For 18-year-old Taylor Yamamoto born and raised in Hawaii life was all about horses and mostly dressage. While there is a strong contingent in Hawaii devoted to dressage it could have been a culture shock to going from working on a farm and doing occasional shows to landing at the opposite end of the United States. As a working student for Adrienne Lyle and Debbie McDonald, Taylor proved herself in spite of Lyle's trepidations. “She had very limited show experience before she came to Florida, and although I think she was a little overwhelmed the first time she walked into the Global Dressage Festival show grounds, you would never have known it once she went down centerline,” said Lyle. Yamato went down the centerline at her third CDI at the Kentucky Dressage Association Spring show and under the watchful eyes of Lyle and McDonald, she won both the FEI Young Rider Team Test with a 67.675, and the Young Rider Individual Test with a 66.491 on her own 11-year-old Trakhener, Domino (by Cadeau out of Dividici by Hohenstein) she has owned since he was a 5-year-old. Now she is headed to Gladstone, New Jersey to compete as well as help her “boss” Lyle vie for a position on the United States Dressage squad for the Alltech/FEI World Equestrian Games, Normandy. How Yamamoto got from working on a farm in Hawaii to working for Olympian Debbie McDonald and one of the USA’s top ranked High Performance dressage riders is a bit of a fairy tale but a reflection of how one’s hard work and passion gets noticed.
McDonald does several clinics ay year in Hawaii, which led to Lyle taking on two six-year-olds owned by Pam Jones, where Yamamoto worked. “When Pam Jones, heard we were hard pressed for help in Florida, with the number of horses we were bringing and not being able to hire another full-time groom, she suggested the idea of Taylor coming as a working student,” said Lyle. “It is always a little bit of a gamble when you take on a working student, and especially one that you've never even met. Many of them want to ride, but not actually work. But we trusted Pam's judgment, and I am so glad we did!”
Taylor’s day starts at the barn before anyone else, every morning, to walk and take care of her own horse before she actually starts her workday. “She not only proved to be a great groom, but also a great rider, and I love to watch her ride my horses - from the young ones up to the FEI ones. Her feel and "coachability" make her really fun to work with,” adds Lyle.
“I’m so grateful to Debbie and Adrienne and for the opportunities they have given me, said Yamamoto who will be headed to Idaho to the Thomas’s River Grove Farm where McDonald and Lyle are based. “If I end up qualifying to go to Europe this summer with Wizard,” said Lyle, “I will be happy to know that Taylor is at home taking care of the rest of our horses. I quickly saw that she was someone I could trust to leave my horses to when I was gone competing or traveling, and I knew they would be in competent hands. Plus she gets along with everyone and Ruben Palomera (our long time groom) was happy to have such a competent and friendly person to help him.”
Taylor Yamamoto adds she could not have experienced this opportunity without the support of her parents. “They worked so hard so I could take this opportunity. My dad actually stayed down in Wellington with me for the season (he’s back in Hawaii now) while my mom held down the fort at home.” With the Dressage National Championships being held on Father’s Day weekend, Taylor’s family as well as her friends and fans in Hawaii can be watching her on the USEF Network live stream.
For Lyle who got her chance working for Debbie McDonald as a working student she is ready to pass along her experiences and opportunities given to her. “ If it weren't for Debbie and the Thomas family giving me a chance to prove myself, and believing in me and supporting me, I wouldn't be where I am today. I will always be so thankful to her for taking a chance on me, and so it is great to be able to pass that same spirit along. We all share the same passion for horses, and the same drive and work ethic, so it is a lot of fun to be able to all work together. I can't wait for Taylor to come back to Idaho and experience the Thomas's beautiful River Grove Farm.”