By Ruby Tevis
Portraits by Allie Conrad
Will Faudree has been fiercely independent since he was a young boy. The eventing star, based in Hoffman, North Carolina, has proven time and time again that he can handle anything that comes his way. Will’s resilient attitude and fighting spirit has led him to ride for the United States team, succeed in international competition and build his training farm from the ground up. While he’s living his dream each day, Will doesn’t forget his humble beginnings or the sacrifices he’s made to follow his passion.
Growing up, Will spent time riding alongside his father on his family’s cattle ranches. He split his time working cattle between Midland, Texas, and Cimarron, New Mexico. “I had a great childhood,” Will said. “My parents were horsey people because of the ranch work, but they never competed. My dad did some team roping, but it was mainly ranch rodeo stuff and more for fun.”
After watching the movie “Sylvester” at age 12, Will set his sights on eventing and never looked back. “Eventing was different. I’ve always been a bit of the black sheep of the family,” Will said. “I always did things my way and a little different, so I enjoyed being the only one in an English saddle.”
Though he was the first in his family to compete, Will took to eventing and ran with it. During high school, he spent his time training off-the-track-Thoroughbreds, working his way up the levels, and competing in local events. During this time, Will gained valuable instruction from Bobo Wroe, Carolyn and Harley Stimmel and Kathleen Zins, who frequently taught clinics in Midland. After a riding accident in 1999 left him with a severe concussion, Will’s determination to succeed guided him to a full recovery and a team gold medal with the Area V NAYRC just two years later.
Following his independent nature, Will took a leap across the country to train with Phillip Dutton after graduating from high school. “I first met Phillip at Camino Real in Texas. They had paired up a professional with a first-time long-format CCI rider and did a little team competition,” Will said. “By the end of that weekend, I had planned to come up to visit and interview to become a working student, and the rest was history!”
While spending time with Phillip, Will confirmed his love for eventing and the decision to pursue a career as a trainer. “I learned this was the life I wanted to live,” he said. Phillip not only helped Will find his career path, he also found the horse that could take him to the top.
Riding for the Stars and Stripes
Antigua, affectionately known as Brad, became the mount that would jumpstart Will’s international career. “If everyone had a horse like Brad, there would be a lot more professionals around,” Will laughed, reminiscing on his adventures with the bay gelding imported from Australia. In 2003, Will and Brad rode around their first Kentucky Three-Day Event before finishing out the year at the Pan American Games. “That was my first senior team,” Will said. “I was a kid! I had just turned 22 the week before, so I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing.”
Despite Will’s youth, the pair proved strong enough to be shortlisted for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. Together, they traveled to Greece as the first reserve for the United States team. Though Will was thrilled for the experience, he does note the difficulty of being the reserve rider. “Being a reserve is hard. It’s character-building,” he said. “Of course you want to be competing, but you’re also there to cheer on your team and be ready to step in if the need arises.”
During his time training with the senior teams, Will fell in love with their winter headquarters in Southern Pines, North Carolina. Just half an hour from the Carolina Horse Park, Southern Pines is an equestrian destination for comfortable weather and year-round competition. “I’m a homebody, so I loved that I could be there year-round,” he said. Will made the decision to call Southern Pines his home and move there permanently. However, upon his return home from Athens, he received a heartbreaking phone call.
“I got a call that there had been a bad thunderstorm and my barn had been struck by lightning,” Will said. “I lived in the loft of that barn, so I lost everything I had. I was very lucky there were no horses in the barn and I only had a few things since I wasn’t even 23 yet. The hard part was figuring out what I was going to do when I got home.”
A Fresh Start
After the barn fire, Will spent the next five years renting from neighbors Tex and Donna Griffin until he got back on his feet. While juggling training, teaching and personal competition, including a team fourth at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Will decided to purchase a piece of land in Hoffman, just outside of Southern Pines, that would become Gavilan Farm.
“Brad was retiring, and I found myself with this new farm and a couple of nice young horses, but uncertainty about the future,” Will said. “I had Pawlow, a two-star horse I needed to sell, and then I lost my sister to cancer in November 2008. It was shortly after her death that I met Jennifer Mosing.”
While initially reluctant to go, Will fought through his grief to travel to Louisiana and teach a clinic. While some may call it fate, the chance encounter between Will and Jennifer opened up a world of opportunities, and he is forever grateful. Jennifer purchased Pawlow and allowed Will to continue riding him.
After years of working together, Jennifer partnered with Will to expand upon Gavilan Farm by purchasing adjacent land. “We nicknamed that part of the farm Gavilan North and I affectionally call it Cloud 11,” Will said. Together, the properties boast over 150 pristine acres and world-class training facilities. “Jennifer has been my biggest supporter, along with my family, and she has owned all of my top horses since.”
With Jennifer’s horses, Will frequently competes in CCI-L and CCI-S competitions, and has appeared in high-profile events like the Kentucky Three-Day Event and Burghley. With success on his mind, Will recognizes the importance of expert guidance. Will has spent the last several years training with Bobby Costello, who is also based in Southern Pines. “Bobby has been such an important part of my career,” Will said. “He has always held me accountable for my actions and believed in me, no matter what. Everything I’ve done in my professional, competitive life that I’m truly proud of, he has been a part of that result.”
Bouncing Back — Again
Throughout his life and professional career, Will has lived by one principle: If you draw the shortest straw, blow bigger bubbles. Making the most out of uncertainty has been the name of the game for Will. In 2015, his grit was tested once again when a fall on the Advanced cross-country course at Five Points Horse Trials broke Will’s neck.
The accident was unexpected, given that Will had ridden the course earlier in the day with another horse and was having a phenomenal round with his mount, Hans Dampf. Will describes the accident as a “bummer of a mistake,” leading to a break between his C6 and C7 vertebrae.
Ever resilient, Will worked to overcome the accident both physically and mentally. During his recovery, his horses remained in shape with the help of Bobby, as well as Will’s friend and dressage rider John Zopatti. “I was back in the tack six months after and back to competition,” Will said. “I won the first couple of events. Then Jennifer’s mare, Caeleste, and I won the CIC2* at the Carolina International.”
When Will isn’t traveling the world for competition, he’s dedicated to developing horses and riders for success. “I love to train horses and work with people of any level that want to become better,” he said. Will stays in Southern Pines year-round with his horses and clients, and enjoys time to himself at home with his dogs and cat. “I don’t really like to leave my house,” Will laughed, “but I do like to cook and be with friends.”
With the 2020 show season sitting in uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Will is taking advantage of the time off. “I’ve been quite vocal on social media from the start that events should cancel and we should do everything in our power to flatten the curve as quickly as we can,” Will said. “How lucky are we that in mid-season, we can give the horses a break and let their bodies and brains have a little rest? They’ll come out of this light time very much refreshed and ready to go back to work!”
Since he first watched “Sylvester” as a boy, Will’s commitment to following his passion has grown stronger with each chapter in his life. “My time with Phillip Dutton showed me what all it took and how hard it was going to be,” he said. “I discovered that the ups would be amazing, but I’d have to learn and persevere through the downs.” Undeterred, Will understood the adventure ahead of him, and he stepped confidently in the direction of his dreams.
For more information, visit willfaudreeeventing.com/
Photos by Allie Conrad, www.allieconradphoto.com/