Alexis Taylor Silvernale had a distinguished record as a junior rider. Her many successes include two victories in the ASPCA Maclay Regional Northwest, the Thunderbird Good Hands and Seat Final, and wins in the USEF Zone 8, 9, and 10 Medal Finals, ribbons in the USEF Talent Search Finals, along with the prestigious Washington International Horse Show Equitation Finals.
Alexis also rode hunters and jumpers to many championships. Among the greats in the business who she has worked with include Timmy Kees, Leslie Howard, Jack Towell, Missy Clark, Karen Healy, and Hunt Tosh.
One might have expected her to continue on in the amateurs, but just the opposite occurred. She stepped away from the sport for 12 long years. Upon her return she did compete successfully as an amateur, although shortly thereafter became a professional. Looking back at it, she feels it was crazy to take that much time away.
“I am an all or nothing kind of person,” she said. “So when I had to walk away from it I left it completely. I also had to re-invent myself. I had always been the horse rider. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest in Medina, Washington, but went to college and worked on the East coast, and never talked about the horses. I really just locked that part up and put it on the shelf.”
That is not to say that she stopped being athletic. After moving back to Washington in 2008, she began training for an Ironman competition. That is when she met her future husband, Joe.
“I completed a full Ironman, but in the process of doing that I hurt my knee. I was frustrated because I couldn’t really run as much any more, and I was wondering what I was going to do for some activity. Joe had seen trophies and pictures over at my parents’ house, and we began talking about the horses.
“He said that it would be really good for me to ride a horse again. I don’t think he really knew what he was in for,” she laughed. “Really, in the blink of an eye, everything fell into place.”
Alexis has only been a professional for three years. She started up her business, Aleron, a mere two-and-a-half years ago. Riding success came almost immediately. That first year she qualified her pre-green horse Campari for the USHJA Pre-Green Incentive Championship. A year after that she won both the WCHR Developing Pro National Championship and the WCHR Developing Pro Challenge at Capital Challenge in Maryland.
Joe is also quite involved with the Aleron team. He had been a successful corporate lawyer for a long time, and it was a big decision for him to step away from that and begin this new venture.
“We talked about it for a very long time, and I think he really enjoys having the small business aspect and the personal ownership aspects, where you do everything from negotiate legal contracts to taking out the trash. And also, we are creating something on our own that didn’t exist before. That part can be aggravating, but also very rewarding.”
Joe focuses a lot on the client relationship part of the business. That is extremely helpful for Alexis, who is kept quite busy with riding, training, and coaching. He also concentrates on recruiting new clients by talking with people and telling them their story.
“We work with all the individual families that we have, because we really believe that there is a huge family commitment to do this. We want to involve the parents. We want them to be informed and understand what they are doing and why.
“We don’t just want the rider around the barn; we cultivate a large family aspect of it. Besides the financial commitment, there is the time and the travel involved as well. You have to have the whole family behind the rider. That’s how it was done for me, and I feel it is very important.”
For Alexis and Joe, it is not just about riding. They also stress education, and are very in tune with their riders’ academic careers. She tells her juniors that it is a privilege to be able to do this, and they must maintain good grades, be polite to their parents, and understand accountability.
When we spoke with Alexis she was walking the course for the USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington. Competing in this Derby had been the vision from the time Alexis had purchased the horse Skyhawk in February of this year. She believed that he had all the potential to be a great derby horse and she had been right, qualifying him to compete in the Finals.
So while everything was moving along right on schedule, there was a giant twist in the plan. Just a few days before we spoke, Skyhawk was sold to Laura Wasserman, with Laura and trainer John French becoming the new jockeys. When Laura went up to Alexis’ farm to try him she rode the horse beautifully, so this should be a great fit for both of the riders involved.
“John showed him the past couple of days and Skyhawk was Champion in the High Performance Hunters, which was fantastic! So I’m here helping out, and I get to be a part of it. It was great to watch him go today. I’ve never really seen him go; I’m always the one riding him.
“But oh my God,” she continued, “I was so nervous today watching, it was ridiculous! I was way more nervous than if I was doing it myself. But I am very proud of what we were able to accomplish along the way, so it’s exciting now.”
Don’t think that Alexis will be on foot after the sale of the lovely Skyhawk. She owns others, and just purchased a new five-year-old, Eastwood from Sachi Kawabata through Nick Haness.
“Sachi had actually purchased him in Europe and brought him over, and then I bought him. As the Skyhawk deal was unfolding in front of me I pulled the trigger on Eastwood, who will now be known as Gatsby. I had seen him before and already knew that I wanted him.
“He had just arrived and I rode him at the Evergreen Classic. I was Champion in the pre-greens and I won the National Hunter Derby on him, and I’m very excited about him. That was a pretty good debut. And he’s beautiful,” she added. “Black with a white face.
“My goals are to take him to Indoors this year and do the Young Horse Championship at Capital Challenge. Hopefully if I get in I would like to do him in the pre-greens at Harrisburg. He will do the first year greens and some International Hunter Derby classes next year. I think he’s going to be a big derby star.”
As far as her training business goes, she and her husband Joe like to have about three horses of their own going at a time. Alexis likes to have a jumper that she can do in the Grand Prix, and they like to own a horse that is active in the International Derby classes. Finally, they like a young one to bring along and move up the ranks.
“I have hunter, jumper, and equitation riders in my barn, and I’m not going to coach what I don’t do myself. I think it’s important that I am out there competing. My clients see me have highs and lows, and they see me deal with that and go through the same things that they go through.
“I think they can learn a lot from that; seeing the nerves, and different courses or difficulty you may encounter on a course in both the jumper and the hunter rings. They can watch me and then have me explain what did and didn’t happen and why.
“This is something I hope I am fortunate enough to be able to do for quite some time,” Alexis told us. “I enjoy it for myself, and I think it is important for me to be in the ring. I also use it as a teaching tool. It’s not just lessons for being around horses, these are life lessons.”
Something that is somewhat unique to Alexis and her way of thinking about training is that she is not afraid to move her students up the levels as soon as she sees that they are ready.
“As soon as a kid is ready to do a derby, I’m putting them on their own horse and sending them into the derby. I’m not going to hope that I can ride their horse for my derby horse. I push them out there as soon as I feel they are ready. I have a great 12-year-old rider this year, and she is already doing the 3’ National Hunter Derby classes because she can.
“I do have some investors who have young horses with me, and they choose not to ride them themselves, and that’s a whole different world. In that case I bring the horse along and ride it as if it were my own.”
Aleron averages between 30 and 35 horses in the barn and roughly 16 clients. There is also a small school program, so some of those horses included in the count are lesson horses. Alexis might take on a handful more, but does not want to be much bigger than she is now.
“I don’t want it so big that I can’t touch everyone myself. We are open seven days a week, 365 days a year, so someone is always at home. And I have three wonderful riding and teaching assistants, as I am on the road so much.
“Depending on how many horses go to a show I might have one or two assistants with me at a particular show.” Alexis continued. “It just depends on whether more horses are home or on the road. The majority of my clients alternate which shows they go to, so I am hands-on with them most of the time.
“There are also my two managing grooms, married couple Luis and Maria. They have been in the business more than 30 years. They started this business with me, and they are phenomenal. Luis always travels with me, so he is here in Kentucky right now.”
Luis and Maria live on the property, as do the grooms that work under them. Alexis and Joe live in a condominium about five minutes away, so in case of any issue they can be at the farm very quickly.
The duo of Alexis and Joe could certainly be considered a power couple. Each has several strengths that they rely on in the running of their business, and they compliment each other perfectly. We look for them to continue to elevate Aleron even more. As for Alexis and her winning horses, well, the sky’s the limit!
By Barbara Pinnella
Courtesy of The Competitive Equestrian