I could feel the grit settling in the creases of my eyes after a long day standing at the in-gate. The AC in my truck was acting up and starting to blow less-than-cold air on my sunburnt face as I fumbled to answer my phone. Which, if you know me, I don’t do often. If it’s ringing, it’s typically an emergency or a telemarketer. People in my life learn quickly that the best way to reach me is via text. Repeated, persistent texts.
On the other end of the line, Aleco Bravo-Greenberg of Rutledge Farm introduced himself and said he had a few questions about my application for the Peter Wylde clinic. To provide a little insight, I was in a tough spot with my riding mentally when I received this call. I had applied for the clinic weeks ago when I was feeling a bit more confident than I was now and hadn’t expected to have a snowball’s chance in hell of being chosen as one of only four riders to participate.
My horse was being a total saint, as usual, but I had just been off at the last two shows, and I asked my trainer to take the reins for a few rounds at Keswick to give her a good experience since I wasn’t confident that I could hold up my end of the bargain in the show ring. This might seem strange coming from a professional, but I am a firm believer that if you can’t give your horse 100 percent in the ring then you shouldn’t show them. They’re animals; they don’t know the nuances of human emotions, anxieties or motivations. I feel that Leena especially has always given 100 percent every time she sets foot in the ring, even if I’m not riding my best. We all make mistakes; we’re human after all, but I feel gutted when I let my horse down. So, I decided to have Silvio Mazzoni, who is arguably a show jumping wizard, show Leena a bit this season to give her some confident rounds. Which he did in spectacular fashion, not just giving her a good experience, but winning the $20,000 UVA Children’s Hospital Jumper Classic at Keswick this year.
When Aleco asked me why I wanted to ride in the clinic, my immediate response was, “to improve my riding, give my horse a good experience and meet a pillar of the industry that I may not otherwise have the occasion to interact with.” I’ve admired Peter Wylde’s riding for years. He has an understated and classical style that, to me, embodies form following function in terms of equitation and allowing the horse the freedom to jump with the best possible technique. He also seems to enjoy the same type of enthusiastic, forward-thinking horses that I love. I felt like he would be an ideal clinician to provide me with some insight on how to ride Leena best.
Aleco asked a few more questions, I think to ensure that I wasn’t a total lunatic or going to bring a spotted donkey to a Rutledge Farm session, and ended the call politely, saying he’d let me know when they’d made their choice. I thought that I probably didn’t have a shot—that they would choose a bigger name or someone who had competed above 1.30-meters (which was the biggest Leena and I had shown at that time).
An hour or so later my phone rang again. I was almost back to the farm, and the AC had well and truly died by this point. I rolled up the truck window so I could hear and effectively turned my front seat into a sauna. Aleco told me, “You’re in. And I’ll tell you why. You followed up. And you seem like you really want to do this for the right reasons.” I admit it, I squealed like a kid on Christmas morning. After profusely thanking him for the opportunity, I hung up, and the panic started to set in. So this was great, right? Positive publicity for my horse, who is for sale, and great advertising for my business. But that spotlight burns bright, and lately, I’ve been wanting very much to hide in the shadows at the horse show.
I talked to some friends who rode in the McLain Ward session at Rutledge last June, and they assured me that the jumps wouldn’t be too big or the questions too trappy. That the purpose of the clinic was more as a teaching tool for USEF/USHJA to use on their website. The clinic riders were really just there to be visual aids for the presentation of the clinician’s philosophy. OK, cool. I’m quite good at following instructions and performing equitation-y type exercises (big thanks to Hollins University [Virginia] for four years of eq boot camp!); this will be right up my alley.
The accuracy of that advice is debatable, but I’m very glad that mentally I went into the clinic as confidently as I could. I channeled my inner equitation queen and didn’t even notice when the jumps got quite big. It wasn’t until I was looking through some pictures the following day that I realized there were a couple of fences knocking on the door of 1.40-meters. But that’s the beauty of a good teacher.
Peter’s philosophy was simple and very much in keeping with my belief system. Correct flatwork, adjustability, obedience and relaxation are paramount to quality show jumping. He slowly increased the fence height as we completed the exercises and broke down every step to and from the jump so that there was a plan before and after the fence. As someone who often feels overwhelmed and anxious when confronted with a sea of rails and lots of blank space between them, this detail-oriented, methodical approach to jumping helped keep me focused and calm in my mind. Which, any rider, from the pre-adult hunters to the grand prix level will tell you, is probably the most challenging aspect of our sport.
My mental game hasn’t been in top form lately, and though Peter didn’t directly address that issue, his system worked to focus me on the task at hand and allowed me to ride better than I have since before my injury two years ago. And the work we did on Monday has carried over to Upperville. I may not be showing in the biggest classes of my life, but I’ve put in rounds in both the hunter and jumper rings this week that I’m very, very proud of.
Paige Cade established her boutique hunter/jumper training and sales business, Country Fox Farm, Inc. in Middleburg, Virginia, in 2015. She specializes in creating personalized training programs for each horse and rider and is devoted to helping her students reach their competitive goals on the local and rated circuits. Paige regularly travels to Europe to import seasoned show horses and prospects for her clients. Paige would like to thank Antares Sellier, Purina, Dr. Sallie Hyman and Total Equine Associates for their continued support.
You can follow her on Instagram at @paigecade.