Willy was born next door at Flea Stisted's Kidogo Racing Stables. I tried to buy him from Flea even before he was born, but she had to have her fun with him first. He was kept a stallion not because she really expected him to sire race horses, but because he was such an easy colt to work with and because she knew that the sport horse world was in need of the kind of horses that she grew up watching in England at the Grand National and at Badminton.
Flea's son-in-law, Hugh MacMahon, broke Willy by jumping on as a yearling and taking him for a hack. They used him as a two year old to settle the other young horses on trail rides. Flea galloped Willy at the track when her shoulder was hurt and she was afraid to get on any other horse. Flea's daughter, Jenny Stisted, was the jockey when he finally raced as a three-year-old.
At the track, Willy was remembered by everyone who knew him. The now-famous jockey, Edgar Prado, was so fascinated by his beauty that he photographed one of his best portraits. Jenny claimed that his gallop was so smooth she could build a house of cards on him. I had the thrill of watching him in his second of five races. Flea refused to put her favorite horse in a claiming race, so he was up against good horses in a maiden allowance race, but in the paddock he looked like a warmblood ready for a breed class all fat and braided up. We were shocked, however, when he shot out of the gate with three huge leaps forward that put him comfortably in the lead for most of the race. He cruised along in perfect rhythm, never changing his pace at all. Edgar Prado came past him just before the finish and that was OK with Willy. He was still enjoying his gallop and wondering why Jenny had hit him with the whip.
After a few more races where he ran well and placed, but never won, Flea took the advice of her frineds and brought her still-favorite horse home for the winter to grow some more. Even as a three-year-old, everyone said he was not mature. The Salutely horses run best in their later years. The next year Willy returned to the track and started to clock some much faster times. Jenny said he felt like a much more powerful horse and had developed a competitive attitude. Hopes were high until the day the polo wrap came unraveled during a gallop and caused a tendon injury that would put him out for the next few months. Flea had promised that if he ever had even a minor injury she would sell him to me so that his eventing career could begin. She honored that promise and changed the course of my life.
From the day he arrived at Dodon in October '99 Willy showed incredible talent for his new career. He not only moves better than most of the warmbloods that we train, but like his dam he has a focus and a mind for learning that is a joy to work with. The big unknown when we got him was how he would jump. We set up a jumping chute and it fascinated him. The first day his focus was so intent that he would slow down as he studied the jumps, and then jump from a walk or even a standstill. By day two he was cantering happily over three feet. On the third session we raised it to 4'6" (some horses just tell you to do that) and really saw this horse's talent. He had it all right, the bascule, the knees, the tight hind legs, and the quickness. But most importantly, he did it on his own. Once, when the jump was at four feet, someone opened the door of the arena as he was approaching the jumps. His attention was diverted and he broke to a walk, stepped over the cross rail, refocussed on the triple bar and sprung over it, all without any encouragement from behind.