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.
Do you think that using different brands of equipment makes a difference in your riding? Is there a specific brand of helmet or boots you prefer?
I firmly believe that using different brands can affect your riding only in minor ways. Mentally, if you look or feel better, you might ride with more confidence. However, it’s always important to use trusted brands because poor equipment can lead to problems for both horse and rider. There are a lot of good brands that can improve the quality of the ride for both the horse and rider. For example, you need to have a properly fitting saddle that the rider feels most comfortable in. The rider shouldn’t have to worry about their saddle while they’re riding, because it’s both distracting and annoying. Who wants to drive a car with uncomfortable seats? For helmets, having good quality headgear is important for safety, comfort and obviously looks. A good pair of well-fitted boots is a must.
What’s a typical show day for you? What’s your routine from when you wake up to when you enter the show ring?
Being in Europe for the summer, my routine has changed slightly. I can sleep late in the morning, which allows me to stay focused and sharp toward the end of the day. This is when most of the important classes take place. On a normal day, I try to start with a good breakfast. Then I go to the show to flat the horses before they compete. Half an hour before the course, I check that I have all my show equipment, make sure I have the correct spurs on, and then mentally prepare myself for the ring. It’s easy to lose focus when you don’t have much to do all day. When you never stop, you’re always with it. It’s also different for me because in Europe I only take three horses to each show. In the States, we would have 20 horses with multiple riders, and training and caring for them would take up most of my day.
What’s your favorite thing to do on your day off?
I don’t take days off anymore because I want to get better and be able to ride at the highest level. However, I do give horses days off because that’s very important. I believe it’s good for riders to take days off so they don’t get overwhelmed or push themselves too hard. Some days I’ll take light rides in the morning, and then in the afternoon I’ll drive around trying horses. I like playing tennis and golf during off-season, but if I were to take a day off in the middle of show season, it would be to catch up on emails, paperwork and phone calls.
After competing in so many shows and participating in so many events, what about the sport still excites you?
This sport is all about ups and downs. We’re competing on animals where we have to interpret what they need and want without them actually telling us. Every day is different, every show has its own feel and no course is ever the same. As riders, we have to keep ourselves in shape and because the horses are our teammates, we also must keep them in top physical condition. The bond we develop with horses becomes so special, regardless of our success. Whether it’s a good or bad outcome, we still have feelings, and so do the horses. All of this is what still makes me excited about riding and competing every day. I get up in the morning ready to go, wondering what the day will bring, because working with horses always keeps you on your toes.
A lot of riders tend to focus on ulcers or lameness when choosing what to feed or how to take care of their horses. When it comes to your horses’ health, what are your biggest concerns? What do you focus on, and why?
Show jumping is hard on the horses. The show schedule and different surfaces we jump on have a big effect on horses’ health. Like human athletes, horses have to deal with certain ailments and still compete. People tend to make their situation more complicated than it needs to be or find problems with their horses as an excuse for poor performance. Of course, all horses have their bad days, just as the riders do. However, blaming bad training or bad health when it was really the fault of the rider does no one good. It’s best to think of the rider and the horse as one team, rather than put the responsibility on either one of them individually. For instance, I have tried different diets for myself and then tried to integrate it with the horses. I think a good feed with low levels of sugar is important. I’ve tried some grain-free and sugar-free diets with my horses, but I didn’t see any increase in their performance and it only cost me money. Ulcers are common for horses that are easily stressed, and are more of a factor than what food we’re feeding them, even if certain foods can help prevent ulcers. I also think a good farrier that keeps your horses’ feet well balanced is important to keep them feeling sound. The way I condition my horses is proper weight management, shoeing, vet work, and most importantly, maintaining their fitness levels to prevent injury. All horses will have their issues, but we can do our best to prevent and treat them.