Wednesday 12 April - 10h30 | Lulu Kyriacou
Spencer Wilton- Aiming For Gothenburg
It is not bad going to make your international team championship debut at an Olympic Games and come away with a team medal as well but that is exactly what has happened to Spencer Wilton in 2016, possibly the least familiar name on the team to those out side dressage circles. Grand Prix caught up with him to find out a little more about the former event rider and hear about his plans for following up his dream team debut.
Born in 1973 and raised in Suffolk, Spencer was a keen member of the Essex and Suffolk Pony Club and represented his country as an individual at the Pony European Eventing Championships. After leaving school, Spencer worked as a working pupil for Ruth McMullen, Lucinda Green and Mark Todd. But since changing disciplines he won his first dressage National title in 1999 and his international debut in 2006 and to date, Spencer has now won thirteen National titles. In 2008 he was long listed for the Bejing Olympics but narrowly missed out and then seemed to almost disappear off the radar, lacking a really good horse. But then a chance meeting provided him with a new backer, Jennifer Goodman and a new ride, known as Neville at home but better known now as Super Nova.
When and why did you decide to give up eventing and concentrate on dressage? "Until i was about twenty, I did eventing quite seriously. I had been on Pony Club teams since I was about 14, and had gone to Mark Todd as a working pupil. But I hadn't realised how potentially dangerous the sport was until 1992 when a close friend, Richard Adams, was killed at Windsor. We had been at Mark Todds together and I suppose it was a bit of a personal epiphany although it took about three years for me to give up completely. Which happened because I met Carl (Hester) and he asked me if I would like to come and ride a few of his so it sort of evolved rather than me actually deciding."
Were horses always your life's plan, or did you consider an alternative career? "Not for a moment did I consider doing anything else! I dreamed my way through school, only ever really thinking about my next competition, I had no concept that there might be other professions. I still don't so it is lucky I have managed to earn a living doing this or I would be in a bit of a pickle by now to say the least."
Rio 2016 was your international championship debut, was competing there what you expected? "What made it special was how well we all got on as a group. One minute you get dropped off at the airport, by your partner or whoever, as Spencer Wilton, the next minute you are wearing the uniform and getting on a plane together and then you are almost the property of the British Olympic team, which I mean in the nicest possible way, for two to three weeks. You eat together and room together and train together, so if there were any personality conflicts it might have been awkward but there was not one moment when we didn't feel like a unit. It wasn't like going to an ordinary show or international where you stay in your own lorry or a hotel room and can be completely private if you want, so for me at my first international championship of any sort, Rio was unexpected. If I had known in advance how it worked and not been sure how friendly we all were, I might have been worried before I went! I enjoyed all of it. Well maybe not quite all....... we did a bit of sight-seeing, like the Sugar Loaf and the Christos, but I am not religious and I don't much like heights either so that wasn't my favourite part."
When you get on a horse to try it with a view to riding and training it, what do you look for? "I think all professional riders have their own check list and ideals of what a good match will be. Sometimes you know immediately it won't work or immediately that it will. I like a horse that gives me the right reaction to an aid or demonstrates a willingness to learn that reaction. I do put a lot of importance on the connection I get from leg to rein. Sometimes you can be lucky and find a horse who has a great mouth and works into the bridle from the start, but if you don't, you need to feel that you can that you can train them to accept that contact. "
Obviously being a dressage rider, you probably spend all day in the saddle or training other riders, but if you get a spare moment what do you do with that time? "I am going to sound sad now, because what I really like to do is gardening! I have just been out and tied up the roses and the clematis before this interview. I find it really relaxing and it is totally away from horses. My mother is a florist so I suppose I was always exposed to growing flowers as I grew up, but it is another thing that evolved, that I didn't make a conscious decision about."
What are some of your favourite things? "As far as food and drink goes, when I go shopping because I am off caffeine, I buy lots of herbal tea which I drink gallons of. And wine, which is a bit of a contradiction I think! As far as television is concerned, Gardeners World has to be recorded for me, in case I miss an episode when I am out competing and I loved the Great British Bake Off. I was crushed when I heard that it was moving channels and changing and that Mary Berry wouldn't be part of it anymore. I like other things as well, like Sherlock for example. In music I have quite eclectic taste, but recently I flew back from Finland and I had a rather uncomfortable journey and I listed to the Greatest Hits of Randy Crawford. She has an amazing voice. But much as I like the old school stuff, I listen to lots of up to date artists. Dua Lipa is one of my current favourites."
If you could have a sit on any famous horse, from any era, which one would you choose? "Even though I might not be brave enough these days to actually leave the ground, I would have loved to have ridden Milton. Perhaps I could manage about a meter or so on him!"
Finally how do you see 2017 going? "Well I would like to hope that Super Nova and I could get to the European Championships, that is my goal and I am hoping I can make the team without doing huge amounts of shows. I am planning on competing at a Premier League national show at Keysoe in a couple of weeks, then the international at Compiegne and if he is good, then the selectors might let me do Hartpury and that would be enough. Super Nova is 14 but he has got low mileage and I try to keep him that way. There are the World Championships in 2018 to think about. While we are talking about him, I need to mention his owner Jen Goodman, because everything that has happened recently is down to her. I met her at a party when I didn't have a yard or any horses, I literally had nothing and she decided to back me and has been a massive part of my life since."
Thursday 13 April - 23h58