Meet Brian Walker: ‘The mental side of many sports is often overlooked’

  • This week (23 March 2017) Horse & Hound welcomes a new showjumping columnist, Brian Walker, who will pen his insightful “An American in Europe” comment every month

    A dual citizen of Canada and USA, Brian Walker recently moved to Hamburg, Germany, to experience the European showjumping circuit. He will be keeping readers of H&H informed with his thoughts and observations as he competes his talented string of horses.

    For the past 25 years, Brian has trained with and ridden for the likes of Jan Tops, Kent Farrington, Margie Engle, Laura Kraut, Todd Minikus and Missy Clark. He was a prolific winner in the junior ranks and has since made a name for himself as a producer of top horses and leading competitor.

    Following the death of his wife in 2016 he decided to leave his Florida base and head to Europe.

    We caught up with Brian to find out a bit more about his move to Europe — and you can read his first column in this week’s Horse & Hound (out today, Thursday 23 March).

    Q. Tell us about your current string of horses?

    Brian: I have a 12-year-old chestnut mare, Cookie B, who I bought in June 2016. She is quite hot and very special. The first month I had her I couldn’t ride one side of her but slowly figured out what buttons to push and when to push them, now she has a few grand prix placings and is going very well. My favourite horse is probably Cellestiano, my five-year-old stallion by Cellestial. We bought him in July 2016 and he is always a pleasure to ride. I think he has a lot of promise for both breeding and sport, not to mention he is beautiful.

    Q. What are your goals for this season?

    Brian: Short-term, picking a few important shows throughout the year and making a plan on how to have my best horses prepared to be the most successful at those shows. It would be nice to jump some Nations Cup this year. I have some younger horses I also want to develop to see where I stand for the future.

    Q. What has been your biggest challenge as a rider?

    Brian: My biggest challenge has been to overcome adversity. With the passing of my wife, I was knocked down. I was not motivated to do much of anything at all except follow my passion for horses. It has taken me a year to get the mental side of showjumping somewhat back on track, but it is still a struggle. The mental side of many sports is often overlooked but is an extremely important factor for success. It was something that I struggled with already as a junior rider but learned various techniques and tactics to get myself in the “zone”. With this curveball that was thrown in my life, it has really tested all my mental ability. Even more than before, I realize how much my riding is, and has, been affected by my mental capacity. There are small mistakes you make which cost you results when you aren’t quite there. When competing against a class of riders which are all competitive you must always bring your A-game, both mentally and physically.

    Q. What has been your most memorable moment?

    Brian: One particular win that I cherish the most was winning the National Maclay Equitation Championship in 2001. It was the last prestigious national horse show held in Madison Square Garden and, growing up riding in the US, like all junior riders, it was my dream to win the equitation final. I had the lead from the first round all the way to the end. Many famous US and Canadian riders have won these finals — Kent Farrington, Mclain Ward, George Morris to name a few. After the class I also got to meet Billy Steinkraus. I will always remember meeting such an old respected horseman and him telling me what a great rider I was.

    Q. Tell us about your time with Jan Tops?

    Brian: I learned a lot, from riding to training to horse management, but most of all I learned that hard work pays off; Jan is a real horseman and hard worker. He is always thinking; his horsemanship skills were something I tried to absorb as much as I could. His success has been from his well-trained eye to always buy the best horses at any age. He always preached to buy good quality, but he did once tell me that if you can’t afford the best horses then you must kick and pull a little harder — he told me that was how he started his career.

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    Q. You’ve just moved to Hamburg, tell us about your new set-up?

    Brian: Christoph Zimmermann and Janne Meyer-Zimmermann are my extended family. Last year they purchased a beautiful yard just outside Hamburg and in June I flew my horses over from the US to base there on the farm. It’s beautiful — there is a huge new outdoor ring with Ebbe-Flut footing, a wonderful indoor, oval walker, indoor lunging, new grass paddocks, all weather paddocks, grass fields, race track and access to 60-plus hectares of woods with groomed riding trails. I have up to 12 horses in my care this year for training, selling and competing. I live in an awesome flat in Hamburg which overlooks the Elbe river and harbour 25 mins form the stable.

    Read Brian’s new column in this week’s issue of Horse & Hound magazine, out now (23 March 2017)

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