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February 19, 2007

Eventing Horseman Of The Year: Amy Tryon

In 2006, Amy Tryon stepped up to be the top U.S. eventer at the FEI World Equestrian Games, where she earned the individual bronze medal. But the year included another major milestone for Tryon, as she made the difficult decision to give up her full-time job as a firefighter to pursue her eventing career full time.

"I felt like I wasn't doing either [job] particularly well and wasn't spending enough hours at either thing to be as good as I could be," she said. "In the winter, I was lucky if I rode three times a week. I couldn't look myself in the mirror and say I was doing the best job possible."

With her barn full of more promising, upper-level horses than ever before, the timing was perfect. "I owed it to the horses and their owners to do the best I could. I'm much poorer now, but it was the right decision to make," she said.

She may have made a major life change, but Tryon is still the same person she was 10 years ago, before she'd earned Olympic and World Championship medals.

"I still clean stalls and pick rocks out of paddocks," she said with a laugh. "But I am hoping to find more people interested in owning horses--it's a huge opportunity. For a long time it was just [my husband] Greg and I owning everything, and it's a real privilege to have horses owned by someone else."

In 2006, Tryon picked up the ride on Le Samurai, purchased for her from Robyn Fisher by Rebecca and Jerome Broussard. "Sparky" is the first horse Tryon has ridden who was already competing advanced, and he's the first horse who hasn't come off the track. The pair made an impressive three-day debut together, finishing fifth at the Blenheim CCI*** (England).

"I'm thankful to Becky and Jerome that they believe in me as a rider," she said. "I'm very lucky to get the ride on Le Samurai, and he is physically the most talented horse I've sat on. He could probably be a Grand Prix dressage or show jumping horse, he's so physically gifted, but quirky. We're just starting to speak the same language."

And although she's enjoyed working with Sparky and her four-star horses--currently the team star Poggio II and Woodstock--Tryon also takes great pleasure in producing young horses. "I love the day-to-day process of watching them grow and get better and more confident," she said. "It's very satisfying to watch them grow into a career."

Two of the horses she's produced recently are Leyland and Coal Creek, Thoroughbreds she bought off the track, with the advice of Janet von Pressentin, as 4-year-olds in 2000. This year Leyland won the Galway Downs CCI** (Calif.), and Coal Creek finished second in the one-star.

"I'm lucky to have a pipeline of young horses off the track that are available, provided I can find owners," said Tryon. "To be able to pay $15,000 instead of $1,500 has made a huge difference."

Tryon's season included top-five three-day finishes with Poggio, Leyland, Coal Creek, Le Samurai and Woodstock, proving that she's not limited to one type of ride.

"As a kid, I was forced to ride whatever I had because I couldn't replace it," said Tryon. "It's allowed me to be successful on a variety of horses. I've learned through trial and error that every horse has to be treated differently."

Tryon's role this year as the top U.S. finisher at the WEG was a new one for her, as she's been in the shadow of Kim Severson and Winsome Adante in her past outings. "I'm comfortable being the steady person who gets around; I don't have the consistent results that Kim has. I still feel overwhelmed when I'm compared to the other riders [on the team]," she said.

But Tryon's student and groom, Allyson Green, said Amy is every bit the rider her teammates are. "I was in awe of everyone [when we first went to the big events], but then I realized that [Amy] is probably one of the greatest riders in the world," Green said. "I don't think anyone could get what she gets out of Poggio. She's made him not just into a four-star horse that gets around, but one who is in the top five after dressage. She's turned him into an amazing horse."

However, Tryon still laments the lack of a U.S. team medal from Aachen. "I should have taken the opportunity to have taken more of a leadership role [in the team]," she said. "I still look at myself as an inexperienced advanced rider. To be the senior member on a team is a new experience, and it never occurred to me to assume the role David [O'Connor] had done for so long. It wasn't in the forefront of my mind, and it should have been.

"We all made silly mistakes, which was the difference in a team medal, and that's difficult to live with. It still is," she added.

Chef d'Equipe Capt. Mark Phillips doesn't see it quite the same way: "She did a thoroughly professional job in Aachen and really set an example for everybody," he said. "When you see Poggio trot across a field, you wouldn't pick him out as a medal horse at the World Games. It's to Amy's credit that she has made him into what he is.

"He's a very difficult ride cross-country, and I don't think anyone other than Amy would be able to ride him," Phillips added. "They've worked out a partnership, but I don't think you'd see a lot of people putting up their hands to ride him."

But even as Tryon rearranges her life to spend more time with her horses, she's tremendously thankful for what she's accomplished and the support of her many owners.

"If I stopped competing tomorrow, I would have no regrets," she said. "I've been very lucky and done more than I thought possible."

Personal Profile
Age: 36.
Home: Redmond, Wash.

Role Model: Her husband, Greg. "He allows me to be gone month after month, and there's never any pressure. He's glad for me when I do well, and supportive when I don't; he doesn't say all the money we spend has to be justified with a ribbon. He has an incredible work ethic and has achieved a lot of his goals, and I really emulate him."

When Not Riding: "We're teaching ourselves to play golf."

Typical Day: 20 stalls to clean, eight horses to ride, between two and 10 lessons to teach, farm maintenance.

Favorite Type Of Horse: Thoroughbred. "I love their minds, and their ability to take pressure, and to gallop and jump. The number of horses coming off the track versus the number of warmbloods in my price range can't compare. I still think the Thoroughbred has its place."

2006 Competitive highlights
Individual bronze--FEI World Equestrian Games (Germany) (Poggio II)
5th--Rolex Kentucky CCI**** (Woodstock)
5th--Blenheim CCI*** (England) (Le Samurai)
1st--Galway Downs CCI** (Calif.) (Leyland)
2nd--Galway Downs CCI* (Calif.) (Coal Creek)

Beth Rasin