Written by: Jessica Lefroy

A number of personal milestones and a pair of high-profile wins during the fall indoor season of 2017 capped off a busy year for Nicole Walker.

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Nicole Walker, a 24-year-old graduate of Wilfred Laurier University with a major in Environmental Studies, competed in the Spruce Meadows Summer Series for the first time, won the CSI3* $100,000 Prix de Penn National Grand Prix at the Pennsylvania National with Falco Van Spieveld, and finished her season with a win in the Uplands U25 Jumping National Championship at the Royal Winter Fair with Excellent B.

Nicole recently began working at The Stronach Group (founded by her grandfather, Frank Stronach), has joined the board of the Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance, and also assists in the management of the Adena Springs Thoroughbred Retirement Program. This, all while developing her string of competition horses and having some breakthroughs with younger mounts.

Nicole laughs that her Aurora, ON-based Adena Springs North is “a bit of a travelling circus” with winters spent in Wellington, FL. Since 2013, she spent her summers in Europe training with Irish team veteran and Olympian bronze medalist Cian O’Connor, an experience which she credits for completely immersing her in a new level of the sport.
The logistics of the partnership, with O’Connor splitting his time between Europe and North America, necessitates the use of some alternative methods to stay connected. “When I am in North America and Cian is in Europe, we send each other videos and exercises over WhatsApp. This summer, Mark Kinsella, who knows the Karlswood [Stables] system very well, has also helped me at home.

“Being on my own has allowed me to develop a deeper bond with my horses. Without someone training me every day, I am able to listen to my horses, think about all the principles I have learned and further trust myself as a rider. However, having Cian and the Adena Springs team management and support of my program has been vital.”

Nicole notes that it has been a slow and steady progression for her in the ring since she graduated from the junior ranks, where her success in the equitation finals seemed to be a good prediction of the successes to come. “The equitation provided me with the finesse and a basic foundation to step into the bigger rings,” she explains. “At first it wasn’t the easiest. My first summer competing over in Europe was a huge adjustment. I was just starting to jump some bigger tracks and it was quite intimidating. Cian helped me go back to the basics. We do a lot of flat and pole work. This helped me improve my accuracy, connection with the horses, and confidence.

“Recently, things have seemed to come together,” she says. “I enjoy spending time with my horses in the ring, but also think it’s important to develop the bond and trust with them in the stable. I am definitely enjoying the moments when the hard work pays off – it’s been exciting for the whole team. However, there is still a lot to learn and we are setting 2018 goals.”

Nicole also credits the U25 series and the support it offers to aspiring team members. “I think in order to become a better rider it is important to get into the ring as much as possible,” she says. “We are lucky in Canada to have the recently-developed U25 series with some great prize money, challenging courses, and diverse venues. Outside of the show ring, the series provides invaluable opportunities such as lectures from accomplished vets, course designers, and riders. Through this it’s been great building bonds with my Canadian peers.”

Of her competition mounts, Nicole remarks, “All my horses make me laugh every day! There are countless stories that make them like family to me.” Falco Van Spieveld is one such mount with a unique personality. “Falco has allowed me to jump tracks I couldn’t have ever imagined, but he is the laziest horse at home – he will barely walk,” she says, laughing. “We have to bribe him with treats in the FEI jogs. You could leave him unattended anywhere, come back at a later time and he’d still be standing there. He just likes to cuddle with humans and chill with his best friend Chaloubet. However, once he gets in the ring he is totally a master that knows and loves his job. He couldn’t care less to practice at home, though!”

Nicole looks forward to travelling with the Adena Springs team and her string of horses in the coming year. “I have been very fortunate to have access to great coaching, to have built a phenomenal team of people around me, and to receive support from my family and friends throughout the process of learning and growing as a horsewoman. Since we spend loads of time together, the Adena Springs show team have basically become mind readers. It is always good to be on the same page, but sometimes it’s hilarious what we can guess – it is truly teamwork at its finest! In the future I hope to jump higher tracks at a consistent level and I would also love to represent Canada on some senior Nations Cup teams.”

FAST FACTS ABOUT NICOLE WALKER

Age: 24
Hometown: Aurora, ON
Favourite Netflix show: Big Little Lies
Last book you read: Unstoppable by Maria Sharapova (highly recommended!)
Favourite restaurant: Estia or Café Nervosa in Toronto
Coffee or tea: Tea! (never had a coffee)
Favourite musician: Frank Walker (Nicole’s brother is a music producer and DJ)
Competition superstitions: Sometimes a lucky bling braid
If you could ride any horse in the world, it would be: Capital Colnardo
What you couldn’t live without: Falco, my Toronto squad, and ice cream!