Washington D.C.—Oct. 26
When Ava Stearns and Acer K stepped away to accept the reserve champion ribbon in the Lindsay Maxwell Charitable Fund WIHS Equitation Final, Sam Walker was the last rider left in the line-up. He responded to his win like the veteran he is; he patted his horse, Waldo, waved to the crowd and thanked his essential team of supporters, including trainers Missy Clark and John Brennan.
But it was only a year ago when Walker won the ASPCA Maclay Championship at the National Horse Show in Lexington, Kentucky, and his first reaction was shock. It was his second season competing in the major equitation finals, and he’d made a few top three placings but he’d never broken through to the top.
Since then, Walker has won the George Morris Equitation Championship (Florida) and earned a team gold and individual silver medal at the Adequan/FEI North American Youth Championships (New York), in addition to placing third at the Dover Saddlery/U.S. Hunter Seat Medal Finals at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show on Oct. 13.
“This is my third year competing at Washington,” said Walker, 17, Nobleton, Ontario. “I’ve been very grateful to have the ride on [Waldo] each year. We just kept it simple and tried to stick to the plan. I’m really happy with how today went.”
Walker led the finals from start to finish. He topped the hunter round with scores of 95 and 91, then impressed the judges in the jumper phase to earn an average score of 92, and finally swapped mounts with Ava Stearns in the final round, where his scores of 94 and 92 proved unbeatable.
Watch Walker’s winning work off via USEF Network.
Waldo, a 12-year-old Warmblood of unrecorded breeding, came to Missy Clark as a green 7-year-old, and he didn’t have much experience in equitation when Walker started riding him in 2017. But what some may have seen as a weakness, Clark and Walker saw as an opportunity to create something special. Walker and Waldo learned the ropes of top level equitation together, forming a bond that Walker knows will endure any challenge.
“Missy is amazing at matching horses to people, and I have to say, this is probably one of the best partnerships I’ll ever have,” said Walker. “The first time I rode [Waldo] he was a much different horse, but he’s always had a great heart and always wanted to do the right thing. He’s amazing, and we’ve been through so much. He never disappoints; I can’t say enough good things about him, I’m just so blessed to have him as my partner.”
“On a whole I’ve never seen so many fabulous horses,” said judge Sue Ashe. “Sam, I remember when you started with the grey horse—it was a little rough, to be honest. You’ve got such a feel for a horse, you bring out the best in them.”
Dominic Gibbs, 16, made his WIHS debut and finished third overall on Cent 15.
Full results here
Catch up with all The Chronicle’s WIHS coverage here.
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