Two-time Olympic dressage rider Adrienne Lyle and her horses’ owner Betsy Juliano operate on the same wavelength when it comes to horse care and training. They also share a similar sense of humor and a delight in each other’s company, but they rarely see eye-to-eye. After all, six-feet-tall Lyle and five-feet-four-inch Juliano see things on a different level.
Lyle is a veteran of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, where she claimed a Team USA silver medal aboard Juliano’s Salvino, as well as the 2012 London Olympic Games on Peggy and Parry Thomas’ 1999 Oldenburg gelding, Wizard. In March 2022, she and Salvino, a 15-year-old Hanoverian stallion (Sandro Hit—Dynastie, Donnerhall), earned the highest score in the history of Wellington’s Adequan Global Dressage Festival (AGDF), a jaw-dropping 85.58% in the CDI4* Grand Prix Freestyle. The ride came the day after the pair posted the highest grand prix score by any U.S. combination since the Tokyo Games.
“He made no mistakes and was super consistent,” Lyle said of the grand prix test. “They changed the venue at the last minute [due to inclement weather], and he hadn’t schooled in the ring, but none of that really seems to bother him. I was feeling a little under the weather with stomach flu. I remember for that grand prix, he took extra good care of me because that’s the kind of horse he is. He knew I was feeling better by the freestyle day.
“Overall in the freestyle, that was the best feeling I think I’ve ever had in the ring, in any ride of my life,” she continued. “So that was incredibly special. He was just positively brilliant. He was boiling with energy but very focused and just wanted to put on a show, and it was really fun. And you’re so focused when you ride it. I could definitely hear the crowd on the last centerline but when I went back and watched all the videos that people had posted, it was really fun to see that they were rowdy!” The duo scored two 10s for piaffe and another 10 for music from FEI5* judge Stephen Clarke. Lyle called it “a magical evening.”
After the ride, Juliano was present in the warm-up arena at the AGDF showgrounds, beaming with pride as she hugged Lyle’s coach and mentor, Debbie McDonald. Salvino’s owner is not a seldom-seen member of the partnership but is physically, emotionally, and financially invested in her horses’ training, which suits Lyle just fine.
Their history began when Lyle and Wizard trained at Juliano’s Wellington, Florida, Havensafe Farm in preparation for the 2012 World Dressage Masters. “At that time, Adrienne and Debbie McDonald were located at the Thomas’ River Grove Farm in Hailey, Idaho,” Juliano remembered, adding that they returned to Havensafe for the following South Florida winter show season with more horses in tow. “I was really fortunate to be able to watch their training and get to know them, and that’s how it started.”
In 2015, Juliano had some horses she wanted Lyle and McDonald to work, so she sent them to Idaho. Lyle and McDonald eventually landed at TYL Dressage in Wellington and Greenwood Village, Colorado, where Salvino and some up-and-coming prospects are trained. A rider who has competed to the small tour level herself, Juliano spends as much time as possible watching the training process when she’s in Wellington. Juliano’s analytical mindset comes into play as she watches the training of a top-level dressage horse unfold. She created Litigation Management Inc. of Mayfield Heights, Ohio, a firm with more than 600 employees who summarize and analyze medical records for defense lawyers fighting product litigation suits.
“Each horse has a different combination to it,” she said. “When working with a rider like Adrienne, the good news is that, between her talent and Debbie’s guidance, they have always been able to unlock the potential in every horse. But what is fun about that is that every horse is different. So, the things that Salvino figured out how to do and ended up doing so well are very different from other horses. It’s important to watch how that unfolds and to see the solutions that they came up with for each horse.
“It’s pretty incredible to watch; it’s fascinating and it’s fun,” she continued. “As a rider, I have a sense of what they’re trying to accomplish and what they’re feeling. I really enjoy being part of that and watching the whole process and seeing the horses grow and develop. If you have to rush it, or if you’re in it for a financial reason, then enjoying the process is not as much of an option as it is if you’re in it because you just love horses and love dressage.”
Lyle appreciates Juliano’s passion for the horses and the sport, as well as their relationship. “Betsy’s an incredible owner,” she said. “We both have very similar philosophies. We believe the care and the training of the horse needs to be done a certain way and with kindness and patience. She’s also an owner who really enjoys the process, and that’s what is exciting to me about this sport too. I love the training; I love the day-to-day process and watching the light bulbs go off in their minds. And to have an owner that shares that makes it a relationship that works. You know, it’s not just about getting in the ring; it’s about enjoying the whole journey with them.”
The pair relish their time together, and Juliano especially appreciates Lyle’s keen sense of humor and powers of observation, but they respect that each of them plays their role in the partnership.” “We don’t cross the line,” the owner said. “I don’t ever hang around the barn during the days of competition. I appreciate the level of effort and concentration it takes for her and other riders to focus.” She also welcomes Lyle’s interaction with her. “She’s a good communicator. We confer about most everything about the horses. There are certain things that she makes decisions about that she doesn’t need to run past me, but we talk when anything comes up that’s the least bit unusual.”
DANCING WITH THE STARS
The rider and the owner also share a love of music and they both conferred with freestyle designer Terry Ciotti Gallo of Klassic Kur, LLC when she created the music and choreography for Salvino’s high scoring freestyle. She also created Debbie McDonald and Brentina’s iconic “Respect” freestyle. Gallo said Lyle knows her horse so well that she identified exactly what she wanted to highlight.
“When you have somebody of Adrienne’s talent and experience, then you have to pay attention to what it is that they want,” Gallo said. ”With her experience, Adrienne knows not only what’s good for her horse, but knows how to maximize her points without jeopardizing the execution.”
They sat in the tack room side-by-side for about two hours, drawing up the choreography while optimizing it for Salvino’s talents. “Betsy was there when we actually chose a bunch of music, and then we went out and rode to it,” Gallo added. “I have to make it so that it fits the horse in terms of his tempo and what I think is going to work. And then we go out and actually ride to it to see if, in fact, it does make the horse look good and if it is a good fit.”
Lyle knew exactly what to showcase. “I wanted to highlight his piaffe/passage; I knew I wanted to highlight his adjustability. He’s got very big, powerful extensions, and then a super ability to collect. And I think that makes a really pretty program that flows from one end of the arena to the other. It did change a little bit for the 4* this year. I changed the entrance, and we cantered in instead of passaging in. And we changed a little bit of the choreography through the trot/passage/piaffe pattern; I added one more piaffe/pirouette and upped the degree of difficulty a little bit. I just made some little tweaks after I was watching my videos from the  World Cup [in Göteborg, Sweden, with a seventh-place finish in the Grand Prix Freestyle]. I was like, I’m not sure I need to go all the way through that corner to the next movement. What if I just did a piaffe pirouette turn right around and then went right back toward the judges? I think that’s a little bit more dramatic. So we’re constantly tweaking little things like that where I think I can add in a little bit more. It was a lot more difficult than most people realize, especially in an atmosphere that’s so electric and he can be piaffing with such power and enthusiasm and then the next stride you have to be able to drop the reins and walk in a relaxed fashion.”
During the March freestyle, Gallo was watching from the grandstands and, when it was over, she said, “I love a smart rider.” When asked what she meant, she said that Lyle was constantly making adjustments to mesh with the music. “When you see harmony in a freestyle, you have to really appreciate it because that rider is making so many adjustments; it is not the same in the ring as it is in the show. And the difference between riding a standard test and a freestyle is that you still have to be in time with the music.”
Lyle doesn’t recall making the changes. “I know the music so, so well and you will get a little ahead, a little behind and you just know where you need to take a stride out or add a stride so that you end up getting right back to it every time,” she said. “You obviously have to ride the movement in a way that’s going to complete the movement well and work well for the horse. And then, in between the movements, you’ve got to make little adjustments so that you stay right with your music.”
During the freestyle creation period, she had a general idea of the feeling she wanted for the music, but no specific songs in mind, adding that was unusual for her. “I just kind of came to her [Gallo] with a feeling. I was like, I want it to be really powerful, but he’s also very fluid and elegant, you know? So how do we make it elegant, but still manly and strong and all those things?” After they conferred some more, they came up with what Lyle called a ”godly feel” with American-themed music that’s powerful and uplifting.
She wanted to use Bruce Springsteen’s “Land of Hope and Dreams,” which created some hurdles. She, Juliano, and Gallo wanted to create an original music track sung by a choir instead of Springsteen’s score, and they had to seek special permission. Juliano is a member of the United States Equestrian Team (USET) Foundation, and through her contacts with the USET, they received the singer’s blessing to use the song. During the 2022 South Florida show season, they were able to thank him in person at an event for the 2020 Olympians and their owners. Springsteen’s daughter, Jessica, is also a veteran of the Tokyo Olympic Games and earned a silver medal for Team USA in showjumping.
“I saw him at the event, and I dragged Adrienne over to him, and she’s like, ‘What are you doing?’” Juliano laughed. “We went over and talked to him; he is a very guarded person. At the beginning, I thought he was worried I wanted a picture or autograph or something, and I said, ‘I just want you to meet Adrienne.’ And when she did the performance in Wellington this past March, I made sure I invited them to join us if they were in town or at least to watch the live stream. I don’t know whether they did, but I’ll make sure that they get a video of it, just because I think he’d get a kick out of it.”
BACK TO THE FUTURE
Lyle and Salvino head to Europe with hopes of competing on the U.S. Team at the 2022 FEI World Championships in Herning, Denmark. “I just want to focus on training and keep him fresh and enthusiastic at his work,” Lyle said.
She is also competing with another Juliano-owned stallion in the U.S., a four-year-old named Fürst Dream. “He’s lovely. I’ve done the four-year-old test with him, and he got some crazy scores in that.” In fact, Fürst Dream, sired by Fürstenball OLD, received 10s for trot, canter, and general impression, and nines for walk and submissiveness for a total of 96.00%. They hope to take him to the 2022 Markel/USEF Young Horse Dressage National Championships held in August at HITS Chicago at Lamplight Equestrian Center in Wayne, Illinois.
Lyle and Juliano are also closely watching a filly named Starlight to see if she will grow tall enough for Lyle. Through it all, Lyle is lucky to know that she will continue to have these horses to ride, compete with, and love, since Juliano believes in keeping the horses instead of selling them.
“I’ve loved horses all my life since I was a little kid,” Juliano said. “I was raised in the suburbs and wasn’t from a horse family, and I love being near them. I love what they do. I love their personalities, and so it’s coming from that place. How they develop and the paths that are taken along the way are really intriguing for me to watch step-by-step to see how they learn and how they grow and how they improve. I think the competition piece is also exciting, and we’ve been very fortunate to have some great results, but really, it’s the relationship with the horse. That is the most important thing to me, which is why I have kept all my horses and never sold one because I want to have them in my life for their lives.”