A World-Class Part­ner­ship Emerges

With pa­tience and per­sis­tence, Adri­enne Lyle re­turns to the top of the in­ter­na­tional stage with the Hanove­rian stal­lion Salvino.

Dressage Today - - Content - Story and pho­tos by Nancy Jaf­fer

With pa­tience and per­sis­tence, Adri­enne Lyle re­turns to the top of the in­ter­na­tional stage with the Hanove­rian stal­lion Salvino.

Thomas Edi­son once ob­served, “Ev­ery­thing comes to him who hus­tles while he waits.” Change the gen­der in that phrase and it cer­tainly rings true for Adri­enne Lyle, about whom one also could ap­ply the say­ing, “pa­tience makes per­fect.”

As the Ad­e­quan Global Dres­sage Fes­ti­val in Wellington, Florida, drew to a close at the end of March, Lyle won the fi­nal Fri­day Night Lights Freestyle on Salvino with a mark of 81.75 per­cent. It was the first time in her ca­reer that she had bro­ken 80 per­cent. Odds are, how­ever, that it won’t be the last. Boosted by her spec­tac­u­lar vic­tory, as of March 31 Lyle and Salvino moved up the FEI rank­ing list to 19th, the best rank­ing of her ca­reer. Lyle be­came one of only two Amer­i­can rid­ers in the top 20, stand­ing be­hind Laura Graves, No. 5 with Ver­dades. Although Lyle grad­u­ated from 27th place in Fe­bru­ary and 56th in Jan­uary, her achievement was even more im­pres­sive when look­ing at the big pic­ture, since she was No. 501 at the end of March 2017.

Re­turn­ing to the Top

For Lyle, it has been an amaz­ing jour­ney from nowhere back to the top of the game. Af­ter com­pet­ing in the 2012 Olympics on Wiz­ard when she was only 27 years old and then the FEI World Eques­trian Games (WEG) two years later, Lyle van­ished from the Grand Prix arena and the global rank­ings list—as well as pub­lic at­ten­tion—once her mount re­tired in cer­e­monies dur­ing the 2015 Las Vegas World Cup Fi­nals. Her last show with Wiz­ard was the WEG in Au­gust 2014. Lyle’s CDI reap­pear­ance wasn’t un­til 2017.

Af­ter it had be­come clear that Wiz­ard’s ca­reer was end­ing, Lyle spent months look­ing for a horse who could be her next big star. It took four trips to Europe, but in May 2015, Lyle fi­nally found her can­di­date in San­dron­ner­hall, as he orig­i­nally was called be­fore be­ing rechris­tened Salvino, a name that was eas­ier to handle. It would not be un­til nearly two years later, how­ever, that the Hanove­rian stal­lion (San­dro Hit X Don­ner­hall) would make his in­ter­na­tional Grand Prix de­but with her.

Lyle and her men­tor, USEF De­vel­op­ment Coach Debbie McDonald, lo­cated the dream horse in Spain, where he showed the po­ten­tial for which they had been search­ing. “When I saw him the first time, I thought to my­self, He is very spe­cial. I loved his scope, power and sup­ple­ness,’’ Lyle re­called about the prospect, who had earned 80-plus per­cent marks in the 6-year-old com­pe­ti­tion with Span­ish rider An­to­nio Diaz Por­ras in the sad­dle. On the sec­ond day that McDonald watched Lyle and the stal­lion to­gether, she stated, “I think that’s your horse.” Then the work be­gan.

“He wasn’t a baby. He was 8, older than what we’ve nor­mally done, but you still have to make sure the ba­sic con­trol panel on a horse matches the way you ride,” ex­plained Lyle, who has no in­ter­est in get­ting some­one else’s made Grand Prix horse. “Even if they know the move­ments and the tricks, you have to take the time to make sure they re­ally un­der­stand ev­ery sin­gle ba­sic the way you want it,” she ex­plained. “That takes a while. We spent a year pretty much do­ing that. Ev­ery­thing from sim­ple tran­si­tions to half halts—ev­ery­thing ev­ery rider does slightly dif­fer­ent—mak­ing sure he had a very clear un­der­stand­ing of what I wanted.”

While his own freestyle mu­sic was still in the de­vel­op­ment stages, Salvino per­formed his land­mark kŸr to Wiz­ard’s tunes, fea­tur­ing “Danc­ing on the Ceil­ing” and “Soul Man.” It had been re­chore­ographed to match Salvino’s move­ment and pre­sented a high de­gree of dif­fi­culty. De­spite bor­row­ing Wiz­ard’s mu­sic, Salvino is quite dif­fer­ent from his “tem­per­a­men­tal and emo­tional” pre­de­ces­sor.

“Salvino is such a sweet horse, very peo­ple-ori­ented,” said Lyle, who en­joys giv­ing him ba­nana treats and tak­ing him out to graze in the af­ter­noons. “He’s had a good chance to bond with me and knows I’m his per­son,” she re­ported.

Sup­port for Salvino

The late Parry Thomas and his wife, Peggy, who owned Wiz­ard and McDonald’s great cham­pion, Brentina, were out of the spon­sor­ship game when Lyle and McDonald dis­cov­ered Salvino, so other back­ers had to be found.

The group that came for­ward in­cluded Akiko Ya­mazaki (St­ef­fen Peters’ spon­sor); U.S. Eques­trian Team Foun­da­tion Sec­re­tary Betsy Ju­liano; Bruce Hlavacek, who has served as chair­man of the Dres­sage Own­ers Task Force and his wife, Jen; as well as a long­time friend of McDonald, Elma Gar­cia-Can­navino and her hus­band, Jim Can­navino. It was quite dif­fer­ent for Lyle to re­port to a num­ber of spon­sors rather than sim­ply

con­nect with the Thomases as she did for years, but she is as dili­gent about that re­spon­si­bil­ity as she is about ev­ery­thing else she does. Peo­ple get into a syn­di­cate to “feel like part of the game and part of the pro­gram. Keep­ing them in­volved in the day-to-day train­ing, your plans, your show­ing—all the lit­tle things—so they feel they’re a part of it, is very im­por­tant,” Lyle ob­served.

She sent weekly up­dates, in­cluded pho­tos from her phone when out on the trail, for­warded video clips and got to­gether with back­ers to ad­dress big plans and goals. Along the way, she filled them in on big achieve­ments with such bul­letins as, “To­day we got five one-tem­pis.”

Every­one was ea­ger to see Salvino in the com­pe­ti­tion arena, but luck­ily, the syn­di­cate mem­bers un­der­stood it would take time be­fore he could make a pub­lic ap­pear­ance if his train­ing and con­di­tion­ing were to be ap­pro­pri­ate for their goals: the 2018 WEG and the 2020 Olympics.

Worth the Wait

Lyle and McDonald re­al­ized they couldn’t push the stal­lion. His con­for­ma­tion alone spoke to how he should be han­dled. “He has so much tal­ent and is a very lanky horse,” ex­plained McDonald. “The way he wants to move, the way his tech­nique is in pi­affe and pas­sage, it re­quires so much strength that I think if you went out too soon on that, it would go quite south. He would say, ‘This isn’t so fun or so easy.’ Adri­enne and I were on the same page. We felt it was go­ing to be worth tak­ing the time and get­ting him re­ally strong and then bring­ing him out.”

As Lyle ob­served, “Some­times it’s al­most sim­pler when you have a baby be­cause they don’t know as much. There’s less lan­guage you two have to learn from each other when they only know a cou­ple of words. But when you’re a lit­tle more flu­ent in it, it takes a while to find your com­mon lan­guage.”

There was an­other fac­tor in the case of Salvino. “He’s such a big, pow­er­ful,

scopey horse with such a range of mo­tion that it took him a long time to get his strength,” Lyle ex­plained. “He could give you a step or two of bril­liance, but then he’d fall out of it and lose his bal­ance. That was prob­a­bly our biggest strug­gle, get­ting him to un­der­stand what we wanted so he could pro­duce it, and then giv­ing him time to build his strength to be able to pro­duce it con­sis­tently and not get tired or frus­trated or feel­ing like he’s in over his head.” She worked on self-car­riage and bal­ance with him. It took lots of tran­si­tions “and mak­ing sure he was lis­ten­ing to the small­est aid from me so I’m not hav­ing to push him or hold him up.”

By the time she com­peted in her first CDI with Salvino as the 2017 Ad­e­quan Global Dres­sage Fes­ti­val drew to an end, Lyle said, “We were still kind of fig­ur­ing each other out. The bal­ance and the self-car­riage and frame were not where we knew they were go­ing to be when he’s fin­ished. But he got in and han­dled the en­vi­ron­ment re­ally well. Then spend­ing the sum­mer in Europe was great be­cause you’re sur­rounded by top rid­ers and horses.”

The USEF’s 2017 trip abroad in­volved com­pe­ti­tion in sev­eral of the world’s most cel­e­brated shows, in­clud­ing Aachen, where Lyle was on the sil­ver­medal team and fin­ished ninth in the Spe­cial with Salvino. The dream was com­ing true.

She at­trib­uted a great deal of that suc­cess to the fact that “we did take our time in the be­gin­ning and didn’t put him in the ring and over­face him,” she said, not­ing that now his con­fi­dence grows each time he steps into the arena.

A Look To­ward the Fu­ture

Though the WEG team won’t be named un­til af­ter the Euro­pean tour, it’s a good bet that Lyle and Salvino will be part of the squad. If ev­ery­thing works out, she’s look­ing for­ward to rid­ing for the world cham­pi­onship and Olympic qual­i­fi­ca­tion in her own coun­try. “I think it’s re­ally ex­cit­ing. It’s way eas­ier, be­cause [in 2014] the Euro­peans had the ad­van­tage of haul­ing to the WEG while we were fly­ing across the ocean. It will be nice to have it the other way around for once,” Lyle pointed out.

While Salvino is the only one of Lyle’s rides who is ear­marked as a WEG po­ten­tial com­peti­tor this time around, she has sev­eral other horses she is de­vel­op­ing. One is Hori­zon, an Olden­burg mare owned by Ju­liano who grad­u­ated from Small Tour to Grand Prix in the win­ter sea­son. Har­mony’s Du­val, a Dutch Warm­blood owned by Du­val Part­ners LLC, won with Lyle at In­ter­me­di­ate II in the na­tional show dur­ing the Florida sea­son. If things go as hoped, it’s pos­si­ble all three horses could be can­di­dates for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.

But for now, the fo­cus is on Salvino. In Jan­uary, Ju­liano bought out the other syn­di­cate mem­bers who had pur­chased the stal­lion. “It all worked out re­ally well,” said Lyle. “I wouldn’t be here with him if it hadn’t been for all the peo­ple who did orig­i­nally step up. I’m so thank­ful for Akiko and all the syn­di­cate mem­bers,” she said.

Dis­cussing the sale, Lyle ex­plained, “I think it’s a nat­u­ral pro­gres­sion. The orig­i­nal group of own­ers are all based on the West Coast [while Salvino is based in the East] and their goal was to ob­tain a horse for me to be a team prospect. I think they all feel like they ac­com­plished that goal and Betsy had time to think about it and make it work to where she was able to be­come the sole owner.”

Ju­liano is hands on, watch­ing the school­ing and stand­ing ring­side with McDonald for ev­ery com­pe­ti­tion. Her en­thu­si­asm, win or lose, is en­cour­ag­ing. “I’m thrilled for Betsy. She gets to see him ev­ery day and be a part of it. She’s an owner who loves the process, like Parry did,” Lyle ob­served. Ju­liano be­came fa­mil­iar with McDonald’s meth­ods when the trainer and Lyle brought sev­eral horses to her sta­ble in Wellington six years ago and she no­ticed Lyle’s “cool grace un­der pres­sure.” As for Salvino’s progress, Ju­liano noted, “We’re not at the end of the road by any means. There’s a lot more learn­ing to come. I’m re­ally, re­ally ex­cited about the po­ten­tial.” (Read more on p. 38.)

Lyle wasn’t sure what to ex­pect with Salvino be­cause he was her first stal­lion, but he doesn’t flaunt it. “He’s pretty calm, cool and col­lected most of the time. He’s very peo­ple-ori­ented, he looks to you for con­fi­dence. He thinks things through rather than re­act­ing to them,” Lyle pointed out.

Asked about the method­ol­ogy of how she and McDonald col­lab­o­rate on the train­ing of Salvino and the other horses, Lyle said, “We’re very sim­i­lar. We both have the same phi­los­o­phy: The most im­por­tant thing is that the horse comes first. Their wel­fare comes first. They need a clear un­der­stand­ing of what you’re ask­ing be­fore you put any pres­sure on them. If the train­ing goes well, that will come out in the show­ing.” That means trail rides and cross-train­ing, such as cav­al­letti ex­er­cises, are part of the rou­tine. The idea is to make ev­ery­thing fun for the horses, “so they don’t feel it’s just bor­ing drilling in the arena,” Lyle ex­plained.

McDonald is over­joyed at how well Lyle and Salvino have clicked. “Ev­ery time I watch them,” she said, “their ab­so­lute part­ner­ship is in­spir­ing and makes me al­most come to tears.”

Lyle is get­ting used to lead­ing vic­tory passes again on Salvino.

Lyle com­pet­ing at Grand Prix with Salvino, also known as “Vinny”

Lyle with her mini Aus­tralian sheep­dog, Tia.

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