Willie Jaret: Born a Horseman

Photo courtesy of Willie Jaret

by Ann Jamieson

Born during the revolution that took place in 1986-1987 in the Philippines, and spirited to safety from the iron hand of Ferdinand Marcos, Willie Jaret almost didn’t make it out. With his visa about to expire and only a six-month window to renew, Willie lucked out when a world-renowned pediatrician kindly intervened and got him safely to his new home. Adopted by Cyndi and Skip Jaret, Willie arrived in the United States as a three-month-old baby. He was immediately introduced to the world of horses. 

He’s never left.

Photo courtesy of Willie Jaret

Willie went everywhere with his new mom. He went horse shopping, accompanied her to her job at the newspaper, and to the barn where he was carried around on his mother’s back as she taught and did barn chores. When Willie was four, he got his first pony, Taffy. Riding Taffy he followed his mother all day as she worked at Serafin Farm. They didn’t have a saddle small enough to fit Taffy, so Willie rode with just a little towel laid over the pony’s back.

Photo courtesy of Willie Jaret

He was by no means coerced into spending time with horses. He fell in love with them instantly, just like his mom. “I can by no means imagine a life without horses,” he declares.

At nine, the man who owned the stable where Cyndi taught put Willie to work around the barn. Willie already knew what he wanted to do—be a blacksmith. Jimmy Mucherino took him under his wing and began teaching him. It wasn’t what Cyndi wanted. “Don’t do it,” she advised. “Don’t get into the horse business.” But that’s what Willie wanted.

One day Cyndi was at the grocery store, having left Willie at the barn. A truck had stopped at the barn, and Willie noted a sad, skinny little bay pony mare with only one eye on that truck, headed for slaughter. He couldn’t let that happen. Cyndi returned from the grocery store to find an unfamiliar skinny runt of a pony in the barn.

“Why is she here?” she asked Willie.

Feeling sorry for the mare, and what lay ahead of her, Willie had purchased her.

“You said you wanted a pony,” he told his mom. 

“How did you pay for it?” Cyndi asked. 

“Your checkbook was here so I paid for it,” Willie answered coolly. 

The mare, Mya, turned out to be pregnant, and later had a foal named Spike. Mya went to a petting zoo, while Willie kept and trained Spike, enjoying learning groundwork with him, and riding him. 

At first, Willie rode English, hunt seat like his mom taught. Then Eric Hagland, the farm’s owner, taught Willie western on one of his Quarter Horses. The Connecticut Gymkhana Association rode out of the barn, and the riders caught Willie’s interest. He wanted to try that. Riding a little pony named Three Socks, he took up barrel racing and pole bending in addition to jumping. Trainers at the farm, some of them very well known, would hire him, starting when he was 12, to ride their horses. Willie learned roping, vaulting, and trick riding as well. He has trained his horses to lie down, and roll over.

Photo courtesy of Willie Jaret

“He loves animals,” Cyndi says. “Horses are not just a business. He genuinely loves them.”

The best horse Willie ever owned was Texas Call Girl, or Katie, a chestnut Quarter Horse mare. “We had a really good connection, a bond. Eric brought her as a yearling to the farm. He raised her and trained her and I remember watching him and thinking, ‘That horse is amazing!’ I watched her in awe.” Sitting on her Willie was stunned by how smooth she was and what a soft mouth she had. His parents ended up buying her for him for Christmas. “That,” says Willie, “was by far one of the best Christmas presents I ever got.  I was absolutely in love with her.”

Photo courtesy of Willie Jaret

They competed in western pleasure, barrel racing, gymkhana, hunters and jumpers. “She was just like basically the love of my life as far as horses are concerned. We rode together, hung out, trail rode, anything I wanted to do she was like ‘I’m in.’  If I said let’s go jump the stone wall she was like O.K. Dad, let’s go. If you think we can do it we’ll do it.”

Photo courtesy of Willie Jaret

Willie wants to “be the best farrier I can be without traveling too far so I can be close to my family.” While he has shod top horses by traveling to Las Vegas, Wellington, New Jersey, and Vermont, right now he wants to spend time with his young kids.

He loves that he can contribute to horses’ well-being with his skills. “I’m able to help with my knowledge. There are a lot of horseshoers who get into the business because they see the money aspect. Putting shoes on a horse isn’t that difficult; it’s the extra stuff, how they move, trying to help the horse. The horse is chipping to the jump…hey Willie what can we do to help? Or a navicular horse, what can we do to help that horse have a better quality of life? Or show horses, helping them be comfortable enough to perform better. Horses have done a lot for me in my life,” says Willie, “and it’s my way of giving back.

“The hardest thing about the business is the people, the uneducated people who make it difficult.” For example, people buy horses with different lameness issues and then try to push the horse beyond its abilities. Farriers find themselves in tricky situations and have to come up with tactful solutions. But, “The real horse people are great to work with because they trust me and understand the situations” and realize that he is a very capable farrier. 

Willie is 35 and a Filipino, and that often causes problems. People don’t expect their farriers to be Asian, Spanish, or Black. While Willie has a big, impressive rig (which he designed himself), people often don’t think it’s his. They always look for the white guy, who may be an assistant of his, and talk to that guy instead. 

Photo courtesy of Willie Jaret

Often he is mistaken for one of the barn workers. At one property there was a man doing electrical work in the barn and Willie was literally under a horse shoeing and the man came over and said, “I don’t know how to say this in Spanish, ‘barn owner’.”

Willie looked up and said, “Are you looking for the barn owner?”

The man answered yes and Willie said “I don’t know I’m just the farrier, I don’t work here. 

“He looked at Cody (who works for Willie and is white) like he was the farrier and at me like I didn’t speak English! He kept saying ‘barn owner’ and ‘I don’t know how to say this.'”

It happens a lot, says Willie. “I get plenty of scenarios like that.” He naturally feels offended when it happens.

On another occasion, Willie was at a horse show with Cody, who works for him, and the woman he was working for sent him to drill and tap five horses at their barn. Willie didn’t know most of the boarders, as he doesn’t usually see them. One of the boarders walked up past Willie as he was working over the fire, and said to Cody, “Hi, I’m ‘so and so.’ Are you going to do my horse today?”

“Cody’s a tall white man,” says Willie, “So they think he’s the boss, not the Filipino.” Cody said, “I’m not the boss, you’re going to have to ask him, he’s the boss,” pointing to Willie. No one seems to think the Filipino would be the boss. She apologized profusely and shook Willie’s hand. This happens all the time.

Despite the racism, which happens frequently, Willie loves his job. “It hurts a little bit. But I’ve dealt with that most of my life; people see me a little differently. Once people do get to know me they understand my horsemanship and knowledge towards shoeing and they come to respect me.” 

Photo courtesy of Willie Jaret

Willie and his wife Madison have two kids, Jaxon and Fallon. Currently, Willie doesn’t show competitively, as, between his business and raising the kids, he doesn’t have the time. He and Madison do enjoy trail riding together when they have the opportunity.

Horses have provided Willie with a career he loves, and the means to support his family. A career that he can continually grow with, one that gives him immense satisfaction in his ability to give back to the animals that have given him so much. Although he often has to deal with misunderstandings because of his Filipino heritage, he never lets it stop him from following his passion for the career he loves, and chose long ago as a child.

About the Author: Ann Jamieson wanted to be a horse show judge since she was a child, and has now held her USEF “”r”” judge’s cards for over 30 years. She writes about both horses, and travel, (and particularly loves combining the two). Ann is the author of the “”For the Love of the Horse”” series, four volumes of amazing true stories about horses, and the proud mom of her Secretariat grandson, Fred Astaire (Tucker).
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