Junior hunter San Pedro 15 has earned a ribbon collection that most only dream of, and he’s just getting started. Professional Don Stewart imported the handsome bay Hanoverian gelding in 2022 to be a jumper for junior rider Isabelle Ehman, but “Parker” demonstrated natural movement and jumping style that soon suggested a different path.
“As soon as [Don Stewart and his team] put him in the hunter ring, they knew that was where he belonged,” said Parker’s current owner and rider Paige Walkenbach.
Parker earned great results with Ehman, including grand champion junior hunter at the 2022 Pennsylvania National Horse Show. He also caught the eye of Walkenbach and trainer Jim Hagman of Elvenstar in Moorpark, California.
“We had been watching him for a while, and when I tried him for the first time I immediately fell in love,” Walkenbach said. “It was so special. I don’t think I’ve had a moment like that before when trying a horse.”
The Walkenbachs purchased the Hanoverian gelding (Stakkato—Cassandra) after the Pennsylvania National last fall, and the new pair stepped into the 3’6” junior hunters at the 2022 Las Vegas National and took home the division championship and the classic win.
“He is so nice to ride,” Walkenbach said of the 9-year-old gelding. “It feels like you’re floating, because he’s a very good mover and also very adjustable. He’s sensitive, so it took me a minute to understand him, but now we have such a nice bond, and I’m so grateful for it.”
With numerous championships already under their belts, Walkenbach and Parker are headed to the fall indoor circuit on the East Coast. We caught up with them in California before they left town to go behind the stall door with Parker.
• Walkenbach lives in Paradise Valley, Arizona, and her horses are in training at Elvenstar in California, so she treasures her bonding time with Parker.
“I love to go in his stall and just sit with, him because he is the cuddliest horse ever,” said Walkenbach. “He’s kind of like a dog and has the best personality. Sometimes I make TikToks in his stall, and he just stands there and tries to eat me.”
• Even when it’s not snuggle time, Parker likes to be involved in whatever is going on.
“If I’m standing at my trunk, his long neck comes poking out, and he’ll try to nibble on my trunk or slobber on my helmet.”
• He has a unusual bit of white in his left eye: “Sometimes when he sticks his head out, it looks like he’s giving you side eye, but it’s just the white spot.”
• He’s a trustworthy trail horse and also loves his hand walks.
“He just follows you around and tries to play with you. He always finds a way to be as close to me as possible. It’s really sweet.”
• Just a slight crinkle, and you’ll see his head appear, ears up.
“He can hear a treat from a mile away. I give him bananas, carrots, apples, Snaks 5th Avenchew cookies, peppermints. He eats anything, really.”
• He gets along well with all animals, but his favorite just might be his much smaller brother, Gus the Pomeranian. “We have so many photos of Parker putting his nose right next to Gus.”
• While he’s generally in a good mood, the one thing that can make him a little grumpy is getting beat by another of Walkenbach’s horses, Princeton, who also shows in the large junior hunters.
“They’ve got a sibling rivalry. Parker gets a little annoyed if ‘Prince’ beats him. You can just tell in the photos that he’s not happy about it. It’s really funny.”
• While Paige, 16, won’t be a junior forever, don’t expect to see Parker on the market.
“I think he’ll stay in the family with us for a long time.”