George Williams Balances Olympic Dressage Dream with Family Ties

Grand Prix dressage rider George Williams is working toward achieving a lifelong dream of riding in the Olympics while keeping his family ties strong.
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Grand Prix dressage rider George Williams is working toward achieving a lifelong dream of riding in the Olympics while keeping his family ties strong.
George Williams and Rocher at Dressage at Devon | © Tara Cullen

George Williams and Rocher at Dressage at Devon | © Tara Cullen

After dominating the Grand Prix ranks at Dressage at Devon in September 2002, George Williams has turned his sights to qualifying for a spot on the U.S. dressage team heading to Athens for the 2004 Olympics next year. Riding the floppy-eared mare Rocher, the 48-year-old rider hopes to fulfill this lifelong dream.

To achieve his goal, Williams left Tempel Farms in Wadsworth, Ill., where he had lived for nearly 20 years and where he had been director of the farms' Lippizzan program for 13 years, to take a training position at Chuck and Joann Smith's Gypsy Woods Farm in Richwood, Ohio, in the summer of 2000. A few months later, the Smiths purchased the 17.1-hand black mare, Rocher, from Germany for Williams to ride. She and Williams entered the Grand Prix arena in the spring of 2001 and haven't looked back since.

In the past two years, they've leapt onto the international dressage scene. They placed sixth in the World Cup Final in March 2003, scoring 75.56 percent. After spending the summer successfully competing in Europe, they represented the United States again at the Open European Championships in Hickstead, England, in August 2003. There they placed 11th in the Grand Prix Freestyle with a score of 73.59 percent.

As Williams works to achieve his dream, though, he also is trying to achieve a balance between competing and spending time with his family, which includes his wife, Roberta, and 15-year-old daughter, Noel.

"When I first started talking to the Smiths [about taking the position], there were two things I really wanted to do," Williams says. "I wanted to be able to focus on competitions, and I wanted to be able to spend more time with my family."

As director of the Lipizzan program at Tempel, Williams was so busy he didn't get much time to spend with Roberta or Noel. "He would wake up before I did and work all day and get back when I was in bed," agrees Noel, an aspiring junior rider. "I didn't even see him very much at the barn. And he had clinics on the weekend."

George Williams was director of Tempel Farms Lipizzan program for 13 years. | © Roberta Williams

George Williams was director of Tempel Farms Lipizzan program for 13 years. | © Roberta Williams

Now, though Williams travels frequently--he has been away about eight months in the past year--the time he spends at home or with his family when they attend shows, is more special. "Of course it's difficult and it does have its downsides, but I feel that there's a lot of support from both Roberta and from Noel in what we're trying to do," he says. "So even though we spend a lot of time apart, I feel that we're together in pursuing this, and they're very involved in it."

The family also has worked hard to find ways to be together more. Williamshad been giving a clinic in Barbados at the time of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Roberta had been unable to contact him to tell him that his siblings, who lived in New York, were OK. After that, George, who was scheduled to spend two months training at U.S. Dressage Coach Klaus Balkenhol's farm in Germany, didn't want to be away from his family or risk getting stuck in Europe, away from them, should he not be able to travel home. They weren't sure what to do.

Then Roberta asked school authorities if Noel could do her schoolwork abroad and, to her surprise, they said yes. She then called Balkenhol's wife, Judith, and asked if they could come. Not only did Judith say yes, but she offered an apartment at the stable for the family to live in temporarily.

"After having this very planned life at Tempel Farms and always having to put things down on paper and schedule everything, suddenly it was like being in college and being a hippie," Roberta says. "We've just learned to go with the flow a little bit more."

This article was published in 2003 on EquiSearch.com. To read more about George Williams and Rocher, see the November 2003 issue of Dressage Today magazine.