Written by: Tricia Booker
After more than a decade based in Europe, Peter Wylde has returned to the United States. He’s started a new business at Winley Farm in Millbrook, New York where he hopes to recreate what he had in Europe and then some.
Peter Wylde grew up in Massachusetts, a bastion of equitation in the United States in the 1980s. It was there that the foundation of his riding career was established, through the pony and junior hunter ranks to winning the prestigious ASPCA Maclay Finals in New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Throughout those formative years Wylde spent with trainers Fran and Joe Dotoli, he soaked up the horsemanship knowledge they offered while he also regularly observed the world’s best show jumpers. Back then many European riders regularly traveled to the East Coast fall indoor shows for the trio of Nations Cups at the Washington International, the National and the Royal Winter Fair. Early on, Wylde was inspired and realized it was their path he would follow.
“My life now goes back to the way I grew up, being a kid in the stable,” Wylde reflected. “I’ve always known what I wanted and how I wanted to achieve it.”
So, after completing his undergraduate degree at Tufts University in Medford, Mass, Wylde hung out his shingle as a professional rider and trainer in 1988.
He went on to win the 1996 President’s Cup at the Washington (D.C.) International Horse Show and represented the United States at the 1997 and 1999 FEI World Cup Finals in Gothenburg, Sweden. In 1999, Wylde was co-champion of the $100,000 Rolex/USET Show Jumping Championship just before earning team and individual silver medals at the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada. That year, he was named the United States Olympic Committee’s Male Equestrian of the Year.
Then, just as his U.S. career was flourishing, Wylde made the difficult decision to uproot his life. He packed his tack trunks and relocated to Europe (first to The Netherlands and subsequently to Germany), where he has spent the last 12 years developing his business and establishing himself as a world-renowned rider and trainer. Oh yes, and collecting the occasional medal – an Olympic Games team gold (in 2004) and an individual bronze at the 2002 World Championships.
Fast forward to the winter of 2012, when Wylde chose to return to the United States where he’s now set up his business, Mullenders & Wylde Horses LLC, at historic Winley Farm in Millbrook, New York.
“I feel like I’m entering a new chapter in my life,” he says now. “I’ve had a lot of different roles in this sport. I’ve learned and gained from each of them, and I have no regrets. I had my own business in Massachusetts, worked for Dan Lufkin in Millbrook, and then owned a business in Europe. For the first five years in Europe it was just myself, and then I included students in my program.”
“Each step has been important,” he continued. “For career reasons, they all helped me to do the things I wanted to do at the time, and I enjoyed all of it. I don’t know if this will be the last chapter, but it seems like the next step.”
Originally, Wylde chose to go to Europe to push himself to the highest levels of the sport, and he succeeded.
“For whatever strange reason, I was lucky to have some good horses land in my lap, namely Fein Cera, right at that moment,” he said. “I got lucky that way. I knew that horse was special, and I had to do the best I could in the sport to live up to her potential.”
During their seven-year partnership Wylde achieved the top 10 in the Rolex/FEI World Show Jumping Rankings, won Olympic gold and world championship bronze, as well as earning an impressive array of top placings on a variety of horses at Grand Prix level, FEI World Cup Finals and Nations Cups.
“I’m very proud of all of that,” he said. “But, at the same time, I realized I was missing things. In 2010, I did take a little bit of a dip in riding, where I thought maybe I didn’t want to keep riding at the highest level. I sort of retired, to focus on teaching. That “retirement” lasted three to four months, and I realized it wasn’t a good idea. I love riding too much.”
Wylde’s constant challenge while in Europe was securing sponsorship. Being an American in a foreign country, he kind of resided in ‘Neverland,’ neither being accessible to his U.S. sponsors and owners nor being one of the ‘home team’ players in his chosen country.
“I’d also been warned that if I were to stay in Europe I might alienate myself from the U.S. team,” he said. “I had no intention of doing that. I was actually lucky to sustain myself at such high levels with various owners for five to seven years, and that was great, but at the same time when I decided to slow down a little bit I lost that momentum. I realized it was time for me to come back to the U.S. and try to develop myself back here.”
Part of Wylde’s new business plan is to recreate what he had in Europe but in the States. His vision includes combining a training stable in which he develops and sells top jumper prospects while also maintaining a few to compete. One difference, though, is that he also plans to incorporate some hunters into his program, with his eye on competing in the USHJA International Hunter Derby program.
After initially working with Missy Clark of North Run upon his return, Wylde and his husband Eduard Mullenders transitioned their business to Winley Farm.
“The only difference from what we’ve been doing for the past six years is we are going to have a hunter or two,” said Wylde. “I’ve always enjoyed riding hunters and look forward to returning to the hunter ring on a regular basis. It’s going to be a small part of what we do but an important part.”
Winley Farm, owned by Ester Mazzarelli and Judith Goelkel, includes a newer main barn with 38 stalls and a restored historic stable with 12 stalls, all surrounded by 155 acres, including 25 expansive grass paddocks, a state-of-the-art ring and a grand prix jumping field. If a show horse could choose his home, this would be it.
“Winley is my dream. I’ve worked in a lot of stables, and this one is by far the best one I’ve ever worked in as far as it being a horse-friendly facility,” he said. “I feel super lucky to have landed here. I’m so grateful to the Goelkel family for providing us with a beautiful home base in the United States and to my owners and sponsors for their continued support.”
Wylde is also pleased to be back on this side of the Atlantic and closer to his family and friends, including his mother, who resides on the West Coast.
“I’m American, and I like living in America. I missed my family and friends, so it’s really nice for me to come back here and have them much closer,” he said. “At this stage in my life, that means a lot. I’ve made big sacrifices in my personal life for a long time, from the time I was a kid and all through high school. If you want to fight and get to the top, you have to sacrifice, which I have.”
It didn’t take Wylde long to make headlines again in the United States, with Grand Prix victories and top placings over the summer in New York, New Jersey and Vermont. Wylde’s transition went smoothly aboard horses he brought from Europe as well as new mounts.
One fresh face is Katherine Hunt’s Smoking Gun, an elegant gray Oldenburg that Wylde competes in the High Performance hunters.
“Kate Hunt was my very first owner when I graduated from Tufts 25 years ago,” he said. “When I came back to the States, I discussed with Kate about returning to the hunter ring. She was very enthusiastic about owning a hunter again.”
Wylde has already developed a select group of students who will join him at major competitions in the United States and abroad.
“I had a great group of really talented students in Europe, and it was a little bit sad for me and for them to close up shop in Germany, but for me, the timing was right,” he said. “Hopefully, where we are now, it’s the perfect situation to cultivate the same type of top-level program. We have a wonderful space to work from, and the possibilities are endless.”
Moving stateside also allows Wylde to be closer to the USHJA Emerging Athletes Program, which holds Regional Clinics throughout the summer as well as a National Training Session each fall. Wylde is very passionate about the EAP program and all that it offers to up-and-coming young stars.
Since the program’s inception five years ago, Wylde has played a pivotal role, including EAP Committee Vice President, lead clinician and finals judge.
“Relocating to the United States gives me the opportunity to reach three important goals: to ride at the top of the sport again, to produce world-class horses and to deepen my involvement with the EAP,” said Wylde.
Now that Wylde’s journey in the sport has come full circle, he can reflect on where he’s been and what he’s seen.
“There’s so much opportunity out there that anybody who wants to do something in our sport can do it,” he said. “After being back and observing in Florida and [the summer shows], I can see that America has a lot to offer as far as classes and prize money. If you’re good and work hard, you can do it.”
Wylde does note there are differences between show jumping in the United States and Europe, where the best riders tend to congregate and there are more chances for exposure.
“Financially, it’s more expensive to show here in the United States,” he said. “There’s no question in that argument, and some people say here it’s a sport only for rich kids. To some degree that’s true. But if you have talent and are willing to work hard and put yourself out there, there are plenty of opportunities here.”
“That’s one of the reasons I like the EAP, for those few kids who are really talented and have the drive to succeed. We want to try and open their eyes and open doors for them and help them get to a place where they can bring that talent to the table,” he added.
Wylde also believes that for our riders to attain the highest level here, the sport needs to attract the Europeans to our shores. He hopes to see more $1 million events taking place in addition to the continued development of the Winter Equestrian Festival and perhaps even a revived fall tour where huge purses might draw the best riders over the pond.
“Our sport is always changing and evolving, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve enjoyed it so much over the years. There are always new challenges. I’ve moved and done enough different things over the years that I’m used to change,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t mind variety in my life.”
“In fact, I enjoy being in other countries with different cultures. Some people don’t like that,’ he continued, smiling, ‘they want their Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and don’t appreciate Italian coffee that’s so strong it makes your eyes spin! For some crazy reason, I like that variety. And, in reality, moving back to the United States was just like moving to another country. It’s familiar but different, and I’m happy to be here. Weak coffee and all!”