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While he was born in New York on May 8th, 1983, Will Coleman’s life with horses didn’t begin until he was six years old when his family moved to a farm in Charlottesville, Virginia. When a Shetland pony arrived in the back of a pick-up truck not long after the move to Virginia, the seeds of a future career in horses were planted. Though the Shetland can be given credit for fostering a certain competitive spirit and a certain comfort with hitting the deck, Will really learned to ride in the hunt fields of the Virginia Piedmont and in the show jumping ring. 

His father was an avid horseman and fox hunter, and on a variety of ponies that succeeded the great Shetland teacher, Will first learned his jumping and cross-country skills in the hunt field, at hunter paces, and in the show jumping ring. An interest in eventing naturally followed, and after a clinic with eventing greats Karen and David O’Connor, Will began taking lessons with the two regularly. After graduating high school in 2001 from Woodberry Forest School, Will began a three-year apprenticeship with the O’Connors in which David, in particular, took Will under his wing as he progressed from the ranks of Young Rider to international four-star competition. From the outset, it was a successful relationship, both in terms of competitive success and in the education Will received from David’s expert tutelage. In 2001, Will was gold medalist at the North American Young Rider’s Championship at just 18 years of age. Moving up to three-star level the next year, he finished 8th on Second Hope at Fair Hill International CCI3*, earning a spot on the USEF’s training list that winter. In 2003, his partnership began with another horse, Fox-In-Flight, and they became the first American horse and rider to ever win the Bramham Under-25 European Championships in England. 

That fall, they returned to England to contest their first four-star, and put in a clean round across the world’s biggest cross country course to finish 26th out of a field of 100+. But good fortune would not be in the cards for him, and Fox-In-Flight injured himself right before Rolex Kentucky in the spring of 2004. Another horse, Second Hope, did compete at that 2004 Rolex with Will, however, and earned the honor of being top placing young rider in his first attempt at America’s biggest three-day event. As a young rider, Will had accomplished an incredible amount before he had even turned twenty-one years of age. 

Presciently, he even now admits that he was far from ready to turn professional at that time. In his words, Will says, “At Rolex 2004, I was twenty years old at that time and it was my second four star. I was inexperienced, to say the least, but I had a wonderful ride around the cross country, and finished as the highest placed young rider, making the entire week an incredibly positive experience. However, I was very much still learning how to ride, and most of my focus was on studying technique and developing the skills to compete at four-star level under the tutelage of David O’Connor. Training and developing the horses themselves to four-star level was still largely a mystery to me, despite having done both Burghley and Rolex before I was 21. I realized that I knew very little, and, now looking back, it was after that Rolex in 2004 that a new chapter in my riding life began.” 

In 2005, Will began an education of a different sort, both in horses and in life. In the fall of that year, Will started school at the University of Virginia. He and his family sold one of his advanced horses, Fox-In-Flight, and later sold another one, Ratzi, leaving Will with a couple young horses and one old campaigner, Second Hope. School took away some of the opportunities to compete, and so it made sense to take advantage of the time not spent traveling to events to focus on riding and training in its purest sense. He started studying dressage with Gerd Reuter, whose mentoring has now helped define how Will approaches training the horses on the flat, and who showed him the values of transitions and long-lining. His father being a show jumper, Will started to spend more time in this world as well, and Anne Kursinski graciously gave him a lot of her time, inviting Will to a couple horse shows to ride some of her horses when her back was giving her trouble. Similarly, Wiljan Larakkers, a friend of his father’s in Holland, invited Will to Europe to show horses indoors, a hugely beneficial experience. Will also examined fitness, where Philip Dutton, who many believe is this country’s preeminent master of conditioning, gave him welcome advice. All of these people, as well as the many others whose names number too many to mention them all, helped provide Will with the backbone of a system or program for training and competing at top-level. It will never be completely fleshed out. There will always be more to add, but this period of time is where he began to construct the foundation for what his program would become. 

Today, Will is a professional in every sense of the word, and his education and the attention to detail he exhibited in trying to develop himself into a well-rounded horseman seems to be paying dividends. His top two horses, Twizzel (owned by James Wildasin) and Nevada Bay (owned by Nanki Doubleday), have been performing brilliantly at four-star and three-star level, respectively, over the last couple years. A promising group of young horses, owned by an ambitious and generous group of owners, is coming up the ranks behind them, frequently bringing home top placings at intermediate level and below. While training and competing the horses is his number one passion and priority, he teaches lessons almost everyday and clinics around the country. In his mind, Will has not even scratched the surface of what he hopes to accomplish in this wonderful sport, but seems well on his way towards achieving his lofty goals.