Will Coleman: A Glimpse into Strategy, Dedication—and 2024 Olympic Dreams

Will Coleman and Off The Record winning the 2021 CHIO Aachen CCIO4*-S

By REBECCA WALTON

As the anticipation for the 2024 Paris Olympics continues to build, athletes like Will Coleman are busy fine-tuning their strategies and training regimens with the hope of being chosen to represent the United States on the international stage. 

Following his one-two finish at the $100,000 Conceal Grand-Prix Eventing Showcase at the Aiken Horse Park Foundation’s Bruce’s Field with his top Olympic prospects—Hyperion Stud’s Chin Tonic HS and Off The Record, owned by the Off The Record Syndicate—Coleman spoke with The Plaid Horse about what’s next. 

Coleman represented the United States in Eventing at the 2012 London Olympics. Twelve years later, he is now running a business alongside his wife Katie. 

“I think our program, our training system, has changed. You become more evolved as a professional outfit because there’s no way to simulate the experience you get competing at the five-star level events around the world,” he says. 

“I’m putting that experience to good use, and when it comes down to any big event or major championship, it’s about good fundamentals, good training and good horsemanship. That’s something we work on every day, whether we’ve got an Olympics on the horizon or not.”

One significant aspect of their evolved approach is the recognition of how much the sport of Eventing has changed over the last decade. To compete at the highest level requires horses capable of excelling in all three disciplines: dressage, cross country, and show jumping. 

“To win at a major five star or a medal at a major championship, you’re talking about a horse that can perform a fourth-level dressage test at very near 80%,” Coleman says. 

Will Coleman competing with Hyperion Stud’s Chin Tonic HS

“Then they have to be able to finish on that, which means they have to do a 10- or 11-minute cross country course going over and navigating some of the most technical, biggest cross-country questions that we have in our sport. On Sunday, they must be able to execute a very technical 1.35 m show jumping track. Those skills have to be honed and developed not just in the year or 18 months or 24 months before a major championship, but throughout a horse’s entire development.”

This commitment to excellence has led Coleman and his team to incorporate dedicated dressage and show jumping outings into their training program, using these experiences as measuring sticks for the effectiveness of their training methods.

When it comes to selecting horses for potential Olympic contention, Coleman emphasized the importance of flexibility and adaptability. Each horse is unique, and their journey towards Olympic readiness may unfold differently. Whether it’s the seasoned campaigner like Off The Record, or the up-and-coming talent like Chin Tonic HS, Coleman’s approach is grounded in listening to the horse and adjusting the plan accordingly. 

“I think the best horse people always have a plan, but they also have one ear on the horse and they are really listening to what he needs, week to week,” Coleman says.

When talking about his two world-class mounts, Coleman adds that Off The Record and Chin Tonic HS “could not be more different.” A veteran competitor, Off The Record is described as an “incredible partner” with unmatched tenacity, who embodies the essence of an underdog who continually exceeds expectations. 

Chin Tonic HS, with his remarkable athleticism and stunning presence, presents a different set of challenges, requiring intense focus and attention to detail. Despite their differences, both horses share a passion for the sport, a quality that Coleman puts above all else.

Chin Tonic HS and Off The Record both proved they are in top form at the end of March after finishing first and second respectively during the $100,000 Conceal Grand-Prix Eventing Showcase at the Aiken Horse Park Foundation’s Bruce’s Field. The competition served as a valuable learning experience for both horses in preparation for upcoming challenges. 

In April’s Stable View CCI4*-S, both horses continued to showcase their ability with Chin Tonic HS finishing second and Off The Record finishing in fourth place. The next stop will be the Defender Kentucky Three-Day for the CCI-S 4* event—a strategic decision aimed at optimizing performance for potential Olympic selection.

PHOTO: SHANNON BRINKMAN

“I think there will be a lot of horses gearing up for Olympic selection that are going to use the 4*short at Kentucky,” says Coleman. “It can be hard to do the 5* and then peak the horses again for an Olympics or any championship two and a half months later. For our horses, we thought this was the best route if we are lucky enough to be in a position to go to Paris. It was a personal decision, but our team understands the logic behind choosing one or the other.”

Coleman is excited for Kentucky and the futures of both Off The Record and Chin Tonic HS. While he is honored to be in consideration for the 2024 Paris Olympic team, his dedication to his horses and the sport does not end with that single event. Coleman is grounded in the fact that each day and each competition is part of a much larger picture. 

“We’ve had Paris as a goal, but we have kept our focus on the week-to-week stuff and on the next event,” says Coleman. “We’re trying to get better at that philosophy and not get swept up in some of the craziness that comes with an Olympic Games—which is really just an awesome horse show that happens every four years!”