Many show jumping fans will remember Fein Cera as the best horse of the 2002 FEI World Equestrian Games in Spain, jumping clear for all her riders in the final four competition and earning an individual bronze for U.S. competitor Peter Wylde.
But those amazing rounds were within an inch of never happening at all, as an injury almost took the mare out of the competition just before it began.
“Cera” fell on the plane to Jerez, Spain, and hurt her tailbone before they arrived.
“There was a real question when we were getting to do the warm-up that morning,” Wylde said. “She woke up that morning and was not sound and not feeling very good. We had to ice and do all this stuff to get her comfortable within the limits of what you can and can’t do. We did a lot of walking.”
Wylde couldn’t make the 8:30 a.m. slot to warm up in the main stadium with the rest of his team (Beezie Madden on Judgement, Leslie Howard on Priobert de Kalvarie and Nicole Shahinian-Simpson on El Campeon’s Cirka Z), but after icing and walking, Cera felt better, and Wylde slipped in at the end of the warm-up.
“When I started to ride her for the warm-up, all of a sudden she started to feel as good as she had when we were at home and at the last few shows,” he remembered. “I rode in the warm-up, and she jumped unbelievable. I thought, ‘OK, she feels great,’ but I was really worried, because here we were at the WEG, and this was a question mark. I was at the top of the trials, so I earned my spot on the team, and Laura Kraut was there as the alternate. [U.S. Chef d’Equipe] Frank Chapot was quite worried because we had been down this road before. What do you do? It’s a legal issue. Who decides whether that horse should go or shouldn’t go? It was on Frank’s shoulders, and he was coming to me, ‘What should we do? What do you think?’ ”
Wylde called a meeting with the team and Chapot. He explained that he felt Cera was well enough to jump and asked if everyone agreed. When they all did, it was game on.
A Lifelong Dream
As a child, Wylde dreamed of representing the United States in international competition.
He achieved that goal in 1999 when he took Macanudo De Niro to the Pan American Games (Canada) and earned team and individual silver. But when he got the call-up for the 2002 FEI World Equestrian Games (Spain) with Fein Cera and then made it to the final four, he almost couldn’t believe it.
“To ride in the final four is like a dream come true,” said Wylde. “When I think of 1986, the final four with Pierre Durand, Nick Skelton, Conrad Homfeld and Gail Greenough, to think about those famous people and how famous they were, and now I was going to be one of the riders in the final four? Unbelievable. So exciting and such a cool thing. It was huge.”
He’d moved to Europe in 2000 after his position with Dan Lufkin at Chestnut Ridge Farm in Millbrook, New York, ended when the barn closed. Lufkin sent two of their best horses with Wylde to Henk Nooren’s stable in the Netherlands, and Wylde set about getting experience on the European circuit.
That same year, close friend Alison Robitaille (née Firestone) decided to sell Cera, then 9, whom she’d been competing at grand prix.
Wylde was going to help Robitaille sell the Holsteiner mare (Landadel—Bella Hopp, Cor De La Bryere), but after a few months, they clicked as a partnership. Wylde put together a group of people to buy her, and she ended up going to the FEI World Cup Final (Sweden) in 2001, where they tied for sixth.
Wylde and Cera picked up good placings on the grand prix circuit in Europe and were invited to the U.S. Equestrian Team show jumping trials for the WEG in 2002, but that meant flying to California.
“That was hard,” Wylde said. “I had basically established my life in Europe, and it meant taking almost two months out of my schedule and business to fly Fein Cera back to the U.S. and base there to do the trial. Fortunately we did very well in the trials and made the team.”
Being picked to represent his country at a world championship was the next big step in Wylde’s career.
“As a kid growing up, it’s what I always wanted to do—that’s what I’ve committed my life to do, to be the best I can be in the sport, however good that is,” he said. “It was my passion. Dreams were coming true when this horse fell into my lap, and I started to be able to go to the biggest shows in the world and do these grand prixs and then get good results in them. Everything started to feel like this is really happening, and then to make the team, that was huge.”
And despite the rocky start to the WEG, everything fell into place once the competition began.
“The first round I rode, the speed leg, might have been my favorite round I’ve ever ridden in my life,” said Wylde. “She was so good, and I think I was fifth after the speed leg, but the round, she was perfection. I almost didn’t have to touch the reins. She jumped so beautifully and so well. I could be fast without even telling her I was going fast. I went early, and she just laid it down. It gave me a lot of confidence; it gave Frank a lot of confidence, and then she was double clear in the Nations Cup. I was the leader individually after that, which made me super proud. It meant I was the most valuable rider for any team, and I felt pretty great about that.”
Riders had a day off before the final four, and Wylde, who’d been eating dinners with friends and family, decided to go to the beach and relax on his own.
“Championships I find usually are a place where I want to be alone,” he said. “I want to be quiet; I don’t want to talk very much. I don’t want to have a lot of interaction with people. I just want to be by myself. It’s so much pressure and stress. I love it, and we strive for that. I tend to find that’s when I do my best.”
A rail down on each of the other horses in the final four meant Wylde placed third, while Ireland’s Dermott Lennon and Liscalgot took gold, and France’s Eric Navet won silver with Dollar Du Murier.
Watch Lennon ride Fein Cera in the final four.
“The experience of the final four for me was bittersweet,” Wylde admitted. “I am one of the people who was absolutely for them doing away with the final four for a few different reasons. It’s really hard on the horses. They’ve done so much jumping. A championship is so much, and then they have to do four more rounds. To see her do it so well and so beautifully made me so proud. That’s the proudest moment of my horsemanship career; how beautifully my horse was trained and broke. Anybody that got on her had these incredible rounds. It made me really proud of this horse. But at the same time I was feeling badly because she’s such a sensitive horse and going through all this extra jumping.”
Wylde and Cera went on to finish 12th at the 2003 World Cup Final in Las Vegas and earn team gold at the 2004 Olympic Games (Greece).
Wylde is now back to the United States, where he continues to see success in the grand prix ring.
Cera retired to her breeder, Harm Thormählen’s farm in Germany, and has since had a few foals via embryo transfer that aren’t quite old enough for the ring yet.
Two of her older offspring have gone on to grand prix success.
Cera had a daughter, Kleine Cera, by Calato, when she was 4. That mare produced Zera 23, by Cero, who won the Hamburg Derby (Germany) with Pato Muente in 2017. John Whitaker’s 2016 Olympic mount Ornellaia, by For Pleasure, is also out of Kleine Cera.
Wylde’s journey with Cera came full circle this spring when he returned to Europe to visit her.
“She looks amazing for 27 years old,” he said. “It was this super emotional moment for me because I hadn’t seen her for quite a while. I knew that she was getting old and that it was probably time for me to go visit her, so I made the trek up there. She remains one of the very best horses I ever had.”