When Amanda Steege showed in the Second Year Green division at the 2001 Devon Horse Show, the vest she wore under her shadbelly was the same one her great-grandfather wore when showing at Devon in 1913. When she won the division championship, though, nobody credited a lucky vest. Like her earlier successes on the Ocala, Florida, circuit and at the Legacy Cup, her Devon championship reflected meticulous horsemanship and a talent that such top hunter/jumper professionals as Rick Fancher recognized long before she did.
By the time Amanda left her family's Red Acre Farm in Stow, Massachusetts, for Boston College in the mid-1990s, she was already pretty sure she wanted to make become a professional horse rider. She was less sure about measuring up to the high standards she'd set herself. "I knew I loved horses and I loved riding. But I didn't know if I was talented enough to do it on the level I wanted to."
Aiming for the Best
Amanda's benchmark for quality came from horsemen she'd grown up and around, beginning with parents Mitch and Kathy Steege. While Kathy kept Red Acre'as riding school going at home, Mitch taught Amanda and coached her at shows from lead-line classes on. "She didn't have a lot of nice horses to compete as a kid," he says. "They were tough and green. She learned that you don't just do everything one way; you adjust to the horse, so he feels almost as if he has trained you."
The parent-as-instructor setup—not always an easy one—worked for them. Amanda "had respect for what I said because I was so active in the business when she was growing up," Mitch says. "When we had little arguments, it was mostly because she doubted herself."
Amanda says she also learned a lot from a "difficult Children's Hunter" that she rode for a couple of years. "Even when you saw a distance, you had to stay quiet, sort of melt into her back a little." Another equine teacher was her beloved Junior Hunter One In a Million: "maybe not the fanciest in the workd, but definitely had the most heart; not necessarily the winner, but got ribbons everywhere, including a third and a fourth at the National Horse Show in 1993, my last Junior year."
For her last two Junior years, Amanda got additional help from top A-circuit trainer Bill Cooney. "She was already a good rider," Mitch says. "It's different, though, hearing that from your family and hearing it from leading professionals. Bill brought her along and bolstered her confidence."
Another big influence in these years was fellow New Englander Peter Wylde, a former equitation finals winner and eventual 1999 Pan American show jumping gold medalist. "I was always impressed by his riding and his horsemanship," Amanda says. "My best friend rode with him as a Junior; we'd watch her together, and he'd give me little pointers. I took a year off between high school and college and worked for him that winter in Florida, mostly grooming and flatting horses. That summer, when not showing with my dad, I worked for Peter at big shows."
Peter's high standard of hands-on care and management were a good match for those Amanda grew up with, says Mitch. "At a horse show, we got up at 3 or 4 a.m. and were the last people to leave—and we rarely left the show clean!"