By Doris Degner-Foster
In 2009, Peter Wylde considered retiring from grand prix jumping. He wanted to focus on teaching, but that changed when a special horse came along and convinced him otherwise. “Sanctos made me realize all the parts I love about show jumping,” Peter said, adding that he was proud that Sanctos went on to become part of Great Britain’s 2012 Olympic gold medal winning team after leaving his barn.
Peter isn’t a stranger to Olympic gold medals, and has his own Olympic team gold medal from the 2004 Games in Athens. Peter has also won two silver medals at the Pan American Games, an individual bronze medal at the World Championships and multiple leading rider awards.
He makes time in his busy schedule to compete and teach and he takes pride in the successes of the horses and riders he has taught. Known for being a horseman first, competitor second, Peter feels strongly that young riders should also be taught horsemanship.
“I was very lucky that I grew up in an environment that was incredibly hands on; we did everything in the stable. For a young person to be responsible for their pony was good education, not just for riding, but for life. It’s a shame that not all kids have that experience,” he said.
Peter learned his early habits, which have stayed with him, at Fran and Joe Dotoli’s stable in Medfield, Massachusetts. “I feel like it’s very important for me to have a substantial involvement with every horse in my stable, that’s one reason why I have always kept it to a manageable level – between 15 and 20 horses. In addition to the time I spend on the back of each horse, I’m involved with the feeding, care and grooming. I don’t necessarily do it all myself, I have a very skillful staff, but I still stay personally involved. I communicate with the blacksmith and vet and if I’m not able to be there, I have a conversation with them before and after they see my horse.”
Back In The U.S.A.
Peter moved his stable back to the U.S. at the end of 2012 from Elmpt, Germany where he had been training and competing for the past 12 years. He felt the time was right when his good friend, Missy Clark, asked him to join the team at her North Run Stable. Peter had worked with Missy before when her clients bought the talented mare Fein Cera. He won the team gold medal riding Fein Cera at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.
While competing in Florida with Missy last winter, Judith Goelkel asked Peter to ride a horse for her. She mentioned that her Winley Farm in Millbrook, New York was not being used and when she offered Peter the use of her beautiful facility, he said, “To be able to recreate what I had in Germany at such an incredible stable I felt was an offer I couldn’t pass up.” With his partner, Eduard Mullenders, they operate their business of Mullenders & Wylde Horses, LLC, from Winley Farm.
The move was great news for Peter’s fans in America who had the opportunity to watch him compete throughout the Northeast this summer after HITS Ocala. He also competed in the hunter divisions, which featured his beautiful riding style that helped him win the McClay in 1982.
His own riding goals were not his only reason for coming back to the United States. It brings him closer to the operations of the United States Hunter Jumper Association (USHJA) Emerging Athletes Program (EAP), where for the last five years Peter has volunteered as clinician, regardless of where his stable was located.
The EAP program’s purpose is to identify and nurture talented young riders and to provide them with support and assistance in achieving their full potential. Peter is now vice president and head clinician of the EAP and he is very pleased that horsemanship is emphasized in the program. During the regional and final competitions, young riders are totally responsible for their horses. They do all the care and feeding, beginning with early morning chores before inspection by the stable manager to the last night check. From an early age, Peter was comfortable with all aspects of caring for his horse.
Involved With The Horses
He says, “When I was about 12, I would get up very early in the morning, braid my pony, feed it its breakfast, hook up the truck and trailer, and load the pony on the trailer. Then, I’d go to my house and wake up my parents and say to one of them, ‘Would you please take me to the horse show?’”
That extensive level of involvement is not very common nowadays. Professional trainers make it possible for many amateurs to be able to ride when their clients must work or attend school, but still want to ride.
“In our country, many amateurs ride and do it like any other amateur sport, like golf,” Peter said. “For some people, that’s what riding is about and professionals make that available to the majority of riders in our country where it’s an amateur sport.”
Peter insists, “One of the great things about riding is the involvement with your horse. To have that taken away from kids is unfortunate. It’s good education for kids to understand the different aspects of working with a horse, treating them as an animal, as opposed to treating them as a vehicle. Some kids these days aren’t taught that the horse is actually a living, breathing animal. That’s something that our amateur lifestyle of riding has perpetuated. Because of the fact that there is this disconnect from the rider to the horse, there’s also a disconnect from the grooms and, therefore, from the trainers. I think that people could succeed a lot better with their horses if they understood their horses better. It’s a conversation that our country needs to have as far as they way we treat and train horses in our country. To know them as living creatures and to understand their characters and their personalities – that’s horsemanship to me, almost more than anything.”
The Value Of Good Horsemanship
Peter’s core values of good horsemanship were evident early in his career. At age 16, during the 1982 USEF Hunter Seat Medal Finals, Peter and his horse Native Surf were doing very well in the final course when his horse added a stride in the line before the last jump, taking him from the top to being completely out of the placings. Peter simply said, “Woops!” about the ride, then patted his horse and said, “Sorry, boy!” Peter obviously doesn’t blame his horse for his mistakes and, once a ride is over, he doesn’t let it bother him. Two weeks after that ride, he won the Maclay Finals at Madison Square Garden. Even at that young age, he was focused on the ride, not just winning.
After the Maclay Finals, Peter began his jumping career on a small horse that was not easy to get along with. Peter’s relaxed style of riding suited the aggressive little horse’s personality and showing in the jumpers didn’t demand the elegance that was necessary in the equitation competitions. He took the time to establish a connection with the little horse with a Napoleon complex and it showed in the name he chose, The Wolf. The next show season, Peter and The Wolf won championships in the Washington International Horse Show and the International Jumping Derby in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, among many other awards.
Peter says, “People could take more of an interest in their horse’s well being and their horse’s care. I think that’s something we overlook in our country.”
“One of the reasons that I was so attracted to the EAP is that it tries to educate young kids about horsemanship and how to manage their way through the industry and get somewhere.” Peter added emphatically, “I’ve seen a lot of discouragement of talented young kids who don’t have much money and are told that they can’t get very far in the sport, and I think that needs to change. In the EAP, we try to make it clear to the kids that if you’re good enough and work hard enough and have good horsemanship you don’t necessarily have to have a lot of money.”
Peter added, “I would like to continue to educate kids and open doors for them in the EAP program. I’m encouraged with the level of kids that are coming to the clinics and the finals. I will continue to do my best to get behind the program and to help educate as many kids as we possibly can.”
About the writer: Doris Degner-Foster lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma and rides with Harvard Fox Hounds when she is not interviewing interesting individuals in the horse sport. She also enjoys writing fiction and is working on a middle grade book series about teenagers who ride horses and solve mysteries.