Brian Walker: Making the break over the Atlantic *H&H VIP*

  • Opinion

    I’ve loved horses since I can remember. I grew up in Montreal, Quebec, and have been fortunate enough to train with some of the best. As a junior I had a successful career, the pinnacle of which was the Maclay Championship final, which was held in Madison Square Garden. However, 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 good your junior career was.

    After competing in juniors, I opened and ran Woodside Farm, basing myself between Wellington, Florida, Lexington and Kentucky. I sold and produced young hunters and jumpers for my clients.

    Just over a year ago, my extended family Christoph Zimmermann and Janne Meyer-Zimmermann purchased a beautiful yard just outside of Hamburg city limits in Waldenau. Over the years, I have spent some time with Christoph in Hamburg and always loved my time there. With the passing of my wife in January 2016, it felt like the right place to go. So, last June, a week or so after Christoph and Janne moved their horses, I flew my horses over from the US to be based there, to give my riding career a fresh start and pursue lifelong goals and dreams of being a professional rider.

    Different approaches

    There are misconceptions in the USA that everything is better in Europe for the equestrian industry. To be clear, Americans do many things that might be better than the Europeans: training kids to ride, management and care of horses, stable management — to name a few. However, the big difference in the approach to showjumping between the continents is that American business is driven by clients, and European business is driven by professionals.

    The high cost of competing in the US forces professionals to rely on training clients to make a living. Without clients taking up a lot of my time, I have more time to focus on my own riding, and training my horses. I also have more time to develop young horses — the key to a rider’s future.

    The way the shows are set up in the USA, it is not cost-effective to try to develop horses under the age of seven. There are many factors that make it not financially rewarding: the long distances between shows, the lack of small productive one-day shows, and the fact that the cost of competing at a national show is about 10 times as expensive. Add that up over a few years and, unless the horse is a superstar, you will find it difficult to make a good return.

    Time for life

    I’m finding that the geography in Europe allows me to have a more of a life. Shows typically run Thursday to Sunday, after which I can spend a few days at home, before heading to the next show. Stateside, there are many two- to three-week tours, and all start on a Wednesday. Monday is then a travel day and Tuesdays are for work, before showing again the next day — life gets tiring living on the road.

    So far for me, shows in Europe are little less taxing. Normally I compete in one competition, sometimes two, unlike in the US where there are very few shows that have fewer than four rings. More show rings mean more stress and less focus on each horse.

    So here’s to a stress-free and focused equestrian experience for this American in Europe. I look forward to sharing my journey with the readers of Horse & Hound.

    Ref Horse & Hound; 23 March 2017