A showjumper turned heads by competing without a bridle in a $10,000 championship class at a major international show.

Melanie Ferrio-Wise rode Wings, known at home as “Vlad”, in the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) adult jumper championships with just a strap around his neck for steering.

The pair had a couple of fences and a run-out, but Melanie told H&H she is as happy as if she had won.

“I could have been first or last place and I would have been just as happy,” said Melanie.

No ribbon can take the place of the feeling that I felt coming over that last fence.

“Would I have liked to have been placed in the top 12, and taken a bridleless victory gallop? Of course! Who wouldn’t? But I was just so happy to have a teammate that is so amazing, that was content with finishing the course.

“I look forward to showing this season bridleless at every venue that will allow it, and working towards coming back to WIHS next year.”

Melanie and her husband Brendan have spent three years rehabilitating the horse from injury and for behavioural problems.

The horse stood as a stallion in the Dominican Republic until the age of nine, where he also showjumped, before being gelded and imported to the US to train as a dressage horse.

He came to Melanie and Brendan in North Carolina after he became difficult to handle and they turned him away for months to give him “time to be a horse”.

“Turnout was interesting because he had no clue how to be a horse,” added Melanie.

“A horse would tell him to move and he would just stand there and take the kick, not ever moving.

“Eventually he was slowly learning to be a part of a herd, but he was not getting any more sound in his feet and body.

“We felt like we were fighting an uphill battle, with no signs of what was wrong. But we stayed faithful that we could get him back to health.”

He started to become easier to handle on the ground and the pair decided to send him to live in a big field at Brendan’s parents’ farm for a winter and he came in “perfectly sound”.

Returning to work

Brendan gently started to reintroduce Vlad to ridden work.

That summer, Melanie lost her long-term campaigner Boyd and found herself without a horse to ride, so decided to try Vlad.

The pair did not gel instantly, but as time went on they “became a team”.

“I took him to his first show that following winter, and we played around in the 2’3” division,” said Melanie, adding she was “pretty nervous” as she had not competed in years.

“That is the day we found out Vlad’s passion was jumping. We started to jump, and the horse that was so difficult was all of a sudden much more willing to work.”

She added she was “terrified” to take him around her the 3ft course, but did it after some “extra encouragement” from her grandmother.

“Vlad was amazing — he was no longer the horse I had once labelled difficult: he was packing me around like it was nothing,” she added.

“A couple weeks later, Vlad and I went to another local show and did the 3’6” division.

“I knew he could do it, but I was not feeling so confident. Yet again, he packed me around the course. I was just blown away by this little wonder horse and he wowed everyone who saw him jump.”

The pair moved up to competing at 1.20m at affiliated shows in 2016.

She advertised Vlad for sale last summer, as had been the plan, but a growth was found on his stifle while he was away on trial and he returned home.

“Not long after we got him home I received my acceptance letter from WIHS — this was a ‘tears of joy’ moment,” said Melanie, adding it had been a “childhood dream” to compete at the show.

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Going bridleless

They had been playing around with bridleless jumping for about a year ahead of the show and started to find he was happier without a bridle than wearing one.

I did not do this for attention or to get people to know us,” added Melanie.

“That thought never crossed any of our minds. I did this for Vlad, because let’s be honest, who would try this at WIHS!”

She added he behaved like a “total professional” while schooling at the show in a busy arena and knew after that he was ready for the class.

“We made some mistakes in our course, but I was beyond happy to fly over the last fence,” she said, adding he felt “amazing” to ride.

A big jump from the 14-year-old gelding over the final part of the treble threw Melanie forwards and she lost her stirrup, but she managed to keep her balance and finish.

“I finished the course with no bridle and one stirrup,” she said, adding she was “in tears” as she jumped the final fence.

“He was forward, but when you walk into the ring with a little 15.3hh horse, whether in a bridle or not, you have to ride forward to get the striding in the lines.

“When you take away the ability to control the situation — being bridleless — things don’t always go as planned, but that is the beauty of what we accomplished.

“Vlad loves his job, if he didn’t we would not have finished that course.

“I gave him the freedom to make the decisions he needed to, and he decided he was just as happy to finish that course as I was.”

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