Behind every great athlete, there’s an even greater team propelling them forward. And that’s no different for Margie Engle’s veteran mount, Royce (Cafe Au Last x Grandilot). Although it wasn’t love at first sight, Engle and the 14-year-old Oldenburg stallion have developed their relationship into a powerful partnership over the past seven years.

What’s the secret to their success? Enter, Lisa Wilcox. Although born in Colorado, Wilcox made the move to Europe to develop her expertise in dressage—the Mecca of the sport. Now based in Wellington, Florida, the Olympic bronze medalist is spending her time developing horses to become future stars of their respective disciplines.

With Wilcox on her side, Engle and Royce are one of the top American show jumping combinations, most recently placing 3rd in the $220,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Wellington CSI3*-W on February 4th. NF Style caught up with Wilcox to learn about the exercises she does with Royce, how he’s progressed over the past two years, and her thoughts on taking Royce from jumping Grand Prix tracks to dancing in the dressage menage.

NF Style: What do you work on with Royce and how has he progressed?

Lisa Wilcox: I work on bilateral gymnasticizing. In a nutshell, it means that Royce bends equally to the left through his body and to the right through his body. I also work on making him longitudinally adjustable, which is being back to front, just straight on.

When you have to set up for a jumping combination, the rider has to be able to make half-halts, ones that the horse will respond to without dropping their back and staying engaged behind because that’s where he’s going launch from—the horse needs everything he has back there. When Margie asks for Royce to come back to her, he needs to stay engaged and not drop his back. Overall, I work on the flat doing that. Lots of ten-meter voltes, lots of transitions with bends, collecting the canter, then riding the canter slightly more forward, then collecting the canter and making him very responsive to the rider that way.

This year, I can truly say we have a more bilateral horse. When I first started, Royce was a very one-sided horse, which makes turning very difficult. Making tight turns and changing direction was very hard which would end up costing Margie a rail if she couldn’t make the turn well.

NF: What specific exercises do you concentrate on when when working with jumpers?

LW: I work on bending throughout the body and transitions. I ask for the hind end to be engaged when I collect the horse. I collect, then let him out, then eventually, get to canter pirouettes, like I would do in a dressage test. Royce can do many dressage movements well—he is a little dressage pony.

NF: How are these exercises similar or different to what you do with your own dressage horses?

LW: It’s exactly the same exercises I do with my horses. Depending on how stiff the horse is, work is more focused on a higher degree of bend exercises. I’m constantly working on circles—changing the diameter of them, spiraling in, spiraling out, taking that bend into a transition, so on a 10-meter volte, collect five strides, then let out five strides, then collect five strides. We do that to make the horse more longitudinally adjustable. Not only bend laterally, but it has to go into me for me to get that hind leg, which helps the horse jump better.

On the Bit: Less is More for Margie Engle’s Royce [NF Style]
Twenty Questions with American Dressage Rider Mary Lauritsen [NF Style]