Debbie McDonald & Her “Team” — Part 2 of 2

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Adrienne Lyle working Salvino. © 2016 Ken Braddick/
Adrienne Lyle working Salvino. © 2016 Ken Braddick/


WELLINGTON, Florida, Mar. 28, 2016–Adrienne Lyle is working toward her return to the spotlight of international competition, quietly, focused and in no hurry with the nine-year-old Silvano that was bought and is supported by an unusual syndicate of some of America’s most high profile owners.

In the 10 months since the Hanoverian stallion arrived from Spain, Adrienne with coaching from Debbie McDonald has developed the dark bay horse that came with mostly young horse competition experience to become a powerful prospect showing every sign of talent for the Big Tour.

The changes in appearance are evident from when the horse walked off a horse trailer in Wellington in May last year, before Silvano spent the summer being worked by Adrienne at Debbie’s long-time base at River Grove Farm in Idaho’s resort area then was brought back to Wellington this winter.

Along the way, the horse lost his mouthful of a name of Sandronnerhall–a merging of sire Sandro Hit and dam sire Donnerhall–and being trained for a long career, not pushed for short-term gain.

Salvino is just one premium prospects being ridden by Adrienne. Among others are horses owned by Betsy Juliano, who built a highly successful business that has enabled her to become not only an owner of top horses but a financial supporter of both individual riders as well as United States team endeavors.

Adrienne shares Debbie’s training time in Wellington in winter and Idaho in summer with a lineup of American riders and horses that would be the envy of some nations putting together an Olympic team–Laura Graves on Verdades, Kasey Perry-Glass on Dublet and Scarlet, Katherine Bateson-Chandler on Alcazar, Olivia LaGoy-Weltz on Lonoir and Kimberly Herslow on Rosmarin.

As Debbie winds up a decade as the U.S. Developing Coach, she gets to spend more time with her family and the group that has become Team Debbie, overwhelmingly American but is nationality blind and includes Ilse Schwarz, an Australian living year round in Wellington. She is being coached by Debbie in preparing Sauvignon, her spectacular Sandro Hit mare, for Grand Prix.

Adrienne is now 31 years of age but has worked for Debbie for more than a decade. She took over the ride from Debbie on the Grand Prix horse Felix in 2009.

At the same time, she began competing Wizard then 10 years old and owned by Peggy and Parry Thomas who had owned Brentina that Debbie rode for the United States.

Adrienne Lyle and Wizard at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. © Ken Braddick/
Adrienne Lyle and Wizard at the 2012 Olympic Games in London. © Ken Braddick/

By the time the Oldenburg gelding was retired five years later, Adrienne and Wizard had gone to the 2012 Olympics and the 2014 World Games on the American team.

It’s coming up to two years since Adrienne last appeared in the Big Tour competition arena, and in that time she’s been working with a group of youngsters in a process that she really loves in developing future stars.

She wasn’t bothered by the lack of competition for a year after Wizard’s retirement but Adrienne confessed she was not having fun sitting on the sidelines in 2015.

All that changed this winter. She has made a mark with Horizon, one of the talented developing horses owned by Betsy Juliano, at national Small Tour at the Global Dressage Festival, and Harmony’s Duvall that Bob McDonald, Debbie’s husband, bought as a four-year-old from the Malone family’s Harmony Sporthorses in Colorado in 2012.

A potential star and source of much speculation in Wellington is the nine-year-old Salvino that has gone to the Global grounds to get used to the atmosphere but not yet made it into the show ring.

Adrienne Lyle competing Horizon at Adequan Global Dressage Festival national show. © 2016 Ken Braddick/
Adrienne Lyle competing Horizon at Adequan Global Dressage Festival national show. © 2016 Ken Braddick/

The stallion was bought as a long-term prospect by an ownership syndicate made up of Akiko Yamazaki, owner of Ravel, Legolas and Rosamunde; Betsy Juliano; Elma Garcia and Jim Calavino, and Jen and Bruce Hlavacek who own 2011 Pan Am Games team and individual gold medal winner Weltino’s Magic ridden by Steffen Peters.

For Adrienne, who started as a working student and through hard work and talent has become an assistant who emulates Debbie by coaching more and more herself.

“I got so lucky,” Adrienne said. “I just cannot believe what has happened. Debbie is so generous with her time and support. It’s been fun progressing and is very horse friendly.

“It’s a  cool collaboration of creating soemthing special.”

As one of the tallest American women riders a tad under six feet (1.82m) and fit she has developed skills passed on from Debbie whose five feet (1.52m) and slight build required finesse and not strength to get Brentina to Olympic, World Games and Pan American medals podiums as well as becoming the first American combination to be Word Cup champions. From 2003 to 2005 Debbie on Brentina was No. 2 or No. 3 in the world over 14 months.

“It’s been a big advantage,” Adrienne said. “Debbie’s small and can’t use strength, can never muscle the horses. Me being tall, if I was in a program where I could use strength instead of getting the basics right it might have been different. This has been a huge help for me.

“It always amazes me we can get on horses ridden by the other one and it’s seamless–we can swap back and forth really easily. It’s really nice.”

Kasey Perry-Glass, who moved to Wellington from California last year and ranked high enough to be on the American squad with Laura Graves and a half dozen others to go to Europe for selection of the team for the Olympics, shares the admiration for Debbie.

“I think the one thing I feel the most about working with her as an athlete is she never really tells you what you have,” Kasey said. “We go every day and practice and try to perfect things until you go in the ring and, ‘Oh. my gosh, I’ve had that the whole time.’ I love that about her–she doesn’t sit there and say you’re the best. She doesn’t boost your ego where you don’t go in there and feel like you’re going to ride your hardest. She keeps pushing you and encouraging you and… yes, she’s good.”

The Rio Games could see two of the four combinations on the team, Laura Graves and Verdades and Kasey and Dublet both coached by Debbie. At the 2014 Normandy Games when Laura and Adrienne and Wizard were coached by Debbie, she was part of the official coaching staff led by Robert Dover, but as things stand now Debbie’s current term as developing coach will be over before the Olympics.

Adrienne Lyle and Salvino. © 2016 Ken Braddick/
Adrienne Lyle and Salvino. © 2016 Ken Braddick/

An attitude shared by the riders who work with Debbie is explained simply by Adrienne: “When you are in our group you are in our group. We are very supportive of each other; everyone who comes here is really one of the group. The camaraderie helps.

“It’s really inspiring. I feel really blessed to be in the whole mix. It raises the standards to watch and to be inspired to do better and help one another.

“It’s just what I always dreamed of from the time I was a kid; to have a beautiful farm, incredible horses and wonderful sponsors.

“I pinch myself every morning when I wake up.”