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In the Saddle with Peter Wylde

The CPI, along with other young rider programs such as the EAP, are helped to success by accomplished equestrian athletes who mentor and continue to build these initiatives. We were lucky to be able to host gold medalist, Peter Wylde, at our Wellington store during this event. When the CPI came to a close, we headed over to the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) show grounds to chat more with Peter about his work with young riders, connection to Dover Saddlery and more.

How did you get started riding?
My best friend had horses at her farm and we’d go there and ride. My brother actually was offered riding lessons and he didn’t want them, and my parents didn’t offer them to me, but I asked for them. I had already started riding a bit on my own at my friend’s house and I just really liked it, so I asked for the riding lessons. That was when I was seven.

Did you always want to do show jumping?
Yes. I did do a little bit of Pony Club and a little bit of eventing when I first started. And I really got into the sort of hunter/jumper world, in particular equitation and pony hunters, when I was a kid, but then quickly I went into equitation.

Tell us about your connection to Dover Saddlery; I heard you used to be an employee!
So I saw that Dover Saddlery was going to open in a town that was about ten minutes from where I grew up, in Wellesley, Massachusetts. That was the original store. David and Jimmy Powers were sort of legends because they lived in the next town over from me, and they were significant riders of that era. We all knew that they were opening this tack shop, and there were not tack shops near us, so it was sort of a big deal. I used to go and peer through the window as they were setting up. Finally it opened and I was there that first day! I’m guessing I was probably about 12 then, and I really just was obsessed with the store. Jimmy and David had great style, so not only was it just the things that you wanted, but it was also a really beautiful store.

Then, actually, my current barn manager, who was the manager of my trainer when I was a kid at that time, started to work at the store. So I did some after school and summer hours in the basement of the original Dover Saddlery store doing packaging and shipping. I would type out the shipping labels, run around to all the stock shelves with an order and pick all the things that they had ordered and put it in a basket with the label, and somebody would put it in an envelope and off it’d go. And I did that for…I don’t even know what…minimum wage, $3 an hour or something like that, but I didn’t care, it was so much fun. I loved it

After I graduated and started to have a business, I got a scrim sheet from Dover Saddlery that said “Dover Saddlery” in my barn colors, and I still have it. It’s a bit tattered looking, but I still have it. It reminds me of that time. I felt very proud, I had just started to ride in some bigger classes, and I was really proud to have a blanket that said “Dover Saddlery” on it.

What is your favorite riding memory?
This would probably be my horse winning Best Horse at the final at WEG in 2002 in Jerez, Spain. The final four, where they all switch horses, was such a significant part. I always thought of all these famous riders doing that final four, and for my horse to win Best Horse at the final was really an important moment.

How did you get involved with the CPI?
Mostly through [CPI President], Lindsay. She also does all the billing and financial accounting for my business, so she introduced the CPI to me. I’ve been involved in getting young kids access to riding through the Emerging Athletes Program and through speaking at intercollegiate programs. Lindsay asked me if I would give a talk [to the CPI attendees], mostly because I was a kid that went to school, went to college and then started a horse business. I think I’m a good example of someone that was able to go to a good university, I went to Tufts University, and then went on to have a horse businesses.

Tell us about your years riding for Tufts University.
That was a lot of fun. A very good friend of mine was the trainer of the riding team and she asked me to partake. I didn’t really know much about it, but I decided I’d try. I had committed to myself that I wasn’t going to go away to shows during my college years. I showed in the summertime, but when school was on I really wanted to be a student. When I was in high school I was away all the time and I didn’t get to develop the friendships that you have with other people, and so I said since I’m going to school I really want to be a part of that. Now the riding thing was a team school sport, so it was actually part of school, so I justified doing it. I loved it, I had the best time. The camaraderie of the other riders who were at all levels, including beginner walk-trot, all of that. It was just so much fun. We ended up going to the Nationals the first year and we got second. It was kind of cool because Tufts was just a riding club, but we did great.

You have been a longtime supporter of young riders. How do you work with the Emerging Athletes Program?
That’s a program that was started eight years ago, and the first year they asked me to be the head clinician at the national final. There are regionals all year long, but they take the best 16 kids to the national final, and I’ve been the judge since the first year. After the third year they asked me to be the Vice President, so I took on more of a managerial or advisory role. The roster of kids that have gone to the nationals is really impressive. When you see them here [at WEF], competing and riding in Grand Prixs and succeeding…it’s exciting to see that. The program has grown a lot, it’s gotten better and better, we have higher and higher level kids. The two riders that made it to the George Morris Horse Mastership Clinic this year, which two riders from our final get invited to, were really awesome riders and held their own beautifully with the rest of those elite kids. That speaks volumes for the level of kids that we’re getting now in the EAP.

The finals weekend is such an exciting and inspirational weekend for these kids. So many times you hear about kids saying, “I’m not a millionaire. I can’t afford this sport.” But that’s just not the truth. We like to say we open eyes and we open doors, in that we help to educate and show kids how to become professionals and great horse people, and also help them achieve that. We’ve changed some lives for kids that would never had had the opportunity if it weren’t for the EAP, so I’m super thrilled that Dover Saddlery is such a big backer of the EAP because it’s such a good program. It’s a program that every sport, especially a sport like ours which is really expensive, needs…otherwise you lose great talent.

You’re a mentor to a lot of young riders; who was your mentor when you started riding?
I had a lot. Fran and Joe Dotoli were my trainers when I was a junior, and they’re just great people. Joe has written a book about me called, Wylde Ride. He was very grounded, and I grew up in a very grounded environment in my junior years. Then it was time for me to go on, as I wanted to go to the Olympic level. Conrad Homfeld and Joe Fargis were really great mentors for me and supporters and role models as far as the way they did things. The polish, the skill, the horsemanship…I really learned a lot from them.

If you could give one piece of advice to the aspiring equestrian, what would it be?

I think the biggest thing is, and it sounds corny, but don’t ever give up. It takes a lot of work, and horses are humbling creatures. There is not anyone in this industry that isn’t frustrated a lot of the time and thinks, “I’ll never get there, I’ll never do it.” Even the best of us…I’ve won a gold medal, I’ve had some success in this industry, and it’s a constant struggle. I love horses, I love the industry, I love doing it. The formula to being super successful, I think, is great skill and great passion. But even just to be a horse person, if you’ve got passion and you’ve got that will, you’ll find a way. People with talent, really good young riders, don’t need to have that bank account. If you’re a good rider and you’re talented and you’re passionate, you can find a way. There are ways for you to make it to the top, and there are people that will help you financially. Maybe you’ve got to work hard - I’ve worked really hard all my life, and I don’t ever want to stop working hard - but you have to, you just have to. Never give up and never stop trying.

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