Our featured speaker at the 2013 Area VII annual meeting, Olympic Eventing Team rider, Will Coleman, summed it up that simply and in mesmerizing fashion. In his lovely Virginia drawl, with a few “no worries” thrown in from spending time with good friend and fellow US teammate, Aussie Boyd Martin, Will laid out his winding path to becoming a successful professional horseman and a first-time Olympic athlete. He also learned that disappointment often trumped success and you had better be able to pick yourself right back up from disaster or folly and be able to move on and try again.
He has loved horses since he was a little boy and told his father, a long-time huntsman, that horses were going to be his occupation, whatever that turned out to be. He rode and learned as much as he could, riding anything that came his way, thus quickly figuring out the many facets of horsey personalities and abilities. Jumping and cross- country sealed the deal that Eventing would be his chosen path.
He has picked out and made from scratch, the majority of his horses, including 17 year old TB Olympic mount, Twizzel. He feels that experienced event horses are way too expensive to buy these days and he invests in a hand-full of young ones each year to train up and sell on if they don’t turn out to have the potential to be his own next four star mount. Will says that it is a very small percentage of young horses that have the heart, hard knocking soundness and ability to go all the way to the very top. He loves being around them every day at his barn, currying the horses, working them and legging up his competition mounts with the help of his small staff.
With his gung-ho athletic abilities and heart, Twizzel and Will went up the ranks and finished well at a number of three and four star competitions. They had a great go at Kentucky in 2011 and then set their sights on running Burleigh that fall. As luck would have it, Twizzel warmed up great before dressage and then a few minutes before the whistle sounded to go in to the ring, the horse went three-legged lame. Just like that, they were out of the competition as something mysterious had befallen Twizzel and Will had no idea what is was. As he walked back on foot to the castle stables housing the other international horses, riders heading out to compete asked him how his test had gone and he could barely speak because of the frustration and disappointment. “I would have been better off just walking back in my underpants because nobody would have dared to ask me a question!”
Twizzel and Will flew back to the US and he was diagnosed with a shoulder problem that could be cured with treatment and gradually going back to full work. They went to Fair Hill late in the year and finished well there. Then it was back to Rolex in Kentucky in 2012 and they put in another solid performance which ultimately lead to the partnership being selected for the US team.
The games themselves were magical for Will and every jump seemed like a postcard, with many looking out on the London skyline. The jumps were not the size of a four star course but the hilly and slippery track leveled the playing field. You had to have a very fit and crafty horse and in Will’s mind, it better have a high level of Thoroughbred blood to last the course and come out and show jump the next day. Will had a stop at the very large drop on course, he said it felt like Twizzel put his front legs out to attempt the drop and just as suddenly, reeled them back in and took a stutter step backward, adding 20 penalty points.
It was a huge disappointment and the most of the team had a mishap or two to keep them out of the medals and seventh overall. Will strongly stated that you have to get over the unexpected setbacks and move on. “I learned so much from being a part of an Olympic Team and it only makes me want to work harder to get back there again.” If he doesn’t Will still loves the horses and getting up every morning to be with them and carry on and train and clinic and just love the life he has chosen. There is no doubt that he will be on an Olympic team again with another horse that is of his own making.