Reining's Toby Tyler: Dressage
in a Western Saddle?

by Pat Payne

As I crossed the arena, I was concentrating hard.  Right hand resting gently on my hip, I reminded myself, then left leg back - now - and - yes!

With a grin, I realized that I - a confirmed yet novice dressage rider - had just done my first flying change on the back of a well-trained horse named Miss Okie Dokie Smokey.

Toby Tyler just watched and laughed.  "See," he called across the arena to me, "it's no different than you usually do.  it's just dressage in a western saddle!"

Tyler knows what he's talking about when he compares reining with dressage - he's been successful in both disciplines.  he grew up doing one until he fell in love with the other.

Today, Tyler is a successful reining competitor, trainer, and instructor based in Pepperell, MA, where he and his wife, Cathy, run their Twin Pine Farm.  However, he started his riding career as a youngster in an English saddle.

"The only time my mother would let me ride in a western saddle was when I broke my arm and had it in a cast," he remembers with a laugh.

As a teenager, Tyler got interested in the demanding sport of combined training, in which horse and rider do a dressage test, jump a stadium course, and gallop a cross-country jumping course - often all in one day.  Tyler progressed from Pony Club events to larger, more challenging courses and competitions.  In 1990, he won the Ainslie trophy saddle at the Ledyard Horse Trials.

He met Cathy Wunderlich, a fellow eventer, and in 1982 the two were married.  Today, Cathy Tyler will tell you that her husband saved their marriage by falling in love all over again - with a new sport.  The two of them were just too competitive to ride against each other consistently, she says with a laugh.

In 1984, Cathy Tyler took one of her horses, a big Quarter Horse she usually evented, to the New England Quarter Horse show in Springfield, MA.  At that show, Toby Tyler watched competitive reining for the first time.  One look was all it took, he says, and he knew it was something he had to try.

The same year, Cathy Tyler gave her husband a surprise gift: a yearling Quarter Horse named Switches Twist.  The following spring, Toby Tyler was impatient to ride; so he purchased a mare named Moonshadow Dunit.  That year, he rode Moonshadow Dunit to a season-ending win in the premier division of the New England Reining Horse Association.

Ask Tyler today how he found success so quickly and he has no ready answer.  it's no big deal, he'll tell you, certainly nothing very unusual.  "You just try to do the best you can.  Reining is so exciting and so much fun, you just want to do it that much more," he says.

With the yearling he got as a Christmas gift, Switches Twist, Tyler placed second in the nonprofessional division of The Derby at the Super Slide In in Northampton, MA, in 1986.  When he could, he worked with trainer Tom McDowell of Concord, NH.  But time was usually at a premium.

"That's when I still had a full-time job and did the horses just for fun," he recounts.  In 1988, Tyler decided to take the plunge and go into the horse business full time.  The former buyer for an electronics company was now a horse professional.

Today, the Tylers run several successful businesses at once out of Twin Pine Farm.  Toby Tyler is busy teaching and training; he currently has ten reining students and many more who study western equitation with him.  he also stands the five-year-old Quarter Horse stallion Tacos Sugar Daddy, who is out of Great Taco.  Cathy Tyler stands her Holsteiner stallion Maurico and also teaches and trains, with most of her students interested in dressage and combined training.  Separately or together, they're busy showing almost every weekend.

What's next for Tyler?  These days, he says, his focus is on his students.  He wants to see them improve as he knows they can and enjoy their own continuing show ring success.

Despite the couple's grueling schedule, Tyler still finds time to volunteer within their rural community.  He is a volunteer firefighter who sometimes has to drop what he's doing to go fight fires in his own or nearby communities.

I ask Tyler one more time if he really thinks dressage and reining are so similar.  He points out the similarities - the preset patterns reiners ride and the constant demand for horse and rider to be precise in their performances.  "But I can watch reining all day," he adds, pointing out one difference with a grin.

The sport of Reining is the control of dressage and the excitement of galloping cross-country all rolled into one, says Tyler.  The speed of the spins, the sliding stops, and the leaps into action keep reining exciting, he adds.

He pauses for a moment, trying to put the feeling into words.  "When you're riding a fast circle, you're galloping along so fast and yet you have total control," he explains.

Clearly, for Tyler, reining offers enough excitement to last a lifetime.