May 18, 2024

Will Coleman: Father, Eventer, Olympian

Mellisa Fuller photos

This article originally appeared in the April 2024 Eventing Issue of Sidelines Magazine.

As a child growing up in Virginia’s hunt country, William “Will” Coleman III developed a lifelong passion for horses. “I was lucky to grow up in a ‘horsey’ family,” Will said. “Both of my parents rode, and we always had knowledgeable horse people visiting our farm. They instilled in me a deep love of the animals, right from the beginning.”

That passion for horses—coupled with his innate talent, strong work ethic and positive outlook—led Will to the pinnacle of success in the sport of eventing. While still a teenager, he earned a gold medal at the North American Young Riders’ Championships (NAYRC) and was short-listed for the Olympic Games just two years later. Since then, Will has represented the U.S. at numerous international competitions, finishing the 2023 season as the top-placed U.S. rider in the FEI Eventing World Athlete Rankings. Will’s ability to bring out the best in any horse he rides, along with his kind and friendly nature, has made him a favorite among fans of the sport.

Early Years

As the oldest of three boys born to William II and Wade Coleman, Will’s life began in Locust Valley, New York. The family relocated to a sprawling farm in Charlottesville, Virginia, in the heart of horse country when Will was 6 years old. Shortly after the move, a pickup truck arrived at the farm and out stepped a Shetland pony named TJ. Young Will was smitten with the animal. “TJ was a typical pony,” Will said. “He taught me a lot, including hitting the deck on a regular basis. But I owe a lot to that pony; he gave me my start.”

Will’s dad—affectionately known in the family as “Big Will”—served as the boy’s first riding instructor. “My father, while considered an amateur, was an accomplished rider,” Will said. “He competed up to Intermediaire I in dressage and jumped around some small Grand Prix courses. Both of my parents were always looking to expand their horse knowledge by taking lessons and having trainers at our farm.”

Will and his two brothers took quickly to the family’s chosen sport, galloping through the rolling hunt fields of the Virginia Piedmont. “I have so many fond memories of those days. It was a really great way to learn to ride,” Will said. “Out in those fields, it was common to encounter a stone wall you’d never seen before that you would have to jump; sometimes you would have to cross a creek. Things like that really taught me to make good decisions in the saddle.”

In an effort to help Will become a well-rounded rider, his parents encouraged him to try his hand at several different equestrian disciplines. “We did foxhunting, eventing and dressage,” Will said. “I also did some hunter and equitation classes. But at that time, I really didn’t have a lot of competition goals. My primary goal was to keep learning and to become a good rider and horseman.”

As a young teen, Will gained interest in the sport of eventing when he attended a clinic with Olympians David and Karen O’Connor. “I was about 13 years old,” Will said, “and I was just amazed by it all. After that I started working for David and Karen in the summers. The more exposed I became to the eventing world, the more my passion for eventing grew. I was pretty sure that this was how I wanted to spend my life.”

Upon his graduation from Woodberry Forest School in 2001, Will contemplated a career as a professional horseman. “I was pretty sure that was where my heart was, but I wasn’t sure if I was good enough to become a pro,” Will said. “So my parents—while hoping that I would attend college at some point—encouraged me to take a couple of years to work in the industry before making a decision. By immersing myself in the equestrian world seven days a week, I could find out whether I really wanted a career in horses. And I did promise my parents that I would eventually get my college degree.”

Early Success

By the age of 20, Will was already achieving considerable success in his chosen discipline. One year after winning the NAYRC, he competed in his first three-star event, the Fair Hill International CCI3*. Will guided his horse Second Hope to an eighth-place finish, a performance that earned him a spot on the USEF's winter training list. The following year, Will and the chestnut Irish Sport Horse gelding Fox In Flight dominated the Under-25 Championships at the Bramham CCI4*-L in England, earning a place in the history books as the only U.S. horse-and-rider combination to win the event. On the heels of this victory, Will and Fox competed in their first CCI5*-L at England’s famed Burghley course, where they finished a respectable 26th out of more than 100 starters. “It was an incredible feeling,” Will said. “I was fortunate to be able to do so much at a fairly young age. I always reminded myself how lucky I was to have such great horses.”

In 2004, Will was thrilled to learn that he and Fox In Flight were short-listed for the upcoming Athens Olympic Games. Unfortunately, the horse subsequently sustained a minor injury that kept him sidelined for the rest of that year. With Fox out of Olympic contention, Will competed in his first-ever Rolex Kentucky event aboard Second Hope, finishing as the top-placed young rider in the competition.

The following autumn, Will made good on his promise to his parents and enrolled at the University of Virginia (UVA). “I had a great experience attending UVA,” he said. “I really enjoyed my time there. While we had sold some of my horses, I kept riding throughout my college years and made sure to keep learning by taking lessons.” At UVA, Will earned a bachelor’s degree in history and economics in the span of three years, becoming, as he joked, “a highly educated horse person.”

By this time, Will was certain that a career as a professional rider was his destiny. To that end, he established Will Coleman Equestrian, with operations based in Virginia and Florida, in 2007. It was around this time that Will met the love of his life, Katie, a fellow eventer who shared his deep passion for horses. A native of Canada, Katie worked as a groom for Pam Am Games gold medalist Michael Pollard and his wife, Nathalie. She would later be named the U.S. Eventing Association’s Groom of the Year in 2012.

“I basically knew her from the horse world, and we crossed paths from time to time, Will said. “We eventually started dating, and I quickly realized that she was the one I wanted to spend my life with.” The couple was married in 2014, and they are now the proud parents of two adorable young children, daughter Charlie, 6, and son West, 2.

Jumping to New Heights

As his personal life blossomed, Will’s career also continued on an upward trajectory. In 2012, he rode the Westphalian gelding Twizzel to a fourth-place finish at the Kentucky five-star. Later that season, Will fulfilled his dream of competing at the Olympics when he and Twizzel were selected for the 2012 Games in London on a team that included Karen O’Connor, Phillip Dutton, Boyd Martin, and Tiana Coudray. “It was an incredible experience,” Will said. “I think the opportunity to represent one’s country at the Olympics is the highlight of any athlete’s career. While we didn’t finish in the medals, I was so grateful for the wonderful owners, grooms and horses who helped make my dream a reality. The experience also taught me a lot about what I would need to do better if I ever have another chance to compete at the Olympics.”

The next several years brought continued success for Will Coleman Equestrian. In 2015 Will guided the bay Irish Sport Horse gelding OBOS O’Reilly to an impressive sixth-place finish at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event, among other accomplishments. Additionally, Will and O’Reilly earned the Best Turned Out Horse, Best Conditioned Horse, Land Rover Best Ride of the Day, and USEF Reserve Champion honors for this competition. In 2018, Will was selected to represent the U.S. at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games aboard the French Thoroughbred gelding Tight Lines, where the team placed eighth.

By 2021, Will had cemented his reputation as one of the top event riders in the world. That year, he achieved a lifelong goal of competing at the prestigious Aachen CHIO. “I have always had a special place in my heart for Aachen, ever since I was a kid,” Will said. “I’ve always been in awe of the caliber of horses and riders competing there.”

The experience was made even sweeter when he and the Irish Sport Horse Off The Record won the event. “To be the victor there, I cannot even describe the feeling. It was surreal,” Will said. “And I was so happy to have a wonderful performance like that for my owners, team and staff, as I couldn’t have done it without them.”

Following this exhilarating victory, Will and Off The Record—known around the barn as Timmy—were selected to compete at the 2022 FEI Eventing World Championship in Pratoni, Italy. The pair rose to the occasion, helping the U.S. team win the silver medal—the first eventing medal for the U.S. in over 20 years. Will and Timmy were also the highest-placed U.S. horse-and-rider combination, finishing in seventh place.

“It was an amazing competition and it was incredible to be there,” Will said. “Some of the best horses and riders the sport has ever seen were competing there, which was a huge motivator for us. We felt it was our opportunity, as Americans, to prove ourselves on that stage. It was just an awesome event and a fantastic result overall—and it motivated me to do even better for my team and country in the future. I really learned to relish the experience of representing our country alongside my peers. Those moments are truly enough to get you out of bed in the morning.”

Looking Ahead

With the 2024 Paris Olympics quickly approaching, Will is hoping for the opportunity to once again represent his country on the world’s stage. “I have a couple of horses that I’m hoping can be contenders for Paris,” Will said. “Timmy still feels great at 15. And I have another horse, Chin Tonic, who is going to be a real superstar. He’s an incredible athlete. He has the pedigree of a show jumper but is gifted on the flat as well.”

Chin Tonic is owned by Hyperion Stud, who imported him from Holstein, Germany, for Will to campaign. He also has a young horse called Diabolo who shows much promise. “All three are going really well. I’m really excited at the thought of giving the Paris Olympics a go,” Will said. “This is what we train for every day, so it will be exciting to see how it all unfolds.”

While he doesn’t have much free time, Will enjoys playing golf whenever he has the chance. “I got into golf about three or four years ago and have developed a huge appreciation for it as a sport,” he said. “I’ve become kind of obsessed with it. It’s a sport that you can continue to play until you are quite old, and can continue to have goals and keep getting better. So now I have two passions that are time consuming. Other than being with my family and my horses, playing golf is how I like to spend my free time.”

But family remains the most important thing to Will. The children keep him and Katie quite busy as they explore the world and their surroundings. “They are amazing kids,” Will said. “At 2, West is a bit young to show interest in the horses, but Charlie has taken some lessons. Katie and I are not going to push them towards it, though, as we want them to develop their own interests. We’ll see if they become more interested in horses as they grow older.”

All in all, Will is steadily looking forward to the future. “It may sound cliché, but I am just so grateful for everything,” he said. “I’m lucky to have an amazing family, wonderful horses and a team that is behind me every step of the way. And my owners have become close friends of mine. I am so blessed, and of course, I am forever grateful to my wife, Katie. I would not have accomplished any of this without her by my side.”

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