Wills Oakden: Keep it Cooley
Wills Oakden stormed to victory on The Howden Way Young Horse League for seven-year-old horses on Keep It Cooley at the end of 2022. We asked him all about it and what’s in store for this season
Firstly, congratulations on your win! Given it was a brand-new league, how did it feel to win The Howden Way Young Horse League for seven-year-old horses on Keep It Cooley last year?
The horse had a brilliant year; he’s an extremely talented horse, and we’re very excited about his future
It was great to win the league – it adds weight behind the fact that you think a horse is special, and is a great accolade. We’re very grateful, and we’ll always make sure we’re striving for the next
goal and the next achievement.
We never rush a horse, of course, and we always make sure we’re doing the right things for the horses at the right time, but it’s also about making the most of their careers and trying to get more established.
How have you prepared Keep It Cooley for this coming season?
We always like to make sure our horses are well-rested at the end of the year, so he went for a good long holiday in October, and we started to slowly introduce him to work in December. Then all our horses get a 10-day break over the Christmas period when the yard shuts down so that they’re well-rested and ready for full work come the next year.
Most of our horses come back at the beginning of November and we work hard to slowly build them up and look ahead to the coming year. Then we’ll start introducing new movements that they’re going to need for the coming season so that by the time the season comes , we’re ready to crack on.
What are your hopes for Keep It Cooley in 2023?
Just come out in the spring and consolidate where he was at the end of last year and when he’s ready to step up, we’ll step up. I don’t like to rush horses too fast when they’re young; I like to develop the horses at their own speed and maximise what they’re capable of. Like every horse you ride you want them to complete a season sound, healthy and confident.
How do you plan your calendar?
At the start of the year, we sit down and make two sets of objectives for every horse: a spring target and an overall season target. Obviously, these are flexible so we can relook at them regularly and make sure we’re making the right calls for each horse throughout the year. We develop the plan for the year with these targets in mind and work backwards to decipher how many runs each horse would potentially need. Firstly, to tick off qualifications and secondly, to tick off the right experience at the right level for each horse so that by the time it gets round to an event, the horse hasn’t just got the necessary qualifications but also the necessary experience and confidence under its belt.
Are there any events you are particularly excited for?
It’s a really fun time to be part of British Eventing because we truly enjoy all the events at all levels. A lot of organisers are going above and beyond the standard eventing package, and all of them have a bit of a sideshow as well.
Can you remember when your love for horse riding began? Was a career with horses always on the cards for you?
I’ve always been horse-obsessed, since a very young age. When I was growing up, each Christmas I’d ask for that year’s Burghley or Badminton on tape and I’d sneak it out of my Christmas stocking and be watching it downstairs before anyone else had even woken up!
It was a passion I’ve never wavered from. At school, all my friends wanted to be professional football or rugby players, whereas I always knew what I wanted to do and where I wanted to head, and I’m proud of what I’ve achieved.
KEY STATS SUPPLIED BY EQUIRATINGS
- 88 national and international runs in 2022.
- 5th international win in CCI2*-L at Blair Castle in 2022.
- 13 national and international wins in 2022.
- 404 clear cross country rounds inside the time since 2013 on British soil.
First published in British Eventing Life magazine, Spring 2023. Photo: Hannah Cole Photography