It may be impossible to ever truly predict a future champion, but there are a few, quantifiable things that the McLain Wards and Laura Krauts of the world have in common. Passion for the sport is essential, coupled with both the access to top training and a laser-focused dedication to achieving one’s goals. At just 16 years old, Canada’s Sam Walker already displays several of the hallmarks essential for becoming one of the best riders of the world, and he makes no bones about his own aims for the future.
“I’d love to represent Canada on a Nations Cup team by the time I’m 18 years old, because that’s when I become eligible to do five-stars,” Sam says. “Long term, I would love to get myself into a top-10 spot in the world — that’s one of my dreams. I’m really going to work hard for that.”
And he’s well on his way. Last year Sam took home junior equitation's most prestigious award by winning the 2018 ASPCA Maclay Championship — a monumental win that often helps kickstart a rider's international career in the jumper ring. This weekend, Sam is looking to cement his name in the record books with a top result at the George Morris Equitation Championship at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) in Wellington, Florida.
“I got into riding as soon as I was born, pretty much. My parents [Scott and Dee Walker of Forest Hill Farm] are horse training professionals in [St. Catharines, Ontario] Canada. Ever since I could remember, I’ve been riding horses and ponies. I’ve been really involved in the sport and the business my whole life,” says Sam, who also trains with John Brennan and Missy Clark at North Run Stables.
We caught up with the equitation star to find out the five top lessons he’s learned from his coaching team: Scott and Dee Walker, Missy Clark, and John Brennan.
1. A supportive team doesn’t begin or end in the ring.
My parents have, for sure, been the biggest influence in my riding career. They’ve always been supportive of me and are there for me. They give me tips before going in the ring and work on training me at home. I’m really grateful to have them with me because they really help me when it comes to showing and practicing.
2. The same set of skills works in every ring.
The five most important skills [my parents have taught me] when it comes to riding are: pace, line, distance, impulsion, and rhythm. These are a few of the most important things that you need if you’re going to have a successful round in the hunter, jumper, or equitation rings.
3. Success in the industry starts with your attitude.
When it comes to the business, [my parents] taught me to always smile [and] have a good attitude, and to think about your horse before you think about yourself. Always go to take care of your horse and see if people around the barn need help and be willing to lend a helping hand — don’t just drop your horse at the barn and run off.
4. There’s no one path to success in the equitation ring.
Missy and John have really helped me as a rider and with getting really fantastic equitation horses underneath me. They’ve taught me so many different things about the equitation ring, and how to really have my own style.
5. Ride the jumpers like an equitation class.
I find the transition between the equitation and jumper ring isn’t very hard. I think equitation teaches [you about] line, and having a good pace, and finding good distances. In the jumpers, it’s kind of the same thing. I think that if you take the ride from the equitation ring and maybe just spark it up a little bit in the jumpers, you’ll be good to go.
Good luck to all the riders competing in the George Morris Equitation Championship tonight! Check out the entries and follow the class live, here.
Read this next: The Lone Star’s Superstar: Brian Moggre Is Shooting To The Top
All photos by Sportfot.
Written by Douglas Crowe
Nina Fedrizzi spends her days writing about horse sport, food, and travel. She began her career at Travel + Leisure and is a former editor at NF Style. When she's not tapping away on her MacBook, Nina can usually be found on a horse, sleuthing out the local pho, or refusing to unpack her carry-on. Watch her do all three on Instagram @ninafedrizzi.