US Olympic dressage rider Adrienne Lyle and her horse Wizard will travel to Europe later this year to train with the legendary Klaus Balkenhol, thanks to a $25,000 Carol Lavell Advanced Dressage Prize awarded by The Dressage Foundation.
Lavell, along with her friends and family, initially funded the prize in remembrance of her parents, May and George Cadwgan. Lavell is a Bronze Medal winner in team dressage at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games and knows first-hand what it’s like to scrimp and struggle to make ends meet in order to make it to the top.
“You need to get sponsorships,” she said. “You can’t get sponsorships unless you do well. You can’t do well unless you have money to get on the road and go do it. It’s such a catch-22.”
She said the idea for the Advanced Dressage Prize came from her desire to help high-performance riders advance to meet their goals.
This year, two talented riders received the prize. In addition to Lyle and Wizard, Sharon McCusker and Wrigley were also recipients of the Carol Lavell Advanced Dressage Prize. McCusker is the owner of Souhegan Farm in Ashby, MA, and has been a dressage trainer and competitor for more than 20 years.
“I’m very happy that we actually could find two people and not try to make a decision between the two and give each an award,” Lavell said. “I think it’s a fantastic comment on the state of the sport. Both of these people had good horses and both of them can ride.”
Lavell said that both Lyle and McCusker also know the importance of not resting on their laurels but staying in training and always working toward improving.
Olympians Lyle and Wizard, like Lavell, traveled to the Olympic Games and competed in individual dressage, although Lyle’s Olympic debut at the London Games in 2012 came 20 years after Lavell’s. Earlier in their career, the pair won the 2008 Brentina Cup, named in honor of the famous dressage mare ridden by Debbie McDonald, Lyle’s coach. Lyle began riding Wizard, a 14-year-old bay Oldenburg gelding owned by Peggy and Parry Thomas, in 2006. Following their Brentina Cup victory, they competed in their first Grand Prix test in 2009.
Wizard’s partnership with Lyle earned him two year-end Grand Prix awards from the United States Dressage Federation: Champion Adequan/USDF Oldenburg of the Year and Reserve Champion Adequan/USDF Dressage Horse of the Year.
“Receiving the Carol Lavell grant is an incredible honor and has made it possible to continue to pursue my dreams on Wizard, and better myself as a rider,” Lyle said.
“I plan on using the funds to take Wizard to Europe this summer, train with Klaus Balkenhol and compete in several CDI competitions while there. The exposure and the knowledge gained from competing in Europe are invaluable to someone like myself who is looking to grow as a rider and international competitor.”
McDonald also trained with Balkenhol when he coached her for two US Olympic Games, two World Equestrian Games and the Pan American Games. She said that Lyle has worked with Balkenhol in the past, but this is the first time she will really be working with him between and during shows.
“I am hoping what she comes away with is more confidence and, of course, the knowledge from spending time in Europe is priceless,” McDonald said. “It is so special at her age to have this opportunity and if not for the Dressage Foundation and Carol Lavell, this would not be possible.”
Lyle, 28, is thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Balkenhol. “Training with Klaus is extra special to me, as he was Debbie McDonald’s long-time coach,” she said. “I have always admired the way he works with horses. I see the similarities between his style and Debbie’s methods, and I hope to some day follow in their footsteps.”
Award recipients must be US citizens and are selected by a distinguished national panel of dressage leaders. Selection is based on merit and need. “You must be out there doing it and yet you don’t have enough money to do it,” Lavell said.
“You must be out there trying to get into the limelight and you must also have an excellent application. It’s inherent to the selection process and inherent to being the winner.”
Lavell stressed that the winners met all the criteria for the prize, including a winning attitude. “You know you are getting into high-performance when you know about keeping on the game and staying on it,” she continued. “High-performance is all about not giving up and never giving in. You have to get tough.”