Will Zuschlag The Carolinas Equestrian 01 Will Zuschlag grew up loving horses and dreamed of being a cowboy and riding the rodeo circuit one day, not imagining that instead he would be riding with Karen and David O’Connor, looking to tackle some of the top events in the country.  Will’s dad, Geoff, took English riding lessons when he was young and told young Will that if he tried English for a year, he could switch back to his rodeo dream.  After a few years at the local English riding school, Will learned about eventing and completely forgot about the rodeo.

Will Zuschlag The Carolinas Equestrian 02 Growing up in Greenville, SC, Will was homeschooled through high school and dual enrolled in classes at Greenville Technical College.  “I played basketball and swam growing up, but eventing is what really grabbed me,” states Will.  In 2014, his first Beginner Novice horse trial at age 14, ended up being a true life-changing event.  Due to confusion over prize money, Will (as the junior winner) was offered a spot in a Karen O’Connor clinic the next weekend.  He proceeded to spend the clinic riding some of the problem horses, getting them through water and over tough obstacles.  He smiles, “I just got it done.  Karen called my dad later that week about having me work with them.  Karen asked when I could start, and full of 14-year-old bravado, I jokingly said the next day.  Karen replied ‘Great.  Be here before the gates close at 4pm.’  I talked with my parents, who were both supportive, and the next day I loaded up my britches, boots and tack and headed to Florida!”

Will Zuschlag The Carolinas Equestrian 04 These days, Will has several horses he’s training and competing.  “RF Southern Command,” “Soco,” is a 10-year-old KWPM, who is aiming for the Fair Hill CCI** in the fall.  Will is also excited about a new mare in his barn, “Quintana,” or “Tina,” is a 7-year-old Dutch Sport horse. ““Tina” is very cool, I recently purchased her during a trip to Germany with Karen (O’Connor).  She’s running 1* now and we are looking to see if she could move up to 2* this fall as well, but we are in no rush.”  Six-year-old “Go Happy,” “Hap,” is a Dutch Warmblood mare, running 1* who is currently for sale.  This summer all 3 horses will head to The Plains, VA, while Will continues riding with Karen and David O’Connor.

A true eventing power couple, the O’Connor’s have competed in a total of 7 Olympic Games, 3 World Equestrian Games and 2 Pan Am Games, among a slew of other achievements.  Karen and her horse, “Biko”, were recently announced as new inductees to the USEA Eventing Hall of Fame.  A typical day with the O’Connor’s starts around 7:00 am with chores and then a full day of riding with both Karen and David, ending around 4:00 pm each day.  “The O’Connor’s are great, they both have different styles so it’s good to have both perspectives.  Some horse do better with Karen and others prefer David.  I am always learning.  Some of the best advice I’ve gotten was from David, who told me that no matter what the horse is doing, your position cannot be compromised.”

Will Zuschlag The Carolinas Equestrian 03 Through his training with the O’Connor’s, Will had the opportunity to be a working student for over 8 months with 4* International Eventer and Jumper, Marilyn Little.  “Working with Marilyn was huge for my riding, getting to see how she works with her horses and how she runs her barn was something I will always refer to in my riding.”  As a working student, he learned to “be ready for anything.  It is something everyone who wants to be in this sport should do, but it can be hard, so you just have to mentally be ready for it.”  Another helpful tip from his working student days is to have the ability to groom for yourself at an event with several horses, as it mimics life as a working student.  Though he quickly admits to being awful at braiding, “it was so bad that other students would braid, and I was sent ringside to video show rounds and brush off Marilyn’s boots ... so actually it wasn’t terrible!”

Given his previous work with Little and O’Connor, it’s no surprise that he likes a horse that is careful in show jumping, “I really want that on the third day, I think the sport also requires a horse who can score well in the flat.  As he explains, “Soco” is very brave, while “Tina” is scared of her own shadow, so how sharp they are is really not something I get too concerned with.  I am a big guy at 6’3, so I don’t mind a big horse.”

Will Zuschlag The Carolinas Equestrian 05 Will has big goals, “I would like to compete at the Kentucky Three Day Event in a few years or the new US 4* event that is expected to debut in the Fall of 2019.  My longer-term goal is to compete abroad and be selected for a Nations Cup team.  From there, representing the United States in the World Equestrian Games and ride as a member of the Olympic team.”  He’s well on his way, as he’s already had several memorable events, including competing at the 2017 Adequan® FEI North American Junior & Young Rider Championships.  As Will recalls, “the environment was great, being able to work with other riders at your level as a team was fun.  The whole experience really opened doors for me.”  Will is a rider to keep your eye on as his career continues to soar!