In eight years, Feedmark’s sponsored rider Will Furlong has gone from completing his first BE event to winning double gold at the 2015 FEI European Young Riders team championship. We catch up with him to find out the secrets of his success. (S)
Q You’ve come a long way since your Pony Club days and you’re still only 21 years old. What are your ambitions?
A In the short term, defending my European title in September. In the long term, I want to make Nations Cup teams. Following this, I hope I’ll get a call-up for the British senior team – that’s a little way off, but it’s always good to have something to work towards!
Q You achieved straight As at GCSE and A-level at school, so was it difficult to choose whether to go to university or focus on an eventing career?
A I was never attracted by the prospect of university. My school was very academic and I was about the only person in my year group not to go to uni, which the staff found very odd. I was keen on pursuing physiotherapy or something similar at first, but I’m no good at coping with blood and the thought of a year’s work in a hospital didn’t float my boat.
However, I wanted to do as well as I could academically so that if I was injured or decided to change career, I had good grades to fall back on. Some of my school friends graduated this year and though they’ve had a great time, I don’t regret the choice I made.
Q You started eventing through the Pony Club, which even youngsters who don’t own ponies can join. What did you get out of it?
A I started in the East Sussex branch of the PC when I was about ten and stayed until I was 16. Being a member of the PC or an affiliated body such as BE or BS is much more than just learning to ride and competing. I’ve played a lot of different sports to high levels but equestrian sports are unique in that men and women, pros and amateurs compete and train with each other. There seems to be much more of a community, rather a family-like feeling, within the equestrian world that makes it so special. It is the people that you meet along the journey, in what is a very up and down, tough sport, who remain your friends for many years to come.
I look back on my Pony Club days fondly; from PC camp to competing as part of the team for the first time. Whether you want to ride professionally or just to have fun, it sets you up with valuable tools for the future.
Q Why eventing rather than, say, showjumping or pure dressage?
A I had a fantastic little 13hh pony that I did a lot of hunting and working hunter classes on. I got a real buzz out of going fast and jumping hedges bigger than my pony and got into eventing that way. The cross-country phase is the main reason people decide to go eventing.
Q You’re based at the family business, Ingrams Eventing, in east Sussex and have fantastic facilities and horses. Does this make life easier or add to the pressure?
A Much easier – in my opinion. I appreciate it’s not for everybody and some people aren’t as fortunate as I am in terms of facilities; but I have a great relationship with my Mum, Lou, who is incredible supportive, and it works for me. It gives me more scope to do what I want on the yard, without having the restrictions of any landlords or tenants – and, of course, not having any rent is pay is a huge advantage.
Q Ingrams Eventing is also focused on breeding and bringing on event horses of the future. Do you have favourite breeding lines?
A We’ve just started out, so are very much learning along the way. Obviously event horses have to have a higher percentage of Thoroughbred blood, but it’s very hard to find ones that move and jump at the same time. You’ll have to come back to me in a few years on that one!
Q Tell us about some of your horses.
A We have a wide range, from youngstock to advanced eventers. We have tried to breed a couple of foals each year so are slowly filling up with mares and their babies.
My top ride, Livingstone II, is a 13-year-old gelding whom I’ve had for about five years. We won both individual and team gold at the Young Rider Europeans last year, along with the national under-21 championship twice and an eighth place in our first 3* together. I’ve got a new ride, Collien P 2, who is very exciting and will hopefully be aimed at the 8/9 year old class at Blenheim.
Q Does it help to be riding horses at all different levels? Do you enjoy bringing on young horses and shaping them the way you want them?
A It’s very difficult to keep your eye in, especially at the top levels, with just one horse. I feel that my riding has improved massively from riding different types of horses. You have to adapt to each one and we try to treat them as individuals, as they all have different traits and personalities.
One of the most rewarding things is seeing young horses develop, especially when you’ve had them from such a young age. The other benefit of starting a younger horse is that you can make them go exactly how you want them to; you don’t have other people’s ‘problems’ which can take a long time to eradicate. On the hand they can be a bit more testing at times and often pick up bad habits much quicker!
Q You’ve done well competing on mares. Do you have a different approach to riding/training mares or are all horses individuals?
Mares are great when they are on side, not so good when they aren’t. The brain and temperament are the most important thing for me in a mare. When you find one like that, she will try harder and dig deeper than any gelding will.
You have treat each individual horse differently. What works for one horse might not work for another. In general, you have to be a bit more sympathetic with mares, but I think there is a traditional and unfair image of all mares being horrible to deal with and difficult to ride. It’s worth spending more time on the ground with them to develop some more trust, something I do with all my horses. I don’t necessarily go out looking for mares but I think that in general, people should be more accepting of them.
Q Who do you train with?
A Alongside help from the UKSport National Lottery Funded World Class development programme, I have help from Sam Ray for dressage and Chris Burton for jumping.
Q You work hard on your fitness and were a member of England’s under-16 hockey team. Do you have a sporting hero or heroine?
A It has to be Jonny Wilkinson, the former international rugby union player. He suffered some career-threatening injuries during his playing time but always came through stronger. Having pretty much single-handedly won the World Cup, he was extremely dignified and modest in his achievements. He has now retired from playing but is giving so much back to the game by offering his experience and helping others. In my opinion, there aren’t many like him – in any sport.
Q How did you get involved with Feedmark? What do you like about the company and what are your favourite products?
A I’ve been using Feedmark supplements for ages now. I was already using them when I approached the company three years ago, asking whether they would help me in my bid to make it to the top. The Feedmark team is incredibly supportive and I hope that I can continue to pay back their generosity!
Feedmark has an incredible range. The nutritional advice is extremely helpful and your order will arrive the very next day! I’m a big fan of the Performance range and also like Hardy Hoof Formula.