debbie and watched their final centerline and got choked up,” he said. “If you get to ride in the Olympics it’s life changing, and that ride was life changing because she made the team. I really like people like Adrienne who become successful but remain humble. Those athletes in any aport are the ones we respect the most.”
Adrienne he sees as one of the younger generation of riders from Britain, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Austria and other countries who are fulfilling their potential to “keep up with us old guys.”
Adrienne started riding as soon as she could walk, with ponies that shared the pastures with the cows on the family farm on Whidbey Island near Seattle.
She chose Western gaming for a while but when she had to decide whether to join 4H or Pony Club opted for Pony Club so she could jump. She showed up for her first meeting in a Western saddle. Through eventing, she was exposed to dressage.
“I got into dressage because for me it was so challenging,” she recalled. “You jump the jumps. With dressage it is never good enough.”
After high school, she followed the wishes of her parents–her father, Greg, is a tax attorney, and her mother, Ann, a pediatrician, and she has a brother, Andrew, who lives in Brazil–and went to college for pre-veterinary science and business management. “I didn’t want to be a vet but they told me I had to go to college so I chose those because it could use the skills. It was not wasted.”
When she turned 20 years old, she went to groom for Debbie McDonald, giving up college, a step she thanks her parents who “trusted me enough to let me stop school and pursue a career with horses,” based at River Grove Farm located by Sun Valley ski resort and surrounded by Sawtooth National Forest. Adrienne describes it as “like heaven, so beautiful and quiet, like a little haven to retreat to after a busy show season,”
A typical work day starts at 7:30 a.m. and Adrienne does everything. She rides six horses a day, teaches two to three lessons which increases in the summer when the days are longer and there are more students to teach.
Although she is a fraction shy of six feet tall (182cm) and Debbie is only five feet (152cm) that is what has made the training work so well.
“Debbie never wants to resort to strength,” Adrienne said. “She cannot do it as a rider. That has been great for me because it would be easy for me to use strength. She is a perfectionist. From the day you bring home a three-year-old everything has to be perfect. You cannot move on to the next step until each level is how it should be. And she keeps it simple. If you work a horse for 20 minutes and it’s good then you don’t keep drilling.”
It’s the same system that Debbie’s husband. Bob, uses successfully with jumpers.
On the long road to London, Adrienne and Wizard competed in Europe in 2010, spending hours every day watching some of the world’s best riders competing at some of the top shows.
At home, she and Debbie ride the dressage horses around the jumping arena outside at least once a week and routinely take them on trail rides.
The relationship with Debbie is explained by Adrienne as “trainer and boss and, like my mom, she checks on me when I come in late.”
Since last November, they have lived together in California, Florida and New Jersey.
“It is such a great working relationship,” she said, “and I know her so well. There is a lot of back and forth. Debbie encourages feedback, being interactive.
“It’s really fun to have a trainer who trusts you, Adrienne said. “It’s been tremendously helpful to my development.”
What she is looking forward to at the Olympics is not only the excitement of being a part of the U.S. team but “i can learn so much being immersed in watching everyone train.”
“That’s one thing we don’t get in this country because we’re so spread out,” she said. “We meet for a couple of days at a competition, but we don’t learn what it took to get there.”
What to expect before the start of dressage at Greenwich Park in London Aug. 2?
“I’ve no idea. I’ve never been in this situation. I’ll cram in whatever I can.
“Thank God for Debbie and Steffen, they let you know about all the little things that nobody tells you.”
Like her parents, she doesn’t plan ahead.
“They told me, ‘If you got to London, we’ll figure out how to get tickets’,” she said. “My mom asked me whether it was okay because she didn’t want to distract me in London.
“I said. ‘It’s okay, mom, it’s work. It’s a spectator sport.”