Dream trip to London Olympics. Times two.
Saturday, Aug. 11
Owners Arden, left, Jim and Sarah Wildasin visit with Mystery Whisper in the back pasture at their Montpelier estate in Sperryville. The gelding returned from the London Olympics on Monday. He finished 23rd of 53 to complete the three-day event. Photo by Betsy Burke Parker
It was their first Olympics . Heck, none of them had even been as spectators.
For three owners , two horses and one rider, it was the ride of a lifetime last week in London.
Jim Wildasin, wife Sarah and daughter Arden acted as far more than sponsors when their horses Mystery Whisper and Twizzel competed on the U .S. three-day event team. The Sperryville family actively participated in London, helping out in the stable, on course and in the stadium to support the young squad that inc luded four first-time Olympic horses and two first-time Olympic riders.
The Wildasin pair – Mystery Whisper, ridden by five-time Olympic veteran Phillip Dutton of Pennsylvania, and Twizzel, ridden by first-timer Will Coleman of Gordonsville – finished in 23rd and 37th place individually, turning in the second and third best overall scores for the seventh-placed U.S. squad.
Only veterans Karen O’Connor (five prior Games) and Mr. Medicott (who competed in 2008) fared better, finishing ninth overall.
It was considered a building year for the team, with rookies Coleman and California rider Tiana Courdray earning valuable international experience under the tutelage of outgoing team coach Capt. Mark Phillips , and riding on a squad that inc luded a dozen Olympic experiences through Dutton, O’Connor and Pennsylvania-based team rider Boyd Martin.
Except for Coleman, who remained in the U .K. on a horse-shopping junket, the Virginia crew returned stateside Monday.
The Wildasins were settling back in to their Montpelier manse on the F.T. Valley road, while out in the back paddock, new Rappahannock resident Mystery Whisper was busy tearing in to the lush Virginia pastureland.
A commercial shipper delivered Whisper to Montpelier, where he’ll now base as part of Arden Wildasin’s string of upper level eventers; Twizzel continued south a half-hour to Coleman’ s farm in Orange County where he’ll get some deserved time off before fitting up for a spring campaign.
The Wildasins, originally from Connecticut, relocated to the historic Montpelier estate in Sperryville two years ago . Both Jim and Sarah are graduates of Yale and Harvard; Jim Wildasin was in real estate development in New York, now working as a stock analyst.
Sarah Greenhill Wildasin worked in the textile industry; her father was vice-chair at Morgan Stanley. Son J ames is learning polo at the family’ s Aiken, S.C., base. Daughter Arden, home schooled through high school, is studying the classics for college, also through home school.
Arden Wildasin trains with Dutton; she won the Markham Trophy as National Young Rider Champion at F air Hill’s two-star championship in 2010 aboard Mandar. The pair finished 11th overall. With Totally Awesome Bosco, Wildasin competed in the North American Young Riders Championship and completed her first advanced level horse trials . Sarah is an avid foxhunter, Jim a pleasure rider.
The family sat down Monday evening to share their tale of the London Games , the good and the bad. For his part, Mystery Whisper took a minute from grazing to strike a pose . Darkly handsome, the bay gelding’s rich coat was marred by a set of irregular scars , hairless patches that Jim Wildasin said were something of a mystery.
So, you’re home from London. None of you had ever even been to an Olympic Games, much less clutched a stack of inside-access passes. What was it like? It must have been a dream.
Sarah Wildasin: It was! Arden even got to help out in the stable. It was a total team effort.
We got to walk the cross-country course with our team riders and coac hes, and the Brits were w alking about the same time, so there w as lots of joking and camaraderie . There were other spectators out there looking at the jumps, and they’d come over to us and ask “Is this the start box?” and things like that. It w as really nice to see that there were plenty of spectators who weren’t necessarily “horse-people.”
They were just there because Greenwich Park was such a lovely venue , and because they were so excited to have the Games in their backyard.
FTD: Where did you stay? What about the stabling?
Jim Wildasin: We were supposed to sta y (downtown) but it would have been a long drive. It turns out the U .S. Equestrian Federation had rented a house adjacent to Greenwich Park, and the upstairs bedrooms were a vailable. You could see the w ater jump out the window . It was about a two-minute walk to the stadium.
The stables were amazing . 14 (foot) by 14 stalls , rubber-matted, under really nice tents. We were in the same barn as Canada and Italy. It was fun to be part of the whole international aspect.
SW: What I thought w as best was how all the competitors cheered for each other through the whole competition. It wasn’t as much like they were out to “beat” each other as support each other.
In the riders’ tent (during cross-country) you should ha ve heard everybody yelling encouragement to the television monitors as we watched (first on course, the U.S.’s Boyd Martin) jump each jump.
FTD: Arden, so, you’re watching your two horses compete, and you know that you get the ride on Mystery Whisper next year. You must be excited. That was a pretty big jump to go from being a D-3 P ony Clubber (in Connecticut’ s Greenwich Pony Club) to being an aspiring international competitor. How did you get a taste for the top?
Arden Wildasin: When I was in pony club, my mom asked me if I wanted to pursue my pony club (top, “A” rating) or if I w anted to step into eventing. I was sort of a speed demon back then, and it w as a no-brainer.
I had this pony, the ultimate eventing pony, who (Olympic gold medalist and clinician) Lendon Gray told me, once, in a dressage lesson, to “get on the bit.” I could only laugh. This pony had a neck like a weightlifter. No way he was “coming round.” (Laughs.) So I knew I wanted to go for it in eventing . I just love the relationship with the horses, I love the cross-country.
FTD: What about the courses at Greenwich Park? How did your horses handle the excitement of jumping around with 50,000 cheering fans? It must have been hard for them to concentrate.
SW: When you looked at that Crescent Moon jump on cross-country, you had to see if from the horses’ point-of-view . They were basically jumping “in” to the crowd. It was an optical illusion. Those horses are so brave, so bold.
JW: Whisper was near-perfect over the cross-country course, only a couple time faults. He jumped great.
Twizzel had penalties from a stop on the drop jump. I don’t think he’d ever had a jumping fault before. It w as just one of those things. You don’t know why a horse does what he does. That’s for sure. Never.
FTD: So c’mon. What are those scrapes all over Whisper? He didn’t get those on course.
JW: Well, I probably shouldn’t tell that story . (Pauses.) Well, okay, fine. I gotta admit, it is a pretty good tale.
After the team horses left Greenwich Park, they laid up at this nice stable (nearby) to wait for their flight home . The grooms would hand-walk the horses every day, and hand-graze them. But apparently that wasn’t enough for Whisper.
The day before they flew home, the girls were at the barn all morning but they left to get some lunch. When they got back, Whisper’s stall door w as still closed, and his halter hanging on the stall front, but … no Whisper.
They looked for him for over an hour, all over that big farm. He’d jumped out of his stall, and gone over the hill to the mares’ field and w as grazing just as nice as could be, outside their pasture.
I guess he’ d just thought “You know, I’ve done everything you people said for me to do since December. Now I’m going to do something just for me.”
It’s pretty funny, in retrospect, but I bet there were some scared people at that barn for a little while.
AW: He got a little scraped up, but I guess you’d expect that, a big horse wriggling out over a, what, four-foot high door and a four -foot wide opening . From a standstill.
God. I can’t imagine how freaked out the grooms were.
FTD: What was the Olympic learning moment? It may not have been a podium score, but your horses performed admirably and represented the U.S. — and Virginia — well.
JW: I thought at one point (earlier this spring) that we could very well have two horses competing. Not that I expected it, or even hoped it. But I stood back and considered it, and realized that it could happen.
The truth is, you go . You show up. What happens, happens. That’s the w ay the Olympics are. That’s the way life