byTori Repole| Sep 25, 2017
Growing up, 36-year-old Erin Walker of Utah was always interested in horses. Although she competed in the hunter divisions during her early years, riding consistently wasn’t in the cards for Erin until she became a young adult. After graduating from college, she capitalized on her equestrian interests by investing in two, 3-year-old dressage horses, which she produced into hunters. For Walker, that was essentially the start of it all.
These days, the mother of two young boys is married to professional golfer Jimmy Walker and operates Dynomite Ranch in San Antonio, Texas. Walker has also left her hunter days behind her while competing in the Low-Amateur jumper division under the eye of her coach and business partner, Irish rider Conor O’Regan.
“Conor and I have a fantastic working relationship, and I started [training] with him three years ago. I love Will Roberts, who I used to ride with, but at the time, I decided that I wanted to focus on jumpers and he didn’t have many at the barn,” Erin says.
“My horse, Barlando, really helped [Conor] get back into the FEI ring after being away due to not having the right horse. He takes care of my horses and I never worry about them, and I want to get him really good quality horses and give him an opportunity to start growing his name and his business and jumping on some Nations Cup teams,” Walker says.
“With my husband being a professional golfer, our first priority is his career, which is fine, and I knew that when we got married. With me not being able to ride as much as I would like to, I got realistic about maybe not becoming a High-Amateur rider or a national-level grand prix rider, and I’ve decided that that’s okay. But, I want to have a business where we are importing young horses and bringing along good amateur horses for people to buy here in the States.”
For Walker, one of those horses is Umbra 34, a 13-year-old Holstein mare who has been shown up to the 1.60m level by Paris Sellon and then Zazou Hoffman. Although Umbra was sidelined with an injury, she is currently in foal to Emerald N.O.P, with a baby expected via surrogate in early 2018.
“Umbra is an amazing mare, and I think she could be a good start for what we want to do with Dynomite Ranch, whether it’s importing young horses, or doing limited breeding. There are a couple stallions that I have picked out for the next couple of years that I’d like to get from her, so we’ll see where that goes,” Walker explains.
“We’re trying to breed good horses, we’re trying to import good horses, and that’s the best you can start with. Hopefully, people catch on and see what we’re trying to do.”
From navigating show jumping bloodlines to setting goals in the ring, here are eight things Erin Walker has learned from Conor O’Regan.
1. Being a good teacher.
A lot of people can ride but they can’t teach. My husband would be the first to say that he can play golf really well, but he can’t teach golf really well. With Connor, he’s not only a great rider, he’s also a great teacher. He’s hard on the people that he knows he can be hard on and at the right time, but he also knows when it’s not a good time to prove a point.
2. Staying connected.
I learned a lot about my outside rein with Conor, [which is something] you don’t necessarily learn in the hunter ring because it’s a completely different style of riding. You’ve got to sit up and really connect your seat and your hands. When the horses are jumping their best, the push is coming from behind. That’s something I’ve had to learn [on] more sophisticated horses.
3. When to step on the gas.
[Conor] taught me when to be aggressive and when jumping double clean is going to go a long way. Those things can take a while to learn, but having a trainer who is really experienced in the jumpers helps.
4. Setting realistic goals.
I don’t have the time to ride six horses a day—it’s just not realistic for me. I have to taper my expectations a little bit, and Conor is good about helping me manage [that]. Keeping me competitive, but not getting too down on myself when I haven’t ridden in a while and it doesn’t go very well.
5. How to properly ride and understand a course.
It’s taken me four or five years to really feel like I’m capable of jumping a course and knowing why I jumped it [clear], as opposed to just holding on and wishing me luck. I’ve learned a lot about course management and what courses suit which horse.
6. Riding what you get.
I’m not taking anything away from the hunters, and I learned a lot from the hunter ring about getting the perfect spot. But in the jumper ring, you learn to deal with what comes at you, and you might not make it to [that] perfect spot. Conor has helped me with all of that.
7. Better riding through flatwork.
I didn’t have a lot of experience with how to really prep a horse for a class, and that’s one thing Conor focuses on. The flatwork is what’s most important. It keeps your body in check and it keeps your core tight and your legs fit, and then finding the jumps is easy after that.
8. Breeding dos and donts.
Conor and I know what we want to achieve with the breeding. He’s very savvy and knows what bloodlines produce what. We are both savvy horse people and we’ve been in the industry long enough that we know what we like. Breeding is a gamble, and we could end up with a superstar, or we could end up with a pasture horse, but you definitely [try to] start with the best, breed them to the best, and hope for the best.
Photo credits from left: Diana Hadsall Photography; Jimmy Walker.
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