Rider of the Week: Schuyler Riley

Dobra-1Up until three weeks ago, Schuyler Riley had gone three years without a grand prix win. The accomplished international show jumper from Wellington, Florida has accomplished a lot in her career; from the 2000 American Invitational winner, to a member of Team USA on Nations Cup teams in the early 2000s. 

But over the last few years she lacked a string of going, international-level grand prix horses, and while she was in the hunt at the A level, it was a long road of bringing up young prospects, selling some, keeping others, and working her way back to being a real contender at the top level.

After spending the last three weeks leading the victory gallop in CSI rated grand prix classses at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in Tryon, North Carolina, Riley unequivocally feels “back” to that level now. With three grand prix wins in three weeks, aboard nine year old horses that had never seen a grand prix winners circle until now, Riley completed an impressive feat that surprised herself more than anything. After her most recent win, the $127,000 Grand Prix CSI3*, we caught up with her to find out more about her new stars and how she feels about her recent string of attention-getting wins.

Q: Where did you find these two horses, and when?
A: Stevie Macken found Q-7 in Europe. I bought 50% of Q-7 off a videotape without even trying him. Stevie and I have done business for a while, and he owns the other 50%. I liked the style of the horse, how he jumped with a lot of blood without even trying hard.

That was in 2012, and I got him and Dobra De Porceyo at just about the same time. Javier Salvador found Dobra. Both horses were 6 year olds with a lot of potential and talent, but both were also a bit difficult.

Q: Were they difficult in the same way?
A: No, not at all! Dobra didn’t like people. She didn’t want to be cooperative at all. She was difficult to even keep polo wraps on. I didn’t show her for the first three months I got her, because we had to do lots of slow ground work with her. She’s very food motivated, so treats helped a lot in her training, and when she started coming around, she started to love the show ring. She really loved showing, and if she had her way, we’d just trail ride and show jump, no flat work!

Q, he always comes into the ring either as a Western Pleasure horse or as Seabiscuit – he goes from one extreme to the other. If something startles him, or if something spooks him he’s gone. I fell off him last year at the walk because of a tent flap! So, he was always a little more nervous than Dobra, and he’s just now starting to trust in himself a little more. But he’s always had the scope and been brave. It’s more about keeping him patient.

Q: So it’s safe to say that until now, Q-7 has been a little bit behind his “sister” Dobra?
A: Yes. This time last year, Q was jumping the 1.35m and the 1.40m, and Dobra was jumping solid through the 1.45m solid and the occasional 1.50m. She did her first grand prix in the Welcome at the National Horse Show last November, and this year we were 5th in the American Invitational at Miami (pictured at top.)

I’m thrilled, and I love both horses. And it’s fantastic to have this opportunity and to be where I’m at right now. I couldn’t be happier.

Q: Are you surprised that their success at the grand prix level happened at the same time?
A: No, because I always believed in both horses. I never would have expected to have won three grand prixs in a row at exactly the same time but I expected this year to be their year to show that they were real, quality grand prix horses.

Q: Are these the horses that you feel can bring you back up to the international level?
A: Absolutely. The sport and how you find grand prix horses, it’s evolved so much in the last ten years. Ten years ago I had Opus Sept, Nottingham and Cincinnati Kid at the top, international level. You used to be able to buy up and coming grand prix horses at a reasonable price. But now it’s gotten so astronomical to buy one that’s ready to go, it has made it a little bit prohibitive. You used to have to be a millionaire to buy a grand prix horse – and now you have to be a billionaire!

So over the course of the last ten years, I dedicated myself to making up grand prix horses. But now you also have to have a few going at that level to really make it. I’ve had a couple of really good horses coming up in last 10 years, but I sold them because it wasn’t fair to them to be the only one going at that level.

Riley, Q-7, and groom Jesus Pimentel after winning the $127,000 Grand Prix CSI3* at Tryon

Now, with these two everything got synchronized at the right time, in the right moment and the right place and I feel like finally I’m back. I feel very, very lucky.

Q: What’s your plan from here on out?
A: I’m trying as hard to hit as many FEI shows as I can, so I’ll go to Saugerties, Bromont, the Saugerties Million, Gold Cup, Central Park, and Tryon Fall.

It’s been difficult for someone like myself, who can’t necessarily afford to make frequent trips to Europe, to get back in the rankings, and I’m grateful that Bellissmo decided to host more FEI events here on the East Coast. My goal is to try to be as high as I can be on the USEF computer list and try to get myself back in contention for team spots.

Q: And as for Tryon, it’s been abuzz this summer season. Before we go, tell us what you think about the facility.
A: It is really amazing, there’s still quite a bit of it that is under construction, so yes there are some parts of it that need to be finished, but they set their standard really high, and they tried to answer what everyone’s been asking for: top quality FEI events on the East Coast. They have great footing, a top quality course designer, and they know how to bring in a crowd.

The course on the night of the four star was really quite different and big. Even though it was a smaller group of entries they didn’t build it down. Also it does help that they do get a crowd in because for the young horses they get to experience that atmosphere, and it’s fantastic to have.

I’m thrilled, and I love both horses. And it’s fantastic to have this opportunity and to be where I’m at right now. I couldn’t be happier.

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