BY KRISTIN PITZER
For Will Mitchell, becoming the Kirkland and Ellis Main Ring gate keeper at the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show wasn’t something he exactly planned. The Ohio native, who was raised in Katy, Texas, doesn’t ride and has no equestrian experience. He began working at horse shows about 20 years ago through his wife, Lesli, who rode as a kid, since it was a way for her to stay connected to the horse world.
Mitchell started out on the jump crew and worked his way up to managing the in-gate, which he’s been doing off and on for about 10 years as a side job. He’s had other jobs in the interim and was doing something else entirely when the Covid-19 pandemic struck the United States, but that job abruptly ended.
“Lo and behold, this was still available,” Mitchell said of working the gate, which has turned from a job into his career. “When I was younger, it wasn’t as important as it is now. I just looked at it as another way to make some side money. But when you do it properly and you engage and put yourself into it, it’s really a pretty unique circumstance. After all these years, I’m finally committing to it.”
Mitchell’s favorite thing about working the gate is interacting with everyone who rides through it. At a show like the Pin Oak Charity Horse Show, he meets a lot of people from different walks of the hunter/jumper sport, and his advice to them is always the same: have fun.
“I try to keep things light and try to keep it fun,” Mitchell said. “This is supposed to be fun; all sports are. If its not fun, then what’s the point? Why do it?”
Mitchell admitted he likes watching the kids’ ring best, but outside that, the grand prix classes are his favorite. The big jumps are exciting and there’s no grey area since it’s timed. Picking out people’s strategies while watching them jump the course also appeals to his competitive nature.
“I’m a sports guy through and through, watching it, participating in it, what have you,” Mitchell said. “I grew up playing football and baseball, ran track — I’d try anything competitive. We can go throw rocks, it doesn’t matter.”
Mitchell has passed his competitive nature on to his kids. His oldest son, Grant, 23, who plays football, will graduate this year from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, with a degree in psychology and kinesiology. Cameron, 20, who is a wrestler, is studying kinesiology as well and will be a junior at William Penn University in Oskaloosa, Iowa.
Working at the Great Southwest Equestrian Center (GSWEC), home of the Pin Oak show, has become a family affair, as Grant and Cameron assist at the facility during the summers they have off from school. Lesli works at Pin Oak, too, albeit in a different ring, so the couple has a lot of experience with the GSWEC show environment.
Since becoming more and more involved with events like Pin Oak, Mitchell has come to feel like part of the hunter/jumper community, without even needing to climb into a saddle. As one of those types who has never met a stranger, he is happy to call the people he meets during the show his friends.
”All these people I’ve met through sitting in this booth, they’re just wonderful people. They make your day,” Mitchell said. “I’m enjoying interacting with everybody and just trying to take advantage of the opportunities and blessings that come my way.”