Aleco: Will, tell us about what is the best piece of advice that you’ve ever received.
Will: The best piece of advice I’ve ever received. First thing that comes to mind is that it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. It takes a long time to learn how to do this sport. And the good news is that you get to do it for a long time. So, take your time and work out the fundamentals. Spend your time learning, on the way up, and you’ll be up there for a long time.
Aleco: Will, tell us about how have you seen the sport change throughout your career?
Will: The footing has gotten much, much better. There’s no problem with the footing. So you can turn tighter, go faster, and the jumps have gotten… the courses have gotten more and more intricate. And so the ride ability is so much more important, now, being able to go forward, come back, turn right, turn left, again, the ride ability is so much more important. It’s an accuracy sport. It’s gotten to be a lot of fun and the horses have gotten better. The breeding is better. It’s so fine-tuned, compared to where we started, going twice around the rail, over telephone poles. The sport has become very, very accurate, and so much fun.
Aleco: Can you please tell us about some of your favorite exercises to prepare horses while you’re at home.
Will: We try to do low impact, and exercises that will instill the fundamentals of show jumping without discouraging the horse. So, walking a pole on the ground, stepping up with your inside front leg, the bounces, bounces that are 11 feet, and then to a 2 foot oxer, four in a row… those come to mind. I do have a couple of little exercise… the big circle, to the small circle, where you put a bend in the horse’s neck, asking for the canter, going from a walk to the canter, and then you go in the big circle and then go from the canter, walk on to another small circle. So big circle to small circle. Great exercise.
Aleco: By the way, today here at Rutledge Farm Sessions, October 2019, Will is having students do exactly what you just described.
Aleco: I call you “The Godfather” of what we’re doing here at Rutledge Farm. So tell us about the beginning. How this all started, when you and I were talking, and how you think it has evolved to today, where we stand.
Will: Well, it all started, when I came out here to visit you. We hadn’t seen each other, for a long time. And then we decided to throw a clinic together. And it happened so, so quickly, here, on only a few days’ notice. And then we decided to go forward and have Olympic medalists come in. And so it’s just taken off. And it’s such a wonderful place to come and give a clinic that everybody just loves coming here. And it’s turning out to be a real asset in the horse industry.
Aleco: That’s why we call him “The Godfather”. Tell us why you like teaching clinics. I know you don’t teach many of them, but why do you like teaching?
Will: Well, I still ride. This is a great sport because you get to do it on into your later years. And so I learned so much by helping others. And when you preach it, then you have to do it. So it puts the pressure on, and we go from there. And every once in a while, I get a student that has a breakthrough in her riding and says something like, “Wow. Less. What did she say? Less…
Aleco: “Less bite, no more responsive, less bite.
Will: “More response and less fight.” That’s what it was. It was incredible. So anyway, when instances like that happen, it makes it all worthwhile.
Aleco: If you could change one thing about the sport, what would it be?
Will: Make it accessible to more people and show…get it into bigger stadiums. Get it so that more people can see it. And so that more people want to do it. It’s such an amazing sport.
Aleco: This is a fun question. Tell us the most memorable moment of your career.
Will: The most memorable moment of my equestrian career would happen to be in 2008 at Hong Kong, when we cinched the gold medal in the Olympics. I was searching in the crowd, for my son, who I’ve I had no idea where he was, but that was to me the crowning moment in my career.
Aleco: Okay. What people don’t know is there is a logo on this hat, here. It’s a wonderful famous picture. Will comes off a final jump and he knows that they’ve just won. And it looks like he’s having his helmet off saluting the world. But what he’s really doing is he’s looking for his son and he’s saluting his son. And that… can you zoom on, zoom in on that. That right there is Will looking for his son, saluting him.
Will: Great moment.
Photo by Kristin Lee