If you had asked Laura Kraut or Adrienne Lyle just twelve months ago what their goals were for the coming year, their responses would have been definitive: bringing home gold medals for Team USA at the Tokyo Olympic Games. But as the world began to reel in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring of 2020, the Olympics quickly became a question mark.
“There was so much uncertainty that we found ourselves in limbo trying to conserve our horses while also needing to be ready to go at any moment,” said Lyle, who made her Olympic dressage debut at the London Games in 2012 aboard the famed Salvino, owned by Betsy Juliano. “Once the [postponement] announcement came, it was super disappointing but needed to happen. We had more important things to worry about at that time.”
As horsewomen, both Lyle and Kraut have mastered the art of pivoting. The innate unpredictability of a sport that depends on another living being has taught them to adapt. For both, that skill became second nature to them at a young age.
Lyle, who grew up on a cattle farm on Whidbey Island, in Washington’s Puget Sound, starting riding in a Western saddle and became enchanted by dressage during her time in pony club. For Kraut, who hails from Camden, SC, an infatuation with horses was inherited from her mother and landed her a lifetime in the show ring.
“The Olympic Games was the only thing on my to-do list last year,” said Kraut with a smile. She has experienced victory on a global stage before, with an Olympic team gold medal from the Beijing Games and a team gold from the 2018 World Equestrian GamesTM to her credit. “Mentally, there was no option. We had to accept the postponement and figure out a new strategy.”
After returning to her partner Nick Skelton’s Warwickshire-based stable in England for the summer, Kraut went back to basics. “My horses are quite seasoned, so I concentrated on my students,” said Kraut. “We worked on things like course riding, straightness of our horses and position. What I took away from this time is that I’m going to try really hard to keep that focus incorporated into our program.”
For Kraut, spending time away from competition was a welcomed change of pace. “I’m super lucky because I just love horses,” she said. “The time off wasn’t nearly the hardship that everyone thought it was going to be for me. It was a needed reboot — I did a lot of riding cross-country and regained an appreciation for what I get to do.”
Kraut even took time during quarantine to invest in the future by breeding her mares Zeremonie and Fleurette through embryo transfer to decorated stallions, including the likes of Big Star, Arco III, Verdi and Emerald.
An ocean away, Lyle spent her summer in Wellington, FL, where she focused on keeping her horses mentally and physically happy. “It’s important for our animals to not stay at peak performance all the time, so we had to pick the time to ramp them back up for showing,” she said. “It’s rare that things go exactly as planned with horses. All of humankind was in this together, and we just had to focus on the next goal.”
Thanks to daily livestreamed sessions with her trainer and U.S. dressage chef d’équipe, Debbie McDonald, both Lyle and her horses stayed sharp and Olympic bound.
“As an athlete, you can’t get upset about things that you have no control over,” concluded Lyle with an ever-positive attitude. “You have to work backwards, make a new plan and carry on.”
Read the rest of the Douglas Elliman Equestrian issue here.