Canada’s Nicole walker riding Falco Ban Spieveld finished fifth in the RBC Grand Prix of Canada event during the Spruce Meadows National on Saturday June 8, 2019. Gavin Young/Postmedia
Gavin Young / Postmedia
Tennis icon Billie Jean King once said …
“Pressure is a privilege — it only comes to those who earn it.”
Nicole Walker has earned the right to be under pressure, and she has chosen to deal with it in her own unique way.
“I think pressure is a good thing for me,” began the 25-year-old rider from Aurora, Ont. “I find that it makes me focus more and I work harder leading up to something because I know I have to be prepared.
“Really, years of practice has gone into that, so I remind myself when I’m going into the ring that I’m lucky that I get to do what I do, I have fun doing it and just reinforce the positives and know that I have a great team behind me and we’ve worked hard for this. I trust our program, and that confidence helps me. It dilutes the pressure a little bit.”
That attitude will surely be of great help as Walker takes to the show-jumping ring at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, in early August.
“So, so excited,” Walker admitted. “It’s been a big year for me, obviously, doing my first Nations’ Cup. It’s something I wouldn’t have dreamed of a couple of years ago, to get this far. It’s so nice that all the pieces have come together.”
Included on Canada’s team are Mario Deslauriers and Amsterdam 27, an exciting new horse for him, Lisa Carlsen with Parette, and Erynn Ballard and Fellini S. Deslauriers and Carlsen, both 54, were teammates on the Seoul 1988 Olympic Games, while Ballard was part of the 2018 World Equestrian Games at Tryon, N.C.
Walker is no doubt hoping that experienced presence will rub off.
“I’ve been lucky this year,” Walker said. “There are a lot of veterans on the Canadian team, and they’ve all been supportive, giving advice and showing the ropes. We have a diverse team — I lack a bit of experience myself, and there are some veteran riders on some younger horses. But together, it’ll all work out good.”
The Pan Ams are something that is above and beyond anything Walker has experienced.
“It’s going to be all sports,” she pointed out, “so maybe fans who aren’t equestrians will come watch, and it’s good exposure for the sport. And it’s also pressure, too, because we’re trying to qualify for the Olympics, so there’s that bigger goal in our minds. But sometimes pressure is a good thing and we’ll spin it in the right way.”
Her mount of choice is Falco van Spieveld, a 14-year-old bay gelding with which she finished fifth in the RBC Grand Prix during the National tournament in June.
“He was clear in the first round and one down in the jump-off, and that’s actually the last time he will show before the Pan Am Games,” Walker said. “We were going to show this week, but due to the weather, we didn’t want to take any risks. He’s been on such good form, so we feel confident that we can go straight into the Pan Am Games and pull off a good result.
“He’s such a dream horse,” she continued. “Nothing fazes him really. He’s good indoors, outdoors, at grass in Spruce Meadows, and he’s such a cool character in the barn. I always have fun riding him, and that gives me a lot of confidence. I’m lucky that he’s my horse.”
Canada’s national team will have a decidedly different look, what with the retirement of Ian Millar and Eric Lamaze’s health issues. That has left the door open for individuals such as Walker, and she did her best to saunter through.
“There are gaps that need to be filled, this year in particular,” conceded Walker, granddaughter of businessman Frank Stronach. “I’m sure (chef d’equipe) Mark Laskin would be feeling a bit different going into this championship without two of his staples, Eric and Ian, and we’re really going to have to rise up to the occasion. Hopefully ride our best.”
Though she didn’t compete a lot at the Meadows this summer, it’s one of her favourites.
“I have two horses here, and they both love this venue,” she enthused. “It’s big fields — you have to ride fast for the time allowed, big gallup, bulky jumps and you see jumps from all over from different championships. But it definitely builds riders. You always leave here hopefully feeling confident.