Texas transplants 25-year-old Wilton Porter and younger brother Lucas (age 22) are turning heads on the U.S. and European showjumping circuits.
Wilton has recently become a valuable member of the NetJets U.S. Jumping Team, upon riding the only double-clear performance of the American athletes aboard Caletto Cabana to help the United States win gold in the $150,000 FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Wellington CSIO4* at the Winter Equestrian Festival in March. He was again named to the team with Caletto Cabana for the FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Sweden during the 2019 Falsterbo Horse Show, July 6-14, and will represent the United States in the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Great Britain on July 26 at the Longines Royal International Horse Show.
Lucas produced consistent results throughout the Winter Equestrian Festival and is studying in Utrecht, Netherlands, through the Vanderbilt program as he competes internationally across Europe.
Both Porter brothers, along with their parents BG and Suzanne, are involved with Dutch Olympian Jeroen Dubbeldam’s horse sales and training business.
Winter Hoffman: You are both zooming up the FEI rankings! How did you come to love horses and riding?
Wilton Porter: We started at a young age on our ranch in Texas. We didn’t really start
competing until age 10, so it was nice to start out with horses pressure-free and for pleasure. In fact, we both rode western until one day my mother set out a plank on top of two buckets and we jumped over it. From then on, we were principally interested in show jumping and the rest is history!
Lucas Porter: My mother rode as a young girl and she introduced me to the sport. I was not so into it at first, but as I’ve progressed through the early stage of my career, I have become fascinated by the sport and can’t see myself doing anything different.
WH: Is it possible to instill courage in a rider?
WP: I think courage is a product of confidence for a rider. If they are not confident in their own or their horse’s ability, they won’t have the courage to, for example, take a quick risk in a jump-off for the win. I know this first-hand as I lacked a lot of confidence with my pony jumpers and often felt a lack of courage to compete. It was my 18-year-old children’s jumper, Benvolio, that I got when I turned 13 years old who gave me the confidence to become a courageous, competitive rider. So to answer the question, yes, I think it is possible to instill courage, but that starts by instilling confidence.
LP: Some riders enter show jumping with a great deal of courage – willing to go fast, willing to jump high, etc. Others have to develop it through experiences and help from a trainer or a mental coach. I think it is possible to instill courage in a rider by exposing the rider to positive experiences throughout the rider’s early part of the career.
WH: Is it possible to instill courage in a horse?
WP: I think it’s possible to instill courage in a horse through patience and good horsemanship. Of course, every case and every horse is different, and if it doesn’t improve over an extended period of time, I think it’s also good horsemanship to recognize that the horse may never have the courage to do the job. Continuing beyond that point is unfair to the horse.
LP: Yes, it is possible to instill courage in a horse. Again, through positive experiences a horse can gain courage and become a braver horse.
WH: Is it possible to make a rider competitive: ie. give them that blood-thirsty desire to win?
WP: I believe so. Again, drawing from my own experiences, I’ve had several trainers in my career who have really specialized in creating the blood-thirsty desire to win. First and foremost who comes to mind is Katie Prudent. She is one of those special horsewomen who inspires her riders to really go for the win, and in my years working with her, she really instilled that into me. I think it’s important for developing riders to experience that kind of training, as it sort of ignites a passion for competition.
LP: Competitiveness can definitely be developed through a great deal of success and then becoming attached to that feeling of success and desiring it more than anything. Motivation, however, cannot be instilled in a rider. A rider must be self-motivated in order to have the discipline to work hard to achieve one’s goals. This sport can put you really down and it’s this motivation that brings a rider through hard times.
WH: Wilton, Did you have that spirit when you had the only double-clear performance on the winning Nations Cup team with McLain Ward, Beezie Madden and Adrienne Sternlicht aboard Caletto Cabana (San Patrignano Cassini—Mercury, Capecanaveral)? Or the individual gold at the FEI North American Young Riders? Lucas same question on great ribbons in the multiple 4* and 5*’s and Junior Young Rider Nations Cup?
WP: Absolutely. I think that’s a necessity to be successful, but there are many other aspects of my riding that I also attribute to that double clear. My management and training of Caletto to that point was very carefully planned with the help of my trainer, Jeroen Dubbeldam. That’s probably the most difficult thing to achieve at the highest level, in my opinion. My reasoning for that is that everyone competing on those Nations Cup teams was hungry to win that night as well as talented in their riding, so in the end it comes down to how you planned up to that point as a partner with your horse.
LP: I am a very competitive rider. I always have been and I always will be. Top sport and competing are what drive me everyday to train hard and work with my horses until we achieve our goals. For sure my past results contribute to my motivation, but the future competitions and the future opportunities that are in front of me are what motivate me even more.
WH: You have both had a myriad of talented trainers. Currently it’s Dutch Olympian Jeroen Dubbeldam – can you tell us how you chose him and how this works? As the goal of the Olympics is imminent, what is the biggest focus for you? Has anyone helped you strategize or how have you adapted your training program and methods to fit this goal?
WP: As mentioned in that previous question, Jeroen really helps guide our management with the team of horses we have. I think he is one of the greatest of all time at doing that, as is evidenced by his championship record. We certainly have dreams of going to the Olympics and other major competitions such as Aachen, but first we have to focus on good horsemanship to understand how to access that maximum potential from our four-legged partners.
LP: Every trainer throughout my career has had their variations and systems, but the main difference I’ve noticed is the difference in the American system and the European system. The American system is much more focused on a light seat and a high hand, whereas the European system is based on a deeper seat with a quiet body and hands low to the horse’s neck.
WH: What does your typical week schedule look like?
WP: At home: (Rough time estimates)
8:30 a.m: Ride first horse
10:00 a.m: Meeting with team (grooms, Jeroen, brother) to discuss show plans, training, etc.
10:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m: Normally ride or longe 3 more horses
1:00 – 2:00 p.m: Lunch
2:00 – 5:30 p.m: Ride/longe/work remaining horses and all other aspects of business- show entries, book-keeping, property management, etc.
Generally, we are at shows around Europe Thursday- Sunday
WH: If you could advise an ambitious American grand prix rider today, what goals would you tell them to set? What competition schedule? We often hear about the Global Champions Tour with it’s glamorous venues – what are your thoughts on the tour?
WP: I would advise them to dream big, but to focus on the present with their horses. Setting rigid goals, especially short-term, is a difficult thing in our sport. We are working with great animals after all, and things can sometimes go differently than planned. I think putting too much pressure on achieving certain goals, like a victory in a particular grand prix for example, can sometimes lead to frustration and eventually burnout. The Global Champions Tour is a great addition to our sport and I think will also help show jumping grow in the public eye.
WH: What is the most beautiful place to ride in the world or your favorite place and why?
WP: My favorite place to ride is in Wellington for several reasons. Firstly, the competition there is a very high level. But also it’s a pleasure to be able to compete so close to our home in Mallet Hill and with all of my American friends. The most beautiful venue that I’ve ever shown at is probably in Chantilly, France. The grass arena is directly in front of a
LP: I’ve never ridden in Aachen, but I imagine that it is an incredible feeling to ride there. I dream of riding in Aachen one day. My favorite place in the world is Wellington, Florida, because of the top sport and it is my home.
WH: In your travels you’ve worked with other trainers/riders and have observed many from other countries can you tell me which ones you were impressed with and how their training styles differ?
WP: I believe every trainer in my career has helped my riding in some way or another. To highlight a few: In the beginning, I worked with a Mexican rider named Ivan Zamora who helped me discover a passion for show-jumping. Then I worked with Todd Minikus who showed me how a rider at the highest-level trained and operates, and showed me that I still had so much to learn. Frank Madden came after that, who introduced me to the importance of good equitation to achieve consistent results. Later I worked with Katie Prudent, who, as I mentioned, really taught me to be competitive and hungry to win. After that was John Roche, who really became almost family to me and helped my brother and I to have an wonderful junior/young rider career. And finally there is Jeroen, who I am building my professional career with and who has taught me so much about riding at the highest level in the world.
WH: Will you return to WEF/Wellington next year or stay in Europe?
WP: Our normal plan is to return to Wellington in November or December and stay there until April.
LP: I will return to WEF for the 2020 WEF Season.
WH: Favorite equestrian author and book, film?
WP: “Greatest Horse Stories Ever Told,” by Stephen D. Price. The chapter by William Steinkraus, “On Winning,” is something I believe every show jumper should read and live by.
LP: Not an equestrian book reader, but “The Golfer’s Mind” has really helped me with my mental game. Highly encourage it to all riders/athletes.
WH: Any funny horsey stories – incidents at a show or while on course?
WP: I did a Young Rider team event several years ago in Wellington with my horse Paloubet. He was notoriously strong in the mouth and I was using a hackamore at the time. I had a bad score in the first round, 12 faults or something, so I was especially motivated to improve in the second round. Our team was still in contention thanks to the other members. In the second round, I was about halfway through the course when the chain snapped on the hackamore! He was already strong as it was, but then he was basically a freight train dragging me around the course. I wanted to jump clear so badly though that I kept going, and miraculously managed to guide him home fault-free. I had to gallop a few laps around the ring before I could finally get him to stop, and in the end I was the sole clear round of the entire team competition – and our team won overall!
LP: I fell off as the 45-second clock was counting down two times with a spicy French mare I used to have. Both times my trainer at the time, John Roche, ran out and helped me back on and then I started the course and jumped clear.
WH: I’d like to you to address breeding and bloodlines in showjumping. Who is your favorite sire? Do you have a favorite dam line? Training techniques for the young horses?
WP: I think breeding is a helpful guide, but I think the most important factor of a good horse is its development and training. I am a big fan of the sire Cassini II, because that is what my best horse Caletto Cabana comes out of. I think one of the most important aspects of developing young horses is understanding the fine line between strict training and burnout. While young horses need to be taught the basics and learn a system from the rider, it is also important to preserve their minds and bodies as they are still developing.
LP: My best horse, C Hunter, is by Cassini II so that is one of my favorites at the moment. But Casall ASK and Quabri d’ Isle are also excellent. Heartbreaker on the dam line usually makes a good horse. It is very important to be patient with young horses in training but also as they start competing because they might not understand what you are asking from them straight away.
WH: Tell us about your current horses?
WP: Currently I have five horses that I’m riding. My best horse and U.S. Team horse is Caletto Cabana. I’ve had him since he was 8 years old. He’s now 12 and we’ve really come into the top level together. I hope that I have several more horses like him in my career, but he is certainly a very special animal who I’ll always appreciate as my first true top-level horse.
After Caletto, I have Cula Lou, a 13-year-old mare with a lot of jump. The biggest challenge with her is control, but she is a great second horse to Caletto and can compete at the biggest competitions in world. Then I have two sale horses, Delinquent JX and Caretinhus. They are both pleasures to ride, and compete mainly at the 1.45m level. I think they would make excellent junior/amateur/young rider horses, and I’ve enjoyed numerous successes with them. Finally, I have a 7-year-old named Heike ES. I think she’ll develop into a world-class speed horse, as she is naturally quick and very careful.
LP: C Hunter, a 12-year-old gelding by Cassini II out of a Corland mare, is my best horse, and can jump 1.60m. He is difficult to ride because of the connection, but very talented.
My other horse, Diamonte Darco, is a 14-year-old mare by Unbelieveable Darco. She is a great, spicy, chestnut mare, who really fights for you. She is competitive and has done a lot for both me and my brother.
A few of my other horses include:
- Hope Street: 10-year-old mare by Casall out of a Quick Nick I mare; a new horse for me, super competitive, careful, hopefully will be a great horse for the GCL classes in the future
- B Once Z: 15-year-old mare by Baloubet d Rouet out of a Lavaletto mare; a really competitive horse, fighter, careful, and has been a great horse for me
- E Clinton: 10-year-old gelding by Clinton out of a Heartbreaker mare; competitive, careful, a bit spooky at home, but a real jumper; My brother rode him before but now I will ride him. I look forward to competing him.
WH: I know there must be a particular rider/ mentor who has inspired or inspires you – who is it and please elaborate on how they influenced you?
WP: That’s easy – Jeroen Dubbeldam. I see him as a complete horseman, which I
define as someone who understands not only how to compete a horse but also
how to care for, develop, and prolong that horse’s career. He has demonstrated that with numerous horses in his career, from De Sjiem to Simon to Zentih. Furthermore, he has built a successful business in this industry and is well-regarded as a man who operated with integrity, which is something I admire and hope to emulate.
LP: My coach, Jeroen Dubbeldam, inspires me everyday. I am very lucky learn from him as well as own a few horses together with him.
WH: What mistakes would you tell a rider to avoid in their riding career or in their education/career path? What would you tell them to look for in a competition horse?
WP: This is a sport of patience. The riders that emerge at the top level have done so because they have moved past their failures. So my advice is to always try to stay positive, even when things go wrong – which inevitably happens a lot in our sport. As far as education, watching and learning from the riders who are considered legends of the sport is always helpful. They all have different styles, but there is a consistency in how they think about the horse and what works for it. I learn new things at every show I go to just from watching other riders. I think a good competition horse should have four basically good qualities: rideability, scope, carefulness, and heart. That said, every horse is different and some may have more of one aspect than the other but still end up being a great competition horse.
LP: Work hard in your riding career and take advantage of any opportunities that are presented. In a competition horse, I look for scope, carefulness, heart, rideability.
WH: Which of the disciplines helped your riding the most: equitation, hunters, or the jumpers and why/please elaborate. Do you think the equitation is important for a rider who wants to be a showjumper?
WP: Jumpers has helped my riding career the most. You can practice good equitation in the jumpers, so in that sense it combines both disciplines. I think equitation is important, but the most important type of equitation is that which focuses primarily on the horse’s way of going, as opposed to simply the way that the rider looks. A rider can look nice on a horse but not necessarily be effective as a show jumper.
LP: Jumpers and hunters are totally different and require different rides. It’s difficult for most riders to do both, including me. I prefer to just ride jumpers. Equitation can be good to progress into jumpers, but it is absolutely not necessary. I would personally recommend starting jumpers from the start if one wants to be a professional jumper rider.
WH: How important is a college education for a rider? Wilton you graduated from Vanderbilt and Lucas you are enrolled in Vanderbilt’s semester abroad in Utrecht, Netherlands. How did/does your time at Vanderbilt impact your life and your life as a showjumper?
WP: I think each rider’s career can develop differently, but, for me, my college education was a great achievement in my life and something I will always look back at as an important aspect of my career. Aside from the academic education that I got, it gave me great life experience and introduced me to a lot of new people outside of the horse-world.
LP: A college education helps in exposure to other types of people. It’s not necessary in show jumping, but I am very fortunate to be attending college as well as competing. My time at Vanderbilt makes my life pretty busy and hectic during the school year! But on a more serious note, it is tough to balance, but I can manage with the help of my team.
WH: I understand you have a business set up with Olympian Jeroen Dubbeldam to develop your horses. There are several other Americans who have set up similar horse brokering/sales businesses. Can you tell us how it yours is structured and what makes it different from the others?
WP: Jeroen’s business, Stal de Sjiem, and our business, Sleepy P Ranch BV, own a few horses together right now. As we continue our partnership, our joint ownership and sale of horses will hopefully increase!
LP: Jeroen is my coach, but he also helps me find horses, plan shows, horse care, and more. He is the CEO of our operation and oversees just about every decision.
WH: What are your thoughts on the lack of talented U.S.-born grand prix horses? Will things ever change?
WP: My understanding is that we used to have many great U.S.-born grand prix jumpers that were Thoroughbreds, but as the sport developed and the obstacles became more fragile the ideal horse became a Warmblood. Europe has a very deeply rooted breeding system, and eventually the U.S. may be able to produce great Warmbloods but at the moment it is difficult because we don’t have the multiple generations of family lines like the European studbooks.
LP: The U.S. does not have many U.S.-born grand prix horses because of the small amount of U.S. breeding. It is much more expensive to produce horses in the U.S., so I don’t see this changing much in the future.
WH: I found this set of very astute observations that your mother, perhaps the entire Porter family shares this view?
From Suzanne Thomas Porter: “Watching the team final for the Global Champions Tour highlights what is missing in our Nations Cups. Top riders – from all countries going against each other. The Nations Cup was so much more interesting in the old format.
We used to get the European teams to come to the US to compete – now it is just Latin America, Ireland and Canada. Points don’t matter for the EU in the US.
And the US used to be able to send a team to any country’s Nations Cup – now we are shut out of many if the EU teams want to go…
Plus it is confusing to watch, with some teams “counting” the points and others not. Doesn’t make sense to non insiders. And in the US we have one “real” nations cup and one “fake” nations cup. Really confusing to most.
As the Olympic format has changed – maybe 3 riders per round with an option to switch a rider for the second round is the way to go. You could have up to 15 first round teams (45 first rounds) and 8 second round teams (24 rounds). Who knows – maybe the second round course could be shorter, a speed and without the water! Add to crowd excitement!
The Barcelona Nations Cup Final is great – but maybe that should be held every other year on the “off years” from the WEG and Olympics.
I hope the FEI reviews this format again in the future. I think the crowd and the commitment would return if the competition was not forced into an artificial set of rules. Just moving the day from Friday to Sunday is not enough.
I feel our sport needs to get behind fixing this or the only team participation will be one where you have to pay to play.”
Wilton and Lucas do you agree or disagree? Please add your sentiments to this.
WP: Right now, I am focused mainly on my own riding and don’t feel that I have enough experience in this area to comment on the direction of the sport. That said, I think my mother is a pretty smart lady and has a lot of good ideas!
LP: The GCT (Global Champions Tour) and GCL (Global Champions League) are very interesting, exciting new formats. I hope to be a part of a GCL team in the future.
WH: Good luck to both of you in the rest of your summer competitions.
About the author: With a background in filmmaking , fashion and contemporary art, Winter Hoffman brings a unique perspective to the equestrian world. A life long horsewoman she helped her daughter, Zazou Hoffman, navigate her way to a successful Junior career culminating in 1st place in the 2009 ASPCA Maclay Equitation Championship at the National Horse Show and second in the USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final with East Coast trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan. Zazou is now an Assist Trainer and professional rider at Meadow Grove Farm in California.