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MLSJ Rookie Spotlight: Sam Walker

©MLSJ/Brooke Giacin

The inaugural season of Major League Show Jumping, a new league of five-star events in North America, launched in Traverse City, MI, last week—the first of 10 events that will run through November.

With a new and unique team concept designed to generate excitement for both the sport enthusiast and casual fan, eight teams of five-star athletes will face off at each event in a three-round competition that includes not one, but two jump-offs.

There will be many familiar faces on this continental tour, World Equestrian Games team gold medalist Adrienne Sternlicht and Olympian Lauren Hough are on this week’s MLSJ roster, but as the inaugural league kick-off nears, we’re shining the spotlight on the fresh faces—the rookie riders in their first season competing with an international team.

Sam Walker

Age: 19
Hometown: Nobleton, Ontario, CAN
Team: Diamond Devils
FEI Wins: 11
Career Highlights: Represented Canada in the 2019 CSIO5* Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ USA; won the 2018 ASPCA Maclay National Championship; North American Youth Championships Gold Medalist

Sam Walker burst onto the scene at just 16 years old when, in only his second season competing in the U.S.’s highly competitive “Big Equitation” division, he won the prestigious ASPCA Maclay National Championship aboard Missy Clark’s Waldo. It was a hard act to follow, but Walker followed it up with wins in the 2018 CET Medal Finals in Toronto; the 2019 WEF Equitation Championship; and the 2019 WIHS Equitation Final, in which he became the first ever Canadian to win the class. All but one of those championships were won with Waldo, with whom Walker played a key developmental role.

Walker achieved much of his equitation success with Clark and John Brennan’s North Run operation, where he began riding as a working student at just 12 years old. Clark actually trained Walker’s mother, Dee, who, along with Sam’s father Scott, runs Forest Hill Farm out of Caledon, Ontario.

Needless to say, Walker boasts the pedigree, the work ethic and the talent required to excel in the sport of show jumping, and the teenager has made a highly successful transition to the international level. He won his first FEI class before his 15th birthday and represented Canada in the CSIO5* Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Canada before he was 18. That debut was more than respectable, with Walker recording just a single rail in each round.

Walker brings two talented mares to the MLSJ season, both owned by sponsors MarBill Hill Farm. Coralissa will primarily contest the MLSJ team competitions; the mare has been paired with Walker for nearly four years. Nine of Walker’s 11 career FEI wins have come with this hard-trying mare, who arrived in Walker’s care as a seven-year-old. Walker credits his mother for some pivotal training on the flat that contributed to Coralissa’s success and rideability.

Walker and Coralissa most recently were winners in U25 Grand Prix competition during the 2021 Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL. They also boast a team gold and individual silver medal from the 2019 North American Youth Championships (NAYC) in North Salem, NY.

“She was my [NAYC] mount, and she won numerous FEI classes in 2019,” Walker told Major League Show Jumping. “I’m looking forward to riding her in the MLSJ team events, and I think she’s going to be super competitive.”

Walker’s second mount, Evita, came to him last August after campaigning successfully with the likes of Steve Guerdat and Kevin Jochems. The 10-year-old mare will be aimed at five-star grand prix competition on the MLSJ tour. “I can’t wait to see what the future holds for this mare,” he said.

Walker will compete on the Diamond Devils alongside fellow U25 riders Natalie Dean (USA) and Jennifer Gates (USA), along with senior riders Erynn Ballard (CAN), Bliss Heers (USA) and Nayel Nassar (EGY). Ballard, Heers and Nassar are all candidates to represent their respective nations in the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games, giving the Diamond Devils a competitive and experienced lineup for the MLSJ season.

“I think MLSJ is going to incorporate a fantastic team event and more five-star shows that we don’t currently have in North America,” Walker said. “I’m super excited, because it allows me to jump more five-star events, and I think it will make great opportunities for a lot of other riders based in North America.”

Feature image: ©MLSJ/Brooke Giacin

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