Some people like to test the water before getting in, but not Wilton Porter. This U.S. junior rider jumped into showing in Europe for the first time with both feet and came away with some impressive results.
Australia’s Edwina Alexander dominated the headlines of the Global Champions Tour in Chantilly, France, since she won the GCT Grand Prix, but Porter made news of his own at the historic venue.
On the first day of the show, July 22, Porter placed second in the 1.25-meter class on Phineas and third in the 1.35-meter class on Patriot. The next day, he won a 1.25-meter class on Phineas, and in his final class of the weekend, a 1.35-meter class, he won on Phineas.
“I really enjoy the shows here. There are no hunters, and all the events have victory gallops; it's like doing a classic every single day. It has more of an impressive, classy feeling,” Porter, 17, said. Porter’s younger brother, Lucas, 13, also placed fourth and second in 1.15-meter classes at Chantilly.
Chantilly was the first of four shows the Porters plan to attend in France on their European tour before returning home to Bartonville, Texas, in August. Trainer Katie Prudent urged them to book tickets for themselves and their horses when the Porter boys started riding with her at the beginning of June.
“We definitely wanted to because it's a great experience,” Wilton said. “Katie has definitely helped me a lot. She's taught me how to go fast in the jump-offs; she's made me a faster rider than I was before. She's taught me how to concentrate on the competition and have my horses ready to win.”
Wilton has been a force to be reckoned with in the children’s and junior jumpers for some time now, but this year the Porters decided to really devote themselves to the top level of the sport. “It's just opened their eyes to what competing on the world stage is like,” said their mother, Suzanne. “For the boys, that's been a great thing. They've really risen to the occasion.
Wilton and Lucas have ridden with various trainers such as Todd Minikus, Ragan Roberts and Frank Madden over the years, but they feel like Prudent’s program suits them. “Honestly, we have struggled a bit to find our way,” said Suzanne. “Having two boys who ride is a bit of a different thing in the United States. Neither of them would do ponies for very long. Wilton did the pony hunters for like three months and said 'Either I quit or we find something else to do.' Lucas did small ponies and then was done with it. We bounced around a bit, and it's been because we've been trying to figure out how to keep them interested.”
In addition, both boys attend a rigorous private school in Dallas, Texas, and only occasionally take Fridays off for horse shows. So, they show intensively in the summer. “One of my big things is that this is a sport, and I don't think it's necessary to pull them out of school to do it,” said Suzanne. “We do a lot of flying in on Thursday and Friday nights in order for them to show over the weekend, but we don’t take them out of school just to show.”
One reason Wilton wasn’t too overwhelmed with his first European showing experience at Chantilly was that he and Prudent purposely entered Phineas and Patriot in divisions with lower heights than they usually jump so Wilton could acclimate. “In that sense, I expected to do fine, but it was definitely a surprise to win the last day when we moved Phineas up to the 1.35-meter class,” Wilton said.
Wilton bought Phineas, 9, last year from Christine McCrea. “He can get really nervous sometimes, so when I flat him, I try to keep him really relaxed. I have my own little ways that I think work, like that I pat him a lot,” he said. “I try to keep him confident, because if he gets scared—which he has in the past a few times—it takes a while to rebuild him. As long as he's confident, he's a great horse.
And we think he enjoys jumping on the grass.”
Wilton showed Phineas and Patriot in the high junior jumper divisions at this year’s FTI Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.), which are run at the 1.40- and 1.45-meter heights.
Wilton prepared for the imposing rings and grass footing of Chantilly by spending June and early July showing at the Spruce Meadows venue in Calgary, Alta. In between the four shows in France, Wilton will be staying at Prudent’s farm in Rosieres-Aux-Salines, France. “He's a great student, and I think he's going to be a great rider,” Prudent said of Wilton. “He's got a lot of natural instinct and feel of the horse. Now he's getting the training he wants, and he's very hungry. He wants to compete in Europe and go far in the sport. Those are the types of students that I like—the ones that are highly motivated.
“He had a nice set of basics and he's a nice rider,” she continued. “What we give them is just a motivation toward the highest level of competition, and we push them forward and teach them how to win. He has some nice horses, and we're trying to get him to know them very well so that he can be the fastest one out there when the time comes.”
Wilton discovered jumping while he was out riding his first pony, Princess, in a field one day and pointed her at a board resting on two buckets. He was hooked immediately, and while he can be convinced to sit pretty in some equitation classes and has been known to pilot a hunter, the jumper ring is where his heart lies.
“I'm pretty dedicated to riding, and I think I might want to become a rider full time,” Wilton said. “I'd love to ride internationally. At Chantilly, I saw the Global Champions Tour and all those riders. I really want to be here someday. That's why I'm here, to get that experience.”
Jumping perfectly manicured fences in front of a historic castle is a far cry from toodling around the fields in Texas on a pony, but Suzanne has been dedicated to supporting her sons’ interest in horses. She got them started trail riding on a pony because she’d been an avid pony jumper rider in her youth in England. By the time he was 11, Wilton had started showing in the pony hunters, but his preference for speed won out. “Jumpers were always my favorite and what I wanted to focus on,” he said.
The Porters built Sleepy P Ranch in Bartonville, Texas, and started showing in earnest. At age 13, he won the 2007 NAL Children’s Jumper Finals at the Pennsylvania National aboard Benvolio and then he was the 2008 WEF children’s jumper, 13 and under, circuit champion.
Wilton plans to show at three more shows in France—the Dinard CSI on July 26-31 and two other one-star CSIs. He hopes to compete in the Prix Des Nations at the Pennsylvania National this fall and then hopefully qualify for the U.S. Equestrian Team Young Riders European tour next summer.