Washington, D.C.—Oct. 25
Melanie Ferrio-Wise entered the Capital One Arena with her chin high and one piece of tack short as she and her horse Wings picked up a canter and headed for their first jump in the $10,000 WIHS Adult Jumper Championship completely bridleless. The pair had one refusal and two rails, which dropped them to 24th in the placings, but when Ferrio-Wise exited the ring in tears she wasn’t upset, she was overjoyed.
“I have no words for tonight,” she said. “I am beyond happy; it’s been an amazing journey with him and this was a huge accomplishment.”
“Vlad” began his journey in the Dominican Republic as a jumper, but proved to be a difficult ride and moved on to a dressage home. He eventually shipped to the United States. “He just couldn’t handle the life, so they gave him to us and he’s just been a really tough ride,” said Ferrio-Wise of the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding. She showed him in a bridle last season and most of this year, but works at home in Bel Air, Md., with just a neck rope.
“He’s really tense in the bridle; he just doesn’t like it,” Ferrio-Wise said. “Without it he’s relaxed, and he’s 100 percent with me; we stay together. At home we gallop on the track; we trail ride, and we go cross-country—all bridleless.”
Ferrio-Wise showed Vlad last week at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in a bridle and things went awry after they picked up 18 faults. “He just wouldn’t settle in the bridle,” Ferrio-Wise said. She and Vlad had contested the WIHS last year as a wild card with a bridle and did not place, so Ferrio-Wise decided to make a big change and take the bridle off for Washington this year.
“This is the first time we’ve done this in this environment so I’m ecstatic with him. I can’t complain. I went in with maybe a little lack of confidence,” Ferrio-Wise admitted. “He struggled with the same stuff out there that he does at home, but I knew that, and we’re gonna fix it. It was definitely scarier last time with the bridle.”
There is no rule that says jumpers must be wearing a full bridle, and options like hackamores and bitless bridles are accepted. Ferrio-Wise has shown Vlad at smaller local venues without a bridle and said the decision to let an exhibitor show comes down to safety.
“The first time I showed bridleless I asked permission to ride without a bridle, and the steward there said there’s no rule that says you have to have a bridle,” she said. “But if the stewards feel it’s dangerous then it’s time to be done. I never felt dangerous out there.”
See Ferrio-Wise and Vlad jumping at WIHS:
Vlad isn’t Ferrio-Wise’s first challenging horse. The 25-year-old previously owned a horse named Boyd, who was aggressive towards humans and also preferred to be ridden without a bridle. Boyd was not a fan of the spotlight, so he and Ferrio-Wise didn’t show much, but their four-year partnership helped teach Ferrio-Wise the skills she needed to compete with Vlad.
“I love troubled horses; I like seeing them bloom,” Ferrio-Wise said. “I was crying when I lost [Boyd] because I didn’t think I’d ever get to do it again. Vlad is very hot, but he gave it to me. I’ve been self taught my whole life until very recently. I come to these shows, and I’m my own trainer. I have a very small, very faithful team of supporters. Vlad is a horse that tells you his opinion, and his opinion is he doesn’t like when I put a bridle on and micromanage him. Learning that made me be a better rider for him.”