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February 11, 2005

Eventing Horseman Of The Year: Amy Tryon

Amy Tryon never takes a day off. How could she? Between working full-time as a firefighter, managing a barn of 20 horses, and riding in the Olympics, 24 hours a day hardly seems like enough time to do what she accomplishes.

But she's not complaining. "It's difficult, but it's what I have to do to do this," Tryon explained. "I'm so excited to be able to compete at this level. I never thought I would have this opportunity because of the financial situation I came from, but I've been able to, and I feel really lucky."

The fact that she truly is an amateur eventer makes her international achievements more extraordinary. She had not one, but two horses short-listed for the Olympics and was an asset to her team, riding in the difficult first spot and finishing sixth overall on her challenging Thoroughbred Poggio.

Tryon began competing as a young rider, winning at preliminary and intermediate as well as competing in the North American Young Riders Championships in the late 1980s, but then she had to sell her horse to fund her education. When she thought about career choices, she knew she wanted to keep riding, so she became a paramedic and firefighter, a job where you work three 24-hour shifts per week and then have four days off, or approximately 10 workdays per month. "There was nothing haphazard in her approach to this," said her husband, Greg, a paramedic and firefighter she met while working as a volunteer firefighter. "She's always been very focused and willing to try doing it another way."

Throughout their 13 years together (they've been married for nine) Greg has watched his wife work tirelessly toward her objectives. "She always wanted to ride at Badminton. She said she would always regret if she never made an attempt to do the things she enjoyed doing. Somewhere along the way, you get in so deep, that it's a little late to complain about it now," he joked.

"But how can you say no to somebody's dream?" he added. "You just sort of keep going and going, and then suddenly you realize we're talking about the World Games, and now we're talking about the Olympics, and you wonder how you got here. But then you look at all of the bills and hospital stays, and then you understand."

Tryon's schedule is rather different than that of your average Olympic rider. Her job prevents her from riding every day, and sometimes she's paying her co-workers back for shifts she took off during her months abroad, so she can barely ride at all. "I have a great support system, a complete group effort," she admitted.

While Tryon is fighting fires, students Dani Sussman and Allyson Green ride and do barn chores in exchange for lessons. Sam Bergin handles records, technology and phone, while Janet von Pressentin is always on the lookout for the next promising Thoroughbred to come off the track. Not to mention Mark Hart, who owns part of Poggio, and Leigh Mesher, who owns My Beau, Dee Strand, who owns most of the farm, as well as Greg and Tryon's mother, Jemi Spriggs. "Everybody takes on what they can to keep it going," explained Mesher. "It really is a bunch of odds and ends that everybody does to help pitch in."

Tryon finishes her shift early in the morning and goes straight to the barn. One employee cleans stalls, feeds and turns horses out. But Tryon grooms, tacks up and rides her own horses before teaching lessons, riding sale horses, and doing all the extras that a busy barn requires.
All of Tryon's current horses are off-the-track Thoroughbreds. "It started out as a necessity because there was no other way I was going to get access to horses," she said. "It's been really rewarding. I can see myself competing internationally for as long as I have the horses available, but I see myself doing young horses for the rest of my life."

Her Olympic mount, Poggio, not only raced, but also spent time as a mountain packhorse before von Pressentin found him. Initially the small horse looked unpromising with his shaggy mane, bad feet and pony-gaited trot. "We set up a little jump inside, and he just trotted right down to it," recalled Tryon. "Then he just kept going and would not stop. We had to stand in front of the jump to get him to stop jumping."

As Tryon continued to work with "Pogi," she was amazed at his trainability. He was so eager to please that he was able to move up amazingly quickly, winning at every level and finishing his 6-year-old year with a win in the Radnor Hunt CCI** (Pa.).

"He didn't necessarily understand the job, but he would do it," said Tryon. "I think I created a lot of problems because I moved him up so quickly. I think I paid a price in his rideability because he kind of got used to going that way, and it's hard to undo.

"It's a unique partnership," she continued. "Some people love Pogi, and some people are very rude about him. He's my horse, and I adore him. I wouldn't want another one, but I'm sure there isn't another one out there."

Working through Pogi's eccentricities proves Tryon's "can-do" attitude. "She can ride any type of horse," said teammate Julie Richards. "I have a lot of respect for her. She's definitely one of the best riders in the country. You couldn't find two horses more different than Pogi and Beau."
And their welfare is paramount to her. "Amy takes immaculate care of her horses, and that's one reason I kept letting her ride Beau," said Mesher. "She tends to their every need, their every want, sometimes to excess."

Said Greg, "Her approach to the process is that it's a 24-hours-a-day job."

In 2000, Tryon had the opportunity to push Poggio for the Sydney Olympics. But she knew he wasn't quite right, even though it took several veterinarians and X-rays to find a small fracture."I always try and do what's best for my horses because I feel so incredibly lucky to be sitting on them," said Tryon. "My goal isn't necessarily to go to the Olympics. It's to keep riding these horses and making them better than they were yesterday. As long as I can keep doing that, I'll be happy."

Personal Profile

Age: 34

Home: Upson Downs Farm, owned by Dee Strand and the Tryons, in Duvall, Wash.

Horses: Poggio, My Beau, Woodstock, and usually a young prospect.

How She Spoils Herself: "What I do some of the time so that I can pretend that I have a groom is I go in the morning and I bring all the horses in and groom them. I pick their feet and put hoof dressing on them and put nice coolers on them. Then I can just go through all five of them, and then when I pull them out of the stall they look beautiful. Sort of like having a groom right? I'm trying to work on my mental health!" said Tryon.

Career highlights

2004?4th Rolex Kentucky CCI**** Modified Division; Olympic team bronze medal and 6th
individual (Poggio); 1st North Georgia CIC*** (My Beau); 4th Fair Hill CCI*** (My Beau).
2002?2nd Foxhall Cup CCI*** (Woodstock); 3rd Rolex Kentucky CCI**** (Poggio); World Equestrian Games team gold medal (Poggio); 11th Badminton CCI**** (My Beau).
2000?3rd Beaulieu North American Classic CIC*** (My Beau).
1999?Pan Am Games team gold medal and 4th individually (Poggio).
1998?1st Radnor Hunt CCI** (Poggio).