Peter Wylde: A Horseman Through and Through

For top show jumper Peter Wylde, success comes from always putting his horses’ well-being first.

Of all the titles he has earned in his 30 years as a show-jumping competitor, the designation that matters most to Peter Wylde isn’t one that has come with a medal or trophy—and there is a long list of those. The rider, among the world’s best, most appreciates being identified as a horseman. For him, the term is neither simple nor generic. It is an accolade that speaks to what he sees as his finest equestrian accomplishment: that of a consummate caretaker of the horses in his charge.

Credit: © SPORTFOT Peter Wylde and 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding AK’s Clowney compete at the 2013 FTI Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida.

“If you’re a rider and want to go to the top, you need to be a horseman,” he often says, always with conviction. It is a sentiment that has guided Peter from his first rides on a pony as a youngster at home in Medfield, Massachusetts, to the upper echelon of show-jumping accomplishment. In 1999, he and the 17.1-hand Macanudo De Niro, owned by Dan Lufkin and his Chestnut Ridge Farm, won individual and team silver medals at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada. Then there were an individual bronze medal and the coveted Best Horse honor for Turnabout Farm’s Fein Cera at the 2002 World Equestrian Games in Jerez de la Frontera, Spain. Two years later, the duo contributed to the U.S. team’s gold-medal performance at the Athens Olympics. 

Beyond the competition arena, there is abundant evidence of how Peter’s regard for his horses, as well as his sport, influences his equestrian endeavors: After a dozen years successfully running his own stable in Germany, he is in the process of establishing a riding and training business, Mullenders & Wylde Horses, LLC, located at Winley Farm in Millbrook, New York. Though unexpected, the opportunity, says Peter, “was too good to refuse.” It is a chance for him to have a stable in the States for his base “and re-create what I had in Germany.” The focus of the new venture is to identify and produce top horses who will receive the highest level of training and care. The move back to America also has allowed Peter to be even more involved as the vice-chairman of the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association’s Emerging Athletes Program. Its purpose is to set a solid course for show jumping’s future by identifying and cultivating equestrian talent and horsemanship skills. 

Credit: © Nancy Jaffer Peter Wylde and his dog, Amy, at home with a portrait of Fein Cera, his Olympic partner

“I’ve always loved riding and competing,” says Peter. “This is where I feel my leadership role in the EAP is valuable.” The program’s goal is to educate young show jumpers about riding, horse care and stable management to build a body of skilled professionals who will carry the sport into the future. “I love to talk to kids about my experience,” he says. “No matter how much success you have, it’s a very difficult road and very frustrating. There’s a lot of work and hardship that go with the rewards.” 

But as Peter’s experience illustrates, all the effort makes the accomplishments that much more worthwhile.

The Horseman’s Path

Credit: © Freudy Photo Archives, LLC Peter, the 1982 ASPCA Maclay Champion, and Native Surf

Growing up in New England, Peter took care of his horses and didn’t stint with his energy or time. From grooming and braiding to bandaging and mucking, he set an example. Three years after arriving at Joe and Fran Dotoli’s Young Entry Stable for training, he won the 1981 equitation final of the New England Horseman’s Council, a top regional award, on a horse named Native Surf. Having spent more time caring for the Thoroughbred than riding him, Peter knew his equine partner inside and out. A year later, that knowledge paid off again when Peter rode Native Surf to one of the highest honors for a Junior rider, the 1982 ASPCA Maclay National Equitation Championship. Soon he would turn his focus to show jumping. 

Peter started training and competing as a professional in 1988, shortly after earning his undergraduate degree from Tufts University, where he also won the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association’s coveted Cacchione Cup. For the next six years, he trained riders and competed in grands prix. He traveled to Switzerland for a year of intensive training with trainer/dealer Gerhard Etter. After returning to the States and a position at Chestnut Ridge Farm in Dover Plains, New York, he experienced much grand prix success. Still, Peter believed there was more to gain from being on the international stage. So in 2000, he pulled up stakes to establish himself in Germany as a rider and a trainer. 

“I wanted to go there and compete to raise my level,” Peter says. “To be the best in the world in any sport, you have to compete against the best in the world. At that time, the Europeans were winning everything. I took my two best horses— Macanudo De Niro and Macanudo Very Well St. George—and sort of blindly went to Europe to see what I could do.” His intent was to stay for two years. 

Credit: © Nancy Jaffer (From left) Chris Kappler, Peter, chef d’équipe Frank Chapot, Beezie Madden and McLain Ward at the 2004 Athens Olympics

“Things sort of fell into place and I won two World Cup qualifiers when I got there. Everything seemed to be what I hoped it would be,” Peter continues. “My years with the best results were from 2001 to 2005. I got an individual medal at the WEG and a team gold at the Olympics, along with high placings in the World Cup Finals. I made the top 10 in the world on the Rolex ranking list. That was a dream of mine.”

A Return Home

Although his riding career and training business were wellestablished in Germany, he accepted when trainer Missy Clark, his friend of 25 years, invited him to join her and her husband, John Brennan, at North Run, which operates facilities in Warren, Vermont, and Wellington, Florida. After considerable thought, Peter made the move last December because it allowed him to look for support to acquire grand prix horses, be closer to his family and spend more time on the EAP. His successes with horses stabled at North Run during the winter included a fifth-place finish with Sandor de la Pomme in the AIG Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix at the HITS Desert Circuit in California. 

Credit: © Flying Horse Photography Peter and Sandor de la Pomme finished fifth in the AIG Thermal $1 Million Grand Prix at the HITS Desert Circuit in Thermal, California, last March.

His ride in that class gave Peter the feeling that the 11-year-old Belgian Sport Horse gelding “could jump anything in the world.” Certainly, “there’s a degree of good rider and good horse,” says Peter in explaining his success on Sandor. “But horse and rider have to become one— move and think and react together—and that takes time. This round felt to me like Sandor and I really gelled.”

Then, as the winter competitive season was coming to an end, a new opportunity for Peter came out of the blue. He was talking with Judith Goelkel, DVM, one of the owners of Winley Farm. She asked him to ride a horse for her and the conversation turned to the historic 155-acre facility her family had acquired in 2000 and extensively renovated. Except for some retired horses, the 34 stalls in the stable were empty, Judith told Peter. Would he care to fill them? 

In time, he answered “yes.” 

“My dream and my passion is to have a training stable of talented horses from all levels,” Peter says, and that’s what he aims to accomplish at Winley Farm. He headed there this spring with his groom of 12 years, Caroline Wahlund, and four horses: the 11-year-old German gelding Lewin 5, the 12-year-old Holsteiner gelding AK’s Clowney, the 14-year-old Hanoverian stallion Zorro and the 10-year-old Dutch mare Wiesielottie. Peter also hopes “to be able to work with working students and up- and-coming riders.”

The Sport’s Next Generation

Credit: © tricia booker Vice-chairman of the USHJA Emerging Athletes Program, Peter sees the initiative as a way to cultivate equestrian talent and encourage riders to be better horsemen.

Come November 14 through 17—and for the fifth consecutive year—Peter will serve as the lead clinician for the EAP National Training Session, a special event hosted by USHJA and sponsored by Dover Saddlery, at the College of Findlay in Ohio, for 16 young riders selected on the basis of their performances during one of 10 EAP regional clinics. Held throughout the country during the summer months, the regional events offer 240 riders, chosen from a pool of applicants, the opportunity to work with top clinicians and stable managers to advance their horsemanship education. 

“I think we are incredibly lucky to have Peter so passionate about the EAP,” says Sally Ike, who chairs the task force. “He is the original ‘emerging athlete,’ and he’s brought his passion for the sport and the horse to this well-deserving group of kids. He’s the real deal.”

Peter is “absolutely the best kind of role model” for EAP, says Joe Dotoli, his longtime trainer and friend. He is also the author of Wylde Ride: A Horseman’s Story, a 2010 book detailing Peter’s successes from his arrival at age 12 at Dotoli’s training stable in Massachusetts. 

“To me, the very best know their horses inside and out and it makes them better riders because they know and understand their horses,” Joe says. “Peter has a reputation for being able to work with some of the toughest horses. In my view, not a small part of that comes because he is hands-on with them all the time and he wins their confidence.” 

“I think EAP is going to be helpful for kids in the U.S., and we need that,” Peter says. “I love the program and think that as we become the older generation, we have to think of our sport and our country and try to help the future.”

He explains that the USHJA venture takes a cue from Great Britain’s World Class Performance Programme, established to ensure that the UK’s most talented athletes have the chance to realize their potential through funding from the country’s national lottery. 

The members of the EAP task force felt EAP’s role should be similar to that. “We don’t have the same budget, however. But we’d like to hook the kids up with McLain Ward, Beezie Madden, Laura Kraut, Lauren Hough or whomever and give them a little help.”

While Peter was in Europe, he worked for a time with the World Class Programme. In 2006, he identified Ben Maher—who would go on to earn a team gold medal at the 2012 Summer Games as “the future of British show jumping.” He also recommended Scott Brash, who would become Maher’s Olympic teammate, for the program. 

Searching out and nurturing talent is what EAP aims to accomplish, says Peter. “EAP was designed to educate young kids about horsemanship and being professionals”— qualities that he has demonstrated are integral to success.

This article originally appeared in the July 2013 issue of Practical Horseman.

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