Brian Walker, a dual Canadian and American citizen, has trained, worked and ridden alongside the best in the world over the last 25 years. As a junior, Brian won the Maclay Medal Equitation Championship in 2001. Brian has made a name for himself by developing quality horses into successful competitors in both the hunter and jumper arenas, earning accolades for himself and his clients. Do you have a question you want Brian to answer? Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I just bought a new horse, and during our practice rides where the number of people watching varies, she’s great and outgoing. During my competitions, she becomes very shy and doesn’t like to perform. I’m afraid that my family made an investment in a horse that doesn’t like to perform in front of people.
For starters, competing is done alone and so a horse’s stage fright isn’t so much about competing in front of an audience but more about being alone in the ring without other horses to keep them company. I don’t think horses care whether there are a lot of people or no people watching them. Bigger crowds tend to actually make horses perform better in my experience. Nerves of the rider can also lead to the horse’s character changing when it shows. As for an investment, unless you’re a professional that can develop and add value to the horse by riding, I think most people end up disappointed if you think of buying a horse for a junior or amateur owner as an investment. Horses shouldn’t be thought of as investments in this case. The investment is in the rider when buying a horse for amateur or junior riders. You’re buying a tool with which they can learn and gain more experience. We also never know what we’ll get when we buy a horse — we try the horse and if we like it and have a good feeling, we buy it. After buying it, then we start to figure out how the horse acts, what to do with the horse training, etc. Obviously, horses can’t talk, so sometimes we do things the wrong way even though we think it’s in the horse’s best interest. Sometimes your first horse doesn’t work out and sometimes it’s not until the 11th hour that the horse you buy doesn’t work out. Eventually though, you’ll find the perfect match.
My horse and I work very well together. Recently, my horse got scared when an umbrella opened during a competition. I don’t blame my horse, but when competing I want to be able to calm down my horse in a subtle way so it doesn’t disrupt our ride. I don’t want the judges to see either of us getting nervous.
When a horse gets spooked, you have to be smart and try to understand what and why the horse is afraid. If a horse is spooked at jumps then you need to practice jumps at home to desensitize the horse. To assist the horse, try either riding beforehand or lunging, or even a combination or alternation of both, depending on the horse. If your horse gets spooked at something that isn’t normal in a typical surrounding, like an umbrella, which I think 90 percent of horses are afraid of, you can’t worry about it. Let them walk around or even get off and hand walk the horse around until it settles. Normally, they do. If something really wakes the horse up before competing and it won’t settle down, always try to move down in the order and bring the horse back to its stall for 5 or 10 minutes and then try again.
You’ve been competing for a while in Europe. What has changed since you last lived there? How have the shows improved? What’s your favorite competition?
Since I last lived in Europe, there are a lot of new shows both small and big. The quality of the shows has improved across the board like it has all over the world. Show organizers are better, I think for a few reasons: Technology has helped them become more efficient and allows better access to information from the exhibitors. The bigger shows have raised the standard so the smaller shows use some of their ideas and apply it to their shows. Prize money has increased everywhere. Horse shows in Europe are geared towards the riders so when you’re competing there, it makes you feel special. This year I really enjoyed The Baltica Tour shows in Poland. They’re not the biggest shows I’ve showed at this year, but the nicest. The management is great, the schedule is good, you can bring a bunch of horses, the show facility is beautiful, the people are so friendly, the food is amazing and there’s a beautiful five-star hotel right at the end of the Grand Prix ring.
How is the European showing experience different from that in the U.S.?
Showing in Europe versus the U.S. is like comparing apples to oranges. Show jumping is the same sport across world so that isn’t any different. When you walk in the ring it’s all the same. However, in Europe, the shows host nice events for the spectators and most importantly the exhibitors. As riders, you don’t have to worry about running around to five different rings trying to get all your horses in the ring before the classes close. In Europe each rider is limited to a certain number of horses per show and there aren’t that many shows with multiple rings. So because of that, as a rider, you have more time to work with your horses and focus on your own riding. In Europe, the business is driven by professionals whereas in the U.S. the business is driven by clients.
What’s the best course of action to take for a junior rider successfully finishing up their junior years that will put them on the right track for being a successful professional later on?
Being a successful junior has nothing to do with being a successful professional. Once you complete the status of a junior, you fall right back down to the bottom of the ladder regardless of how good your junior success was. Professionals, for the most part, all ride well and have more experience. In this sport, experience means a lot. The only way for a junior to develop further is with the passage of time. On their way up the ladder to becoming a successful professional, youngsters first need to be willing and able to accept the fact they will need to work very hard to reach their dreams. These days that work ethic is atypical, partly because of the “full service” system we use: hand the horse to the groom and walk away. Young riders need to learn how to take care of their horses and be good horsemen and horsewomen. You also need to place yourself with people you can learn from and respect. That’s different for everyone depending on what discipline you want to become an expert at. A strong mentor is essential in the development of a young professional. You also need to be open-minded and absorb as much as you can. Sometimes watching someone do things that you don’t agree with is also good to take in, to learn the bad and the good. I see a lot of young professionals with attitudes and a sense of entitlement that get in their way of becoming successful when they have the actual physical talent to get them there. Being a top professional is both mental and physical.