Mill Spring, N.C.—Sept. 19
No less than 120 horse-and-rider pairs set out on course Wednesday for the opening speed round of the Bank Of America Merrill Lynch FEI World Equestrian Games show jumping championship. Many legends from many countries were there—World Cup champions, Olympic gold medalists, riders whose horses have been made into Breyer models.
Then there was Rowan Willis. A 38-year-old rider from Australia, Willis was competing in his very first WEG on Blue Movie, a horse he’s known since she hit the ground 12 years ago. The most remarkable part? After those dozens of decorated, storied and renowned pairs navigated the course, it was Willis who found himself sitting in third place.
“It’s fantastic; it’s something I dreamed about since I started riding ponies, since I was in Pony Club,” Willis said with a grin. “I was always hoping everything would go well, and I knew my mare was more than capable of doing it for me, but yeah, it was a nice result.”
Willis grew up riding in New South Wales, Australia, before moving to England in his early 20s to work for Sue and Fred Welch. It was Sue who bred Willis’ mount, Blue Movie (Chacco Blue—Showtime, Pilot).
“I always thought she was going to be incredible from the moment she landed on the ground,” Willis said. “I was always selling horses, and I wasn’t really in a position to keep them, but I really believed in this mare. I always wanted to buy her from when I saw her as a foal, and finally with my family and some owners, [we] got together and were able to get her.”
Blue Movie is a chestnut mare, and at least in her case the stereotypes hold.
“She’s taken a while; she’s [been] slightly difficult along the way,” Willis said. “But I’ve always believed in her, and the last couple years she’s really rewarded me.”
In 2018 Willis and Blue Movie had top finishes in FEI competition in both Ocala, Florida, and the Spruce Meadows tournament in Calgary, Alberta, before coming to Tryon for the WEG. Willis is unique in that he doesn’t have any one single wealthy backer to pay the bills on his riding.
“My sponsor is Blue Movie, really; she’s won about a half million this year,” Willis said with a laugh. “She’s a pretty brilliant sponsor.”
Willis admitted his way isn’t the easiest path to the top of the sport, but he shared some words of wisdom for other riders looking to make it.
“You have to believe in your horse, and hard work pays off,” Willis said. “It’s a tough sport; it’s getting tougher now with all the money involved, but if you work hard and believe in your horse anything can happen.”
For full results from the FEI World Equestrian Games, click here.
For everything you need to know, including broadcast schedules, click here.
For all WEG coverage, click here.
We’ll be onsite for the full two weeks of WEG to bring you all the news you need to know plus gorgeous photos and insight into the competition. Be sure to check out the Oct. 8 issue of the Chronicle for detailed analysis.