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Summer 2004
Schuyler Riley, J85, riding Ilian. “The beauty of show jumping,” she says, “is that you can never learn it all.”
Photo by Dirk Gallian/Jumpshot

A Show-Jumping Life

Schuyler Rley, J95, had good reason to be an Olympic hopeful in show jumping. The past four years she has traveled the show-jumping circuit in the United States and Europe. The intense pressure to clear six-foot fences or to shave a millisecond off a round is nothing new. So while she did not make the cut this year at the Olympic trials, she knows it’s all part of progress. She’s ready for what’s ahead.

“My goals are to compete internationally at the highest level I can achieve,” says Riley. “Hopefully, that will be the Olympics in 2008.”

Riley began riding at the age of seven in Vermont, winning state equitation championships and children’s hunter championships. She placed in both the BET/USET Talent Search Finals and the Maclay Finals at the National Horse Show in Madison Square Garden.

She continued to compete with the Tufts Equestrian Team. In 1991, at age 19, she became the first female and the second-youngest rider to win the USET Show Jumping Talent Derby. She went on to ride the horse Flamingo to the 1991 AHSA Amateur-Owner Jumper National Horse of the Year Award.

An international relations major, Riley intended on going to business school after graduation. But her advisor urged her to get some work experience first. “I needed a job and for me it seemed natural to try training horses and riders,” says Riley. “I fell in love with that and the riding, and wanted to stick with it in any capacity.”

She soon turned professional, training at a stable in Rhode Island, and then opened her own business in Hamilton, Massachusetts, and Wellington, Florida. She continues to train in Wellington but has recently moved to the Philadelphia area, where she is building a farm in New Hope, Pennsylvania.

In 1998, her dream to rank among the best competitive show jumpers moved into high gear. Receiving a grant from the USET to compete in Europe, she rode for the team in Spain, Austria, and the Czech Republic, where she helped the Americans place second in the Nations Cup. Returning home, she went on to win the Budweiser Grand Prix de Penn National.

Riley had even bigger wins in 2000 when she captured the $150,000 Budweiser American Invitational in Tampa, placed eighth in the World Cup Finals, and won the American Gold Cup in Devon, Pennsylvania. In 2001 she gained the AGA Show Jumping Championship and in 2002 again rode for the USET and captured the Gold Medal in the Nations Cup at the Spruce Meadows Masters. In 2003, Riley won the $25,000 WEF Challenge Cup and partnered with the horse Ilian to secure the title of North American Champion at Spruce Meadows.

Many of Riley’s successes have come from the partnership she has with the bay gelding Ilian. She says that in many ways Ilian exemplies the highest qualities of a horse and rider combination. “The beauty of show jumping is that you never can learn it all,” she says. “It’s not a team sport—you are thinking and using your brain all the time, but the horse has a mind of its own as well. Every time you get on a horse you have to develop a new language; you’re always working on establishing a communication channel. You’re trying to get another soul to follow your hopes and dreams.”

The best horses, she says, “have a heart. They want to do their job or want to please their rider. Not all horses have Olympic ability, but a few have the desire to do it. And what’s important is establishing a relationship with the one that has that desire.”

Riley is grateful for the support from her family as she has built her career. They were rooting for her as she entered the May trials for the Olympics, knowing well that the competition was stiff.

The following week she saddled up to take on the Spruce Meadows spring tournaments. In July she is competing in Europe and in the fall begins qualifiers for the World Cup Finals in 2005. Riley is aiming to go for it.

“Although I did not make the [Olympic] team for this year, I learned a lot about myself, my horses, and horsemanship in general,” she says. “I will take forward what I know and continue to strive for my goals as an international rider. I have some exciting young horses developing and I look forward to seeing how far my partnerships with them will go.”