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Porters in Progress

Tuesday, 14 May 2019
Interview

Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping. Learning from the best: Lucas and Wilton Porter are making a name for themselves in the showjumping world. Here photographed at home in Wellington, Florida with C Hunter. Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping.

They wanted to learn from the best, and they have. For the last four years, Lucas and Wilton Porter have been under their mentor Jeroen Dubbeldam’s wings. The European, World and Olympic Champion has passed on his knowledge to the Porter-boys, helped them grow as horsemen and riders. This year, and the last, the results started showing – with Lucas and Wilton jumping from one success to the other. So, it came as no surprise when Wilton was named to the US Team for the Nations Cup at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington earlier this season – his second as a senior rider – and in true Dubbeldam-style nailed it with a double clear round on Caletto Cabana. “Every year, you could see the results improving,” Wilton says about their time with Dubbeldam. “Now, four years later, Lucas and I look back at the best season we ever had in Florida – our horses have been jumping great.”

Lucas, 21, and Wilton, 25, both had successful careers before they started training with Dubbeldam – but wanted to take their riding to the next level. “Before we started training with Jeroen, we were both very fortunate to have great junior careers. I was the individual gold medallist for young riders in 2015 and we had several very good trainers helping us,” Wilton explains. “However, we wanted to develop ourselves further – competing internationally. As we also wanted to go to Europe, we were looking for a European rider with experience at the very highest level of the sport – that at the same time had created a successful business. We were incredibly fortunate to be put in contact with Jeroen, as he obviously is one of the greatest of all time,” Wilton tells. “Jeroen came here to Wellington for the 2016-season, and we started from there. It’s been quite a journey with Jeroen, because when we started training with him we took several steps back. I don’t think we competed one time in the international ring the first season we were here with him. We were just working back to basics, learning his system and he was developing us the way he wanted. We totally trusted him, which was really important also – we knew it would take some time in order to have long-term success.”

Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping. From January to March each year, Lucas and Wilton are in the US competing at the Winter Equestrian Festival while being based at their stunning stable in Wellington. Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping.

It’s not only been about teaching riding to the two boys, who also wanted to learn everything they could about managing the horses. “Over the past four years – and this will continue to develop because it’s always a process – one of the most important things we have learned is how to manage the horses,” Lucas says. “A top horse, a young horse, a horse that maybe has a specialty or a difficulty. Jeroen is an expert horseman, an expert rider and he knows exactly how to plan horses and how to get the best out of them in order for them to reach their full potential. My brother for example has the best horse of his career at the moment, and with Jeroen’s guidance he has managed the horse to the books. As evidence the horse was second on the USEF Show Jumping Ranking List this year and selected for the Nations Cup team in Wellington where it jumped a double clear,” Lucas continues. “It’s a lot of planning that goes into it. It’s about the exercise we do at home, the classes in which we are competitive and the classes where we are more working on the details. The Grand Prix classes where we are working on achieving a certain feeling on the jump versus a Grand Prix where we would be more looking to win. Jeroen has helped us pick and choose these moments, and that is also something he has done so successfully in his career. Hopefully, as we learn, we will manage to do this more independently in the future.”

“If you can get to that level where you control the moments where your horse is peaking that’s when you become the best, and that is what Jeroen is teaching us,” Wilton fills is. 

The transition from the American education system to the European has gone smooth for both Lucas and Wilton. “There were certainly some changes we had to make to our style. However, one of the biggest things we have learned from Jeroen has been to think less about our own riding and more about our horse,” Wilton tells. “To think about what your horse needs, and what you as a rider need to do with your horse to make it jump well.” On the differences between the American and European systems, Lucas fills in: “There is definitely a difference between the American style and the European style, but I like to think that both are rooted in the same system with some small differences in between the two. Both systems are rooted in proper flatwork and proper maintenance of the horses, making sure the horse is listening to the rider and doing what the rider desires. The US system is definitely more forwards and more with a lighter seat, and more focused on the rider’s posture – that comes from the equitation. The European system, I like to think as closer to the saddle, sitting. But both systems are successful, and both work – sometimes one more efficiently on certain types of horses.”

Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping “In Texas it’s all ranches – mostly western – and they are all called something like Lazy A or Lazy Z. But we didn’t want to start our showjumping stable by being lazy, so we changed it to Sleepy and the P is for Porter,” the boys explain to World of Showjumping. Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping.

Today, the Porter boys have two bases – one in Wellington, Florida and one in Weerselo, the Netherlands. “We are in the US competing at the Winter Equestrian Festival from January to March and are based here at our stable in Wellington,” Lucas tells. “After we go to the Netherlands and stable at our place there which is right next to our trainer Jeroen Dubbeldam’s Stal De Sjiem. The first three years we were training with Jeroen we were based at Stal De Sjiem, but then as our number of horses grew as well as his whole operation expanded there was a need for a more permanent solution. We were fortunate enough to acquire the place next to Jeroen’s and we’ve built a seventeen-stall barn there. We now have an outdoor and indoor arena, a big grass field to ride on, a nice track around the whole stable and a walker. There was no question that we wanted to be as close to Jeroen as possible, we respect him so much. He’s our coach as well as our business partner so it was fitting that we would stable next to him. Our stable in Weerselo also allows us to be in Europe for another important reason: It’s the best place to look for talented young horses, it's where these horses are being produced and where we can produce horses ourselves,” Lucas explains. 

The Porter-boys’ showjumping adventure started far, far away from Weerselo. “We grew up on a ranch in Texas,” Lucas explains. “We had western horses, and we started jumping with them – putting a plank of wood on two buckets. And from there, it sort of took off. At the beginning I was really scared to ride, so I only liked to just dress up as a cowboy and walk around. However, my brother was quite enthusiastic from the start and he kept us both motivated,” Lucas laughs. 

Photo © private collection Back where it all began... "At the beginning I was really scared to ride, so I only liked to just dress up as a cowboy and walk around," Lucas tells. "However, my brother was quite enthusiastic from the start and he kept us both motivated," he says about Wilton (pictured below). Photos © private collection.

As the western horses had their limits when it came to showjumping, the Porter-boys’ mum Suzanne quickly got the boys a pony to share. “We started the traditional American way in the pony hunters,” Wilton tells. “But eventually, after about three years of doing that, we discovered the joy of doing jumpers with horses. We loved that much more so we got several great jumpers for 1.10-1.20m level. They were all like 17-18-year-old horses, older with more experience – and they taught us so much. That also started the love we have for winning, it created a competitive spirit inside of us and that’s when we began to get more serious with what we were doing,” Wilton continues. 

Lucas and Wilton’s Texas roots have not been abandoned. Their stables go under the name of Sleepy P Ranch – recognised by a P resting on its back. “In Texas it’s all ranches – mostly western – and they are all called something like Lazy A or Lazy Z. But we didn’t want to start our showjumping stable by being lazy, so we changed it to Sleepy and the P is for Porter,” Wilton smiles. 

Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping “It’s pretty special to work together as brothers. We help each other quite a bit, I think we motivate each other,” Wilton says. Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping.

From Texas to Wellinton to Weerselo. The Porter-boys are globetrotters indeed, and increasingly so in Lucas’ case as he at the same time as pursuing his showjumping career is studying at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. “My brother and I are in different stages of our career at the moment,” Lucas explains. “Wilton is currently a professional, running the business for us. While I am in school, I first have to focus on my university – but I also focus a great deal on my riding as well. That makes my schedule hectic. I’m at university from Monday to Wednesday. During the WEF-season, I fly to Florida on Wednesday evening, I compete Thursday to Sunday, and fly back Monday morning. While I’m at university, those three days are fully booked with classes. This period of the year is the busiest for me. However, I’m very fortunate that I can go to Vanderbilt. I am learning skills that I otherwise would have never learned, and I am meeting people that I would not have met if I had only stayed in the horse industry.”

Wilton also went to Vanderbilt and graduated in 2017, and like Lucas enjoyed his time studying. “It was culturally developing,” Wilton says. “It was a great experience and I don’t regret it at all. It’s not that I went to university to have something to fall back on, because I see myself always being involved in horses – but I think I learned a lot in college that I use every day no matter what I do.”

Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping "I see myself always being involved in horses," Wilton tells. Here with Caletto Cabana. Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping.

Neither Lucas nor Wilton take the opportunities they have been given for granted, and both boys have their feet firmly planted on the ground. “We have been very fortunate to have our parents being as passionate about the sport as we are. They have helped create everything that we are today, and the horses that we have are owned by our family’s Sleepy P Ranch,” Wilton explains. “However, Lucas and I are increasingly trying to become professionals of the sport – looking to create a business that is sustainable and not only costing every year. We’ve come a long way, during the four years we have been training with Jeroen. He has helped us with the business and with understanding every aspect of that. It’s an operation in progress,” Wilton smiles. “We would like to follow Jeroen’s model. Next to running our business, which involves bringing young horses up and selling them, we would like to be present in top sport too – that is our real dream.”

That dream seems quite realistic. Both Lucas and Wilton had a great 2018 with big international wins in Ommen, Samorin, Wellington and Zwolle and have continued to up their game in 2019. “I think we had a really good year because we worked patiently with our horses,” Wilton says about the 2018-season. “They felt fresh, never burned out. A lot of good things happened at the same time: I feel that my riding really came to a great point, Caletto came back after surgery and was ready to do some big jumping. We also got the opportunity to compete at some great shows, finishing off our season at the Longines Masters in Paris – where Lucas was on the Riders Masters Cup Team and I was an alternate. Important for us has been to really try to take advantage of these kind of opportunities.” 

Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping "I hope that for the rest of my life I will be surrounded by horses,” Lucas says. Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping.

During their time with Dubbeldam, both boys have built up a strong string of horses – with Caletto Cabana leading the way for Wilton and C Hunter for Lucas, currently supported by Delinquent JX, Cula Lou V, Caretinhus and Diamonte Darco. “Caletto Cabana is an incredible horse, and I have gotten to develop with him. He has been with me for as long as I have been with Jeroen, so we have developed together,” Wilton tells about his 12-year-old Nations Cup partner. “We started to do the four-stars and five-stars about two years ago, but unfortunately last year – just before we were going to Wellington – he had to have abdominalsurgery, so he did not come with and instead spend half the year recovering. When I started him up again for the summer season, he was great. We also had a good fall season, and now – luckily – he feels really good. I am hoping to have the opportunity to jump on more teams with him this summer.”

“C Hunter is my best horse at the moment,” Lucas tells about the 12-year-old stallion that he partnered up with two years ago. “He is a very hot horse, but a very good jumper. It has taken me some time to get to know him, he is special to ride. With the help of Jeroen, we are getting more and more a team the more rounds we do. This WEF we have jumped classes we have never jumped before, and I’m looking forward to continuing this development.”

Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping “Ambitious” and “in a good way, quite fanatic”. Those words come from Dubbeldam himself when asked to describe Lucas and Wilton. “What makes it really enjoyable to work with them though is that they are willing to get the whole picture. For Lucas and Wilton, it’s not just about the riding and training but also everything else that goes into becoming successful professionals as well as good horsemen. This is also the way I like to see my sport,” Dubbeldam says. “On top they are very well raised, with their feet on the ground.” Photo © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping.

If there is any sibling rivalry between the two boys, they can reveal it only takes place on the golf course. “Playing golf against my brother, then it’s more about competition than being a team,” Lucas laughs. “When it comes to the riding, Wilton motivates me – I look up to him. If I am feeling down or so, he always offers me words of advice – I feel lucky to have him,” Lucas smiles. “It’s pretty special to work together as brothers. We help each other quite a bit, I think we motivate each other,” Wilton fills in. “And if one of us is not doing well, we are there to support each other.”

While both Lucas and Wilton are driven by the dream to represent their country at major team competitions and championships, the real reason why they do the sport is their love for the horses. “I love working with the horses, we grew up around them,” Wilton says. “It’s what makes our sport really special, working together with animals.” Lucas agrees with his brother, saying: “I like thinking that even if I wouldn’t have gotten into showjumping, I would still own horses – just because it is soothing to be around them. Now that they are our partners in the showjumping world, to get to compete them is a blessing. I hope that for the rest of my life I will be surrounded by horses.”

 


Text © World of Showjumping 

Photos © Haide Westring for World of Showjumping

No reproduction without permission, copyright © World of Showjumping

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