Wednesday, Apr. 17, 2024

Waylon Roberts Can’t Wait To Ride Around Rolex

This 19-year-old from Canada is about to take the leap to the next level.

Only a few riders make it to the four-star level of eventing, and even fewer manage to scale the ranks
on the horse they rode at their first event. When Waylon Roberts competes Paleface at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** this spring, he will be doing just that, and at the tender age of 19, no less.
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This 19-year-old from Canada is about to take the leap to the next level.

Only a few riders make it to the four-star level of eventing, and even fewer manage to scale the ranks
on the horse they rode at their first event. When Waylon Roberts competes Paleface at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** this spring, he will be doing just that, and at the tender age of 19, no less.

“I’ve been going to Rolex with my parents for years, and it’s nice to have a crack at it,” he said. “It’s been a goal for a long time. It’s also a stepping stone for the horse, and I think he’s ready. I’m just trying to treat it like another event. I really just want to see how he stacks up.”

As the eldest son of Olympians Ian Roberts and Kelly Plitz, Waylon grew up surrounded by elite horses and riders.

Last year he was the youngest member of the Canadian eventing team at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and he has also represented Canada in numerous North American Junior and Young Riders Championships.

In addition, he is a talented and competitive show jumper. He spent four months at the end of 2007 and
the beginning of 2008 training in England with John Whitaker. Just a week after returning home to Port Perry, Ont., he headed south to Ocala, Fla., to compete on the HITS circuit for a few weeks with his young jumper, Sebastian. While he was at it, he ran Paleface, a 12-year-old Thoroughbred, intermediate at the Ocala Winter II Horse Trials (Fla.) and advanced at Rocking Horse (Fla.) to warm him up for the spring season.

Now home in Canada, Waylon is focused on preparing himself and Paleface for their first crack at the
four-star level.

“I’ve been to jumper shows and lower level events at the Kentucky Horse Park, and it’s a beautiful facility,” he said. “It’s an excellent place to show horses.”

A Family Pursuit

Growing up, Waylon was coached primarily by his parents, who now act as his “eyes on the ground” at home at Dreamcrest Equestrian Centre. Dreamcrest, located in the greater Toronto area, draws numerous young riders and adult amateurs seeking training from Ian and Kelly.

Kelly represented Canada at the 1982 World Championships and the 1984 Olympic Games. Ian was part of the 12th-placed Canadian Olympic eventing team at the 2004 Olympics in Athens. At Dreamcrest they have more than 50 horses in the stables, about 30 of which belong to clients.

More About Waylon Roberts

Age: 19

Hometown: Port Perry, Ont.

Parents: Olympic riders Ian Roberts and
                     Kelly Plitz

Sponsors: Forrestier Staddles and Fox Run
                     Tack and Apparel.

Family Support: “Mum and Dad have ages
                     of experience and I can draw
                     from that. They help steer me in
                     the right direction,” he said.

His Relationship With Paleface:
“Paleface
                     and I have total confidence.
                     We’ve been together for five or six
                      years now, and he’s been great,
                      so a lot of my confidence comes
                      from him,” said Waylon.

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Training At Home: “I do a lot of footwork
                      exercises, not actually jumping
                      but using poles and cavaletti to
                      keep us both sharp. I did a couple
                      of level 5 jumper classes with
                      him at HITS [Ocala], and he was
                      jumping in good form,” he noted.

Horses are not just a hobby or a profession for Waylon. He grew up watching his parents teach and ride, and he rode until he was 11, when his interests turned to competitive diving for a few years. He came back to riding at the age of 13 and has been competing ever since.

“I started competing because I love riding horses, and I am inspired by my parents,” he said.

Making Teams

In 2002, Waylon had his first international experience at the FEI Children’s Jumper Championships in Brasilia, Brazil.

At the championships, competitors draw names for horses they have never ridden. Waylon, a member of the gold-medal team, ranked 28th among children internationally and fourth in North America.

“It was so exciting for Ian and I to go watch Waylon ride in Brazil,” recalled his mother.

After his team experience in the jumper ring, the next year Waylon competed at the NAJYRC in eventing. At the championships, held that year in Bromont, Que., Waylon competed with Paleface, then owned by his mother; she later gave the horse to Waylon. The pair finished as Canada’s top individual in sixth place. In 2004 Waylon and Paleface again made the team, finishing 12th overall.

“The most valuable thing I got from the competition was the experience of riding on a team,” he said.

Waylon competed at the Royal Winter Fair, Canada’s hallmark show, for the first time in 2006. Held at the Ricoh Coliseum in downtown Toronto, an indoor eventing competition is the most recent addition to the lineup of hunters, draft horses, Hackneys and grand prix jumpers.

With an experienced field including Olympic veterans competing over a timed course of cross-country and
show jumps, and with loud music blaring and the crowd going wild, it is an intense experience for horse and rider. Waylon won the inaugural class in 2006 (the first time indoor eventing, which is becoming popular in Europe, was held in North America) and last year’s class as well. He also competed in the hunters and medal classes.

“I find it interesting to compete in both hunter/jumpers and eventing,” he said. “They are two very different disciplines. I’ve spent a lot more time at jumper shows now; since the shows last a week, you get more chances to go out and compete. If you have a bad class you can go back and fix it. If you have a bad go at a big three-day event, you have to wait another three months to try and fix it.”

The Pan Am Games

In 2007, Waylon had his first senior team experience, which launched him into the professional ranks. He
and Paleface joined Mike Winter, Kyle Carter and Sandra Donnelly at the Pan American Games, bringing home the team silver medal to Canada.

“He’s a really good kid and had a great time at the Pan Ams,” said Winter. “He kept up the family tradition of stealing flags! He also got into trading pins and gear and stuff. I think he was a bit nervous at the training sessions in Florida, but once we were down there he jumped right in. I think he’d done so much Young Riders he wasn’t that much of a novice. He really dealt with everything well and had a good time.”

Waylon made headlines in Brazil, but not in the way he’d expected. During the show jumping, the Brazilian audience cheered loudly any time a member of the Canadian or U.S. teams, both ahead of Brazil in the standings, incurred penalties. They cheered on their own riders and booed members of the “opposing teams” any time one of them had a clear round.

During Waylon’s round, in which he dropped several rails, the crowd booed him passionately, and he “flipped them the bird” as he cantered Paleface out of the arena. Following Waylon’s ride, Technical Delegate Roger Haller stopped the show, locking the gate on the next horse until the announcer explained a little “horse show decorum” to the audience. Photos of Waylon’s gesture ended up on the Internet and in newspapers.

“After the competition I got a talking to,” Waylon admitted. “While I don’t like the image that it presented to the public, I don’t regret it. I had a crappy round, and the crowd was insulting.”

David O’Connor said, “I thought Waylon handled most of the Pan Ams well. The horse wasn’t the easiest in dressage, but Waylon has a talent for riding a rhythm across country—he’s known for that.”

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Continuing Education

Although Ian and Kelly continue to coach their son, as he seeks to broaden his education Waylon has also received show jumping instruction from Mark Hayes and is currently working on his dressage with John McPherson.

“It’s easier to have him work with other coaches,” said Kelly. “We are too close; there’s not the same respect. He never did a lot of lessons growing up anyway, but he always watched a lot.”

Waylon has a younger brother, Wyatt, and Kelly said, “I think that Waylon will take Wyatt in some leadline classes. He soaks it up in the same way Waylon did.”

As a member of the Canadian team’s winter training list, Waylon attended training sessions with the team’s technical advisor O’Connor and from Torchy Millar over the winter.

“John has been helping to make me more accurate and better overall in the dressage,” said Waylon. “We do a lot of repetition, focusing on getting Paleface to tone his muscles and get them working the right way and making his back stronger. He’s a nice little Thoroughbred, but his build does not make dressage easier for him.”

He also said, “David O’Connor is excellent. He demands a lot of riders and won’t accept mediocrity anywhere. You don’t get there by skipping steps, but he’s positive about the team thing, making us focus and trying to get medals.”

When He’s Not Around Horses…

The life of a professional event rider doesn’t leave a lot of time for outside interests, but Waylon Roberts enjoys music and has an ever-expanding CD collection.

Being one of few male event riders has its perks, but there will be a lot of disappointed girls out there because Waylon has happily been dating fellow eventer Jenna Kuzenko for some time now.

“My teenage life is involved in horses, and many of my friends ride too,” said Waylon.

Waylon also valued his training in England with Whitaker. “John’s a master, and his son Robert is climbing the FEI ranks every day. I learned a lot from them and from their grooms and the way they deal with the horses. They also let me ride and compete at some local shows—I would have been happy to meet John Whitaker, let alone ride with him! I also got to watch the show at Olympia, which was just phenomenal. Getting to see Markus Fuchs and all those guys was really something.”

Working and riding in England opened Waylon’s eyes to a different style of training and showing. “It
was great,” he said. “You drive a couple hours to a show, do your classes and go home. You’re not paying to be there all week. I loved that about it. It was a little bit more down-to-earth, not like the top horses here that are kept like porcelain dolls in their stalls. Robert takes his puissance horse out foxhunting.”

Of course no trip abroad is complete without a few cultural lessons as well. “By the end of a couple months I was definitely one of the boys down at the pub,” he said. “Eventually I’ll go back, for sure.”

As Waylon grows up and heads out on his own, Kelly said, “It’s lots of fun watching him but kind of hard to let him go. He’s a fan of doing it yourself really. I have to be careful not to be a horse show mother, because I think I am a bit!”

But his parents aren’t the only ones who believe in Waylon. “I’m a complete believer in Waylon’s talent for the future,” said O’Connor. “He’s on a curve that’s only going upwards. His dressage has gotten better. The show jumping is a weaker phase for Paleface and Waylon has been working on that, and the cross-country is good as usual.” 

Amber Heintzberger

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