On the same day in 2014, Texans Wilton Porter and his younger brother Lucas won their respective divisions to claim individual gold medals at the North American Youth Championships (formerly NAJYRC). Immediately following this remarkable achievement, a family friend introduced Olympic, World, and European champion Jeroen Dubbledam to the Porter household. The brothers had already made the transition to grand prix show jumping, but were looking to step it up another level. Under the guidance of Dubbledam, the Porters have navigated the vicissitudes of college studies, maintain a stable on both sides of the Atlantic, and enjoy a very active international competition schedule.
While being recognized one day as true horseman may be the ultimate aim, the brothers are currently concentrating on building the foundations both at home and abroad.
How do/did you manage the mix of college studies and competition?
Wilton: We have always gone back and forth between school and riding, especially when we were younger. That’s something we are really thankful to Mom and Dad for, because they always had great trainers and horseman around us to help us keep our horses in the best form possible. We have always been clear on the goal that after college we would have to be able to do it ourselves. So when I graduated, I took three steps back to really kind of learn how to keep my horses and prepare them for the show when I did not have any help.
Lucas: During WEF I arranged my schedule so that I am at Vanderbilt studying Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and then Wednesday night I fly down to Florida and compete and fly back to Nashville Sunday evening. It’s very difficult to balance both, but it pays off in the long run. I know anyone doing it will know how hard it is to keep focused when for half the week you have your mind on one thing and the other half you’re trying to compete at the highest level in a difficult sport. It’s not ideal, but at the end of the day I’m going to have a college degree and continue with my riding.
Do you feel like you missed out at all in the college experience?
Wilton: In our first term at college, both of us focused on college and did not compete at all, so we engaged in the ‘college experience.’ For sure we missed out on frat parties and formals and trips, but it’s fine with us because we are doing something that we love more than that.
Lucas: I’d rather come home and be with the horses than stay in Nashville for a party or study in the library.
How does it work now that Wilton has graduated and Lucas is still at school?
Wilton: I manage the horses and the business side of the stables. During the winter in Florida, Monday is a day off and Tuesday I’m riding all six horses and getting ready for the shows and organizing entries and paying the bills. Wednesday the show starts. In the summer it’s a bit different, as we are both riding every day and going to shows.
Lucas: As we are showing in FEI, we normally have one major class per day, so the day is centered around that class. It’s great to not have too many horses, because you really get to focus on each one and do what’s best for them and I think in the end you get better results.
Is your style and preferred type of horse similar?
Wilton: Luke is a fast rider and can handle a hotter horse. I’m more about getting maximum physical ability out of a horse. I’m more of a planner.
Lucas: A hotter horse suits me, whereas Wilton is more used to riding colder horses that require more leg.
Apart from horses and riding, what else are you passionate about?
Both: We golf some afternoons. It allows us to focus on something else for a little while and it’s good fun to connect with other riders, plus there are some really great golf courses in Florida. It’s more difficult in Holland, but we find courses because we are pretty passionate about it. (Ed. – Luke is a seven handicap and Wilton a 12.)
How many generations of your family have been horse lovers?
Both: Only as far back as our parents. Our mom grew up in England and was riding pony jumpers to a pretty high level and our dad grew up in Texas and had western horses and in college he played on the polo team. We grew up in Texas and we started on western pleasure horses.
Do you have fond memories of those days?
Lucas: My earliest memory is galloping on my dad’s western horse. He’d put me in front of him and we would gallop across the field and he would say to me ‘Alright, now we are going to go fast, are you ready?’ It was a lot of fun.
Wilton: I remember the first time we tried jumping on our western ponies in our western saddles. We took two water buckets and put a piece of wood across them to make a jump. I remember being amazed that horses could figure out how to get all four of their legs over it.
When did you know you wanted to make a career in horses?
Wilton: Before college I knew I wanted to be a show jumper, but I didn’t decide really until the end of college when I reached grand prix level and realized if I can perform at this level, maybe I could do it as a career.
Lucas: I wasn’t very passionate about riding as a young kid, but then moving up to junior jumpers and Under 25 I became very motivated to improve and now I am completely fascinated by the sport and 100% motivated to be the best I can be. Even if I don’t succeed as a rider, I see myself remaining in the industry.
What’s your relationship with Jeroen like?
Lucas: We now have adjoining stables in the Netherlands and we own horses together. He’s our coach, our friend, and our business partner. He’s a great guy.
What has he taught you?
Lucas: Many things about riding, about the mental side of the sport, about dealing, how to prepare a horse for an important moment weeks or even months ahead. For me, he has fine-tuned my style of riding and taught me how to speak with customers, how to compete with a horse you may want to sell, how to act when you are interested in a horse. He’s a genius in everything.
Wilton: He is mentally one of the toughest people that I know. What he’s taught us about handling pressure is the most valuable thing for me. Whether you are jumping in the biggest grand prix in the world or a local grand prix, you are jumping for one minute for a prize you have worked hours and hours for. That’s a huge pressure situation.
How do you find competing against each other?
Wilton: Despite the trash-talking, we only ever want each other to do well and do better than everyone else.
Tell me something about you that would surprise people.
Wilton: Lucas and I are advanced skiers. When we were younger, we were skiing 20 days a year. It’s a second sport for us.
Apart from horsepower and an ultra-competitive nature, what do you think it takes to be successful in the sport?
Lucas: We love sports and winning. We love anything that’s a competition, but I think the extra element has got to be motivation. I think if you are motivated to become the best version of yourself as a rider, then you can make it. You often hear people say ‘Oh, so-and-so was a talented rider as a junior and then they petered out’ or ‘so-and-so couldn’t ride anything as a junior and look at him now.’ I think it’s all about how motivated you are to achieve.
Wilton: I think talent is one of the least important factors in being a successful rider.
Describe each other.
Lucas: Wilton is a very caring person, hard-working, clever, and very competitive. Sometimes that gets in his way, but he is learning to cope with that; he’s also a fun guy.
Wilton: Lucas is naturally, immensely talented and motivated and he has a feeling for horses – any type – that others don’t. He definitely has that more than me, but on the whole we have a lot of similarities.
Where is your favourite place in the world?
Wilton: Aspen, Colorado.
Lucas: Anywhere my horses are.
Where would you most like to go that you haven’t been?
Wilton: I’d like to go to Tokyo.
Lucas: I’d like to ride at Aachen.
What’s your favorite food?
Lucas: Lamb with mint jelly.
Wilton: He eats more mint jelly than lamb!
What’s your guilty pleasure?
Lucas: Corona Extra.
Wilton: Netflix binging.
If a genie were to give you three wishes, what would you wish for?
Wilton: Good horses, good health, and a healthy family.
Lucas: Good horses, happy and healthy family, and a supermodel girlfriend!
If you were having a dinner party and could choose 4 celebrity guests, living or dead, who would you invite and why?
Wilton: Tiger Woods would be number one; Ronald Reagan; JK Rowling, (the Harry Potter books are my favourites); and Tom Brady. I admire his leadership and longevity.
Lucas: George Clooney (my favourite actor and he’s also a great businessman), Tiger Woods (my favourite golfer); Troy Aikman, the best Dallas Cowboys player ever, and George Washington. It would be interesting to know how he feels things worked out for the country he founded.
If you were cast away on a desert island and only allowed to take one album, one book and one luxury item with you, what would you take?
Wilton: U2’s ‘The Joshua Tree’, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and my golf clubs and balls.
Lucas: ‘Troubadour’ by George Strait, Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, and my golf clubs and balls.
Money or medals, what’s more important to you?
Lucas: Medals. Medals last forever, money can disappear. Plus medals can beget money; when you win medals, then people respect you and are willing to pay for your services. Medals would impact my life more than money.
Wilton: We are very fortunate; there’s nothing I want different in my life that money would get me. Medals are what make you remembered in this sport that we love so much. A medal is a testament to being one of the best.
What goals have you set yourselves, short- and long-term?
Wilton: I would like to ride in more Nations Cups. My goal is to keep representing the US and in the long term go to championships. It’s a very clichéd rider goal, but that’s it.
Lucas: My focus is on forming a better partnership with my horses; long-term my goal would be to win the most Grand Slams of anyone.
Do you have a burning ambition?
Wilton: I would like to be considered a good horseman – Steve Guerdat, Jeroen, Scott Brash, Ludger Beerbaum – they are thought of as people who understand horses, not just competitive in the ring. My ambition is to be remembered that way.
Lucas: I would say the same.