Currently, the Washington International has no rule that says jumpers must wear bridles. Hackamores and bitless bridles are also accepted and are becoming more common, but no one has ever ridden completely bridleless – until this year. In October, Melanie Ferrio-Wise and her horse Vlad entered the arena with just a neck rope. The pair finished in 24th place but, according to Ferrio-Wise, this was a huge accomplishment that marked the end of an amazing journey.
Vlad was born in the Dominican Republic where he was trained in both jumping and dressage. After being deemed a difficult ride, he was shipped to the United States where he faced an unknown – and potentially tragic – fate. Luckily, his new owner, Ferrio-Wise, was up to the task. “He just couldn’t handle the life, so they gave him to us and he’s just been a really tough ride,” says Ferrio-Wise, who now trains the 14-year-old gelding with just a neck rope. They gallop on the track and trail ride for long distances, all completely bridleless.
But up until recently, Ferrio-Wise was still showing Vlad with a bridle. Earlier in the fall at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show, they rode with all their tack, and picked up 18 faults. “He’s really tense in the bridle; he just doesn’t like it,” Ferrio-Wise says. “Without it he’s relaxed.” So she decided to switch things up in Washington. While they still made errors, Ferrio-Wise says they can be corrected, and the mistakes were less frightening than those made with the bridle.
Ferrio-Wise has worked with difficult horses in the past, and says she never shies away from a challenge. In fact, she thrives on it. “I love troubled horses; I like seeing them bloom,” she says. “Vlad is a horse that tells you his opinion, and his opinion is he doesn’t like when I put a bridle on and micromanage him. Learning that made me be a better rider for him.”