If the entire 2018 show season was a remarkable one for Sam Walker, the month of November was nothing short of spectacular. The 16-year-old from Nobleton, ON, made history by becoming just the fourth Canadian to win the prestigious ASPCA Maclay National Championship on November 4th at the 2018 National Horse Show. He then proceeded to button up a memorable year by taking the CET Medal National Final at the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto just four days later. His Maclay win was especially sweet, as it put him in the esteemed company of 1980 winner Laura Tidball-Balisky, Erynn Ballard (1998), and Brian Walker (no relation) who won in 2001.
The challenging tests set by American Bobby Murphy at the Kentucky Horse Park began with a jumping course for a massive field of contestants, which was then whittled down to 25 riders who returned for the second round. After an under-saddle phase which demanded specific skills and a second over-fences phase featuring standardless jumps, counter-canter, and hand gallop, a work-off was called for the top riders: Walker, Brian Moggre, Coco Fath, Emma Kurtz, Paige Matthies and Mimi Gochman. Walker and Waldo (a ride that interestingly came from Brian Walker) were foot-perfect to claim the win.
“I went thirty-ninth in the order and there were one hundred and seventy-five total, so I had to wait through all those horses before I knew,” said Walker of the excruciatingly long wait. “There were standbys along the way, so I knew I was leading after the first, second and third standby. I actually went back to the flat phase and the second round in second place. Then I moved up to the lead in the second round and maintained it throughout the test.”
This marked Walker’s second indoor season on Waldo, who is trained by Missy Clark and John Brennan of North Run in Warren, VT and Wellington, FL. He has been training with them for four years and his mom, Dee, is a former student of Clark’s. “I train with Missy when I’m in the United States primarily,” said Walker when we spoke to him at the Royal. “She came here to the Royal to help out and she also has international rider Catherine Tyree up here. When I’m at home at Forest Hill Farm in Caledon and in Florida I train primarily with my parents, Scott and Dee Walker.”
For this Royal, Walker brought Willem for the equitation classes, Miracle for the hunter derbies and Acardi du Houssoit Z for the U25 National Championship. Mom Dee ended up riding Miracle in the $15,000 Braeburn Farms Canadian Hunter Derby while Sam was at the National; they placed 4th.
In the Jump Canada Medal, Sam and Willem ended up second overall, with a slight hiccup in the final four ride-off. He remarked later, “In my test I probably would have given him a little more room to the wall; he did not jump it very well. That was my fault and I lost the class because of it.” Although disappointed, he was nevertheless happy for the winner, 18-year-old Miranda Burruano of Buffalo, NY, who is currently living in Ontario while she attends the University of Guelph. “She’s actually a good friend of mine,” said Walker of their friendly rivalry. “Last year I won the Jump Canada Medal and she was second, so it was a reverse this year. I’m genuinely excited that she won – it’s her last junior year, so it’s really cool she got that experience of winning the Final.”
Walker certainly bounced back in the following days, dominating all three phases of the CET Medal Final aboard Willem to take the championship.
But Big Eq is not Walker’s only bailiwick; he is also making a mark in the jumper ring, winning some U25 classes this year while also competing in numerous national and a few FEI grands prix this season. “I am looking to further my jumper career in Wellington and moving forward that will be the direction we go in the long run,” said the busy young star who is “still plugging away” at the online schooling that bests suits his hectic lifestyle.
As 2019 stretches ahead of him, Walker is quite succinct about his goals. “I plan to continue furthering my career as a junior rider and become the best that I can be. And riding on a national team – that’s a goal of mine that I will keep working towards.”