Harrisburg, Pa.—Oct. 21
Only twice before had Nicole Walker traveled down from Aurora, Ontario, to compete in the Pennsylvania National Horse Show—and both times she came to be judged on her position. While in 2010 and 2011 she competed in tough competition of junior riders in the Pessoa/U.S. Hunter Seat Medal Final, her trip in 2017 proved a horse of a different color.
Along with the likes of Olympians Ben Maher, Mario Deslauriers, Leslie Howard, Samuel Parot and Beat Mändi, the 23-year-old amateur entered for her first go-round in the $100,000 Grand Prix de Penn National on her own Falco Van Spieveld.
“Well I haven’t done an indoor show since equitation—so it’s cool to come back and do the FEI classes,” said Walker.
But if she had indoor cobwebs or nerves, she didn’t show them, as the pair went clear in a field of 26 riders, with eight other combinations returning with her to jump off.
“Almost a year I’ve had [“Falco”]—and it’s nice because he’s had a lot of experience doing bigger shows before I got him,” said Walker of the 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood (Toulon—Melissa, Lys De Darmen). “So he’s taught me to jump higher and feel very comfortable because he’s just very trustworthy and genuine. And I feel lucky to ride him every day.”
With the honest master, Walker felt comfortable slicing fences and galloping in the open jump-off round. As the fourth rider to return, she stopped the clock at 30.77 seconds.
“I wasn’t sure [if my time would hold],” she admitted. “He’s typically a bit of a slower horse so we tried to leave out strides where we could and do tight turns back.”
But her efficiency remained the time to beat, as the four other combinations tried but faltered to catch her.
“I’ve never won a three-star grand prix before, so this is definitely the biggest win to date, I’d say,” beamed Walker, who still seemed a little surprised by her success. “I’ll always remember this accomplishment. Hopefully I’ll get to jump higher and bigger classes as the years progress but it’s definitely a good stepping stone to going that way.”
On top of her biggest win to date, she got to share her victory with fellow Canadians and friends Francois Lamontagne and Ali Ramsay who earned second and third.
“Before we walked the course, I said [Nicole]and I had to be first and second and for us to be first, second and third is pretty cool,” said Ramsay.
And how does it feel to be an amateur winning against the likes of the big gun professionals? “It was really very cool,” she admitted. “But we’re pretty competitive too so we try can even though I am an amateur.”
Abigail McArdle Changes A Program And Produces A Champion
When Chuck Berry 8 arrived at Adam Prudent’s Plain Bay Sales, he came with specific instructions.
“When we got him, he came with a hand-written letter saying basically that he didn’t like to be ridden on the flat. So they didn’t. They just longed him and showed him,” said Abigail McArdle who works for Plain Bay Sales and campaigns Chuck Berry 8 in the Under-25 grand prix classes.
“So we said, ‘Well we’re not going to do that. He has to be ridden on the flat,’ ” she continued. “So obviously our training program was very different from what he came from. And he’s really developing into a very nice horse.”
Nice perhaps is an understatement for the 10-year-old Hanoverian (Chacco-Blue—Winzerin B). In a total of three U25 classes this week at the Pennsylvania National, Chuck and McArdle took home two blue ribbons—earning them the U25 championship and McArdle the leading U25 rider honors.
“Abby’s done a great job with him,” said trainer Katie Prudent. “He was ridden by a man in Europe so there was a lot of reeducation to get him to go for a girl as beautifully as he’s going now.
“All the things they said he couldn’t do,” continued Katie, “we taught him how to do.”
And as a budding professional, what does McArdle hope for next?
“I’m also going to go on and do the [CP National Horse Show (Ky.)] so this is a great sort of preparation for that,” she said. “[But then] obviously moving up in the grand prix ranks and making a name for myself.”