American Indian Olympian Adrienne Lyle, Riding for Pride
Indian country is well represented at the London Olympic Games (July 27-August 12) when Adrienne Lyle, a Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma citizen, rides her 13-year-old Oldenburg gelding, named Wizard, in dressage competition. The 27-year-old Lyle has quickly burst onto the international scene from humble small-town beginnings and is a breath of fresh air in a sometimes stuffy sport that often features Olympians twice her age.
Lyle was born and raised on a small cattle ranch in Whidbey Island, Washington and she was active with her local pony club, where she competed in eventing before switching only to dressage. She was a part of teams that medaled at both the 2002 North American Junior Dressage Team Championships and the 2004 North American Young Rider’s Championships. In 2005 Lyle began working with U.S. Olympic dressage icon Debbie McDonald, whose successful career was highlighted by a bronze medal in team dressage in 2004.
During Lyle’s first lesson, McDonald saw something special. “The first thing I noticed when she came to me for lessons was her natural ability and the feel she has for riding. I was impressed with the training she had done and how far she had brought [her] horse.”
“Now here I am going to these Olympics,” Lyle told CherokeePhoenix.org. “It has always been a dream, like so many other kids, since I was little to go to the Olympics. I didn’t think it would happen until way down the line.”
Today, Lyle resides in Ketchum, Idaho. “My love for horses goes back as far as I can remember. They were always a part of my life—they were always my only passion in life,” she says. With Wizard, she has continued to train under the watchful eye of McDonald at the River Grove Farm in Hailey, Idaho. The hardwork paid off, SBNation.com observed, as the duo earned a spot on the individual dressage team during the U.S. Equestrian Freedom Dressage Olympic Trials in June. In London, team competition begins on August 2 and ends with individual freestyle on August 9.
“It’s just starting to sink in,” Lyle told Dressage-News.com a day after her come-from-behind move up the rankings in the last of four Olympic Trial competitions. “I woke up to 400 congratulatory message on my computer. I didn’t think I knew 400 people. Then it hit me: ‘Holy crap. I’m going to the Olympics.’
For those unfamiliar with equestrian dressage, the modern version of the sport has the horse and rider perform a series of movements known as a dressage test; picture a horse and rider dancing together, in a grand waltzy-way, and you get the idea (for a brief clip of Lyle and Wizard in action, go to this site. The sport is considered the highest order of equestrian events, and its purpose is to develop, through standardized progressive training methods, a horse’s natural athletic ability and willingness to perform, thereby maximizing its potential as a riding horse. The tests are performed before a panel of seven judges, who award scores for individual movements and for the overall routine.
"Adrienne is an inspirational rider and a true American athlete," said Heidi Zorn, president of Premier Equestrian, a company that sponsors Lyle. "We are proud to be supporting Adrienne and Wizard as they exemplify the talent, perseverance, and sheer dedication that our country has been built on. We know Adrienne and Wizard will represent our country well in London."
Indian country too is proud of Lyle, and her fellow Native athletes at the London Games, including Team Canada boxer Mary Spencer, First Nations Ojibway; Team USA women’s water polo team goalie Tumua Anae, Native Hawaiian; and Team USA synchronized swimmer Mary Killman, Citizen Potawatomi Nation.
As Cherokee One Feather noted, “These young women exemplify where hard work, discipline and the courage to put your dreams in motion can lead to. Many throughout Indian Country will be keeping an eye on these ladies as they strive for gold in these coming weeks.”
Lyle told CherokeePhoenix.org that being a young rider helps draw a new generation of people to the sport. “I’m kind of used to being one of the youngest riders, and I think it’s great for drawing a whole new generation of people to the sport. Most of my friends are not horsey, which is fantastic because it helps you keep your perspective… and many of them come to watch me ride and think it’s cool.”
It is cool, by any measure. But the modest Lyle has a sensibility about her that reflects her hard-working heritage.
“I feel very fortunate to have had the success I’ve had at a fairly young age,” Lyle says. “Although the success is a fantastic result of the daily hard work, at the end of the day it is the training process that really fascinates me. I will always be happy as long as I continue to do what I love—work with these magnificent animals.”
It will be an honor to see this young Indian woman on the medal stand in London—with Wizard, of course.
For a complete set of dressage rules, go to the website (FEI.org) of the governing body for the sport, the International Equestrian Federation. To find out more about the equestrian dressage competition at the Olympic Games, including schedules and more info on Lyle and Team USA, visit the International Olympic Committee website (Olympic.org/equestrian-dressage). NBC, which is broadcasting the Games, has this bio page for Lyle, which will also report results of her events, plus other news:
Lyle’s personal webpage is AdrienneLyle.com.