Maestro - Meet Sarah Walker

By: Horse Deals

Maestro - Meet Sarah Walker
Sarah (left) rides out with her younger sister Vicky Hesford

Rider and producer Sarah Walker tells Horse Deals about her showing career to date

The saying goes that "behind every great man, there is a great woman", and for leading showman Robert Walker, his wife Sarah is his lynchpin. None more so than in recent weeks when Sarah has held the fort while Robert has been recovering from a stroke.

Sarah has spent her life in Cheshire. She was born in Warrington and because her father farmed and her mother rode, it was hardly surprising that Sarah soon found herself astride a pony.

Sarah’s first mount was the 20-year-old Inky. The black Shetland had already done sterling service for a number of families and also taught Sarah’s younger sister, rider and producer Vicky Hesford, the ropes.

"Inky and I did everything from fun rides to Pony Club rallies and riding club competitions," recalls Sarah.

It wasn’t long before Sarah progressed to affiliated shows on Uplands Sonata, with Peter or Caroline Nelson on the end of the lead-rein. Their first major win was at Devon County, then, aged seven, Sarah gained her first BSPS summer championships victory with Vine Seakale.

She also ventured into working hunter classes,where her rides included the 14hh Camrose Charming Chloe and the smaller Lynscott Velveteen, who successfully did
nursery stakes and open classes. Show hunter pony classes had just been invented and Sarah and Velveteen were also among the first competitors.

From the age of nine, Sarah combined competing home-based ponies with riding for Bob and Julie Templeton. She had no
shortage of ponies to improve, as her mother was successful at turning jumpers into workers. Sarah also earned spare money by teaching and producing ponies: two first ridden charges qualified for
HOYS with Emmaline Gallagher-Tsui.
While many ponies were sold on, Sarah’s favourite, the 15hh WHP mare Newby Bridge, stayed until her death aged 21.

"She won everywhere from local to
county level and the BSPS
championships. We also did fun things like riding in Tatton Park, and galloping along the beach," says Sarah, who gained her first Royal International and HOYS
tickets on Newby Bridge.

Sarah met Yorkshire man Robert when she was 19 and they’ve now been together for 17 years. During that time, Sarah has enjoyed many special moments, including
when the hack Cool Customer gave her a first Royal International win.

"That was amazing, especially when I was originally brought in third. To beat people I’d looked up to for so long was unforgettable," she says.

Other memorable wins include the 2010 Windsor novice hunter championship with Ballard Bouncer, Pencroft Blue Print’s 2002 national
championship win and a first ride in the Winston Churchill Supreme at the Royal International with the coloured cob So Smart. Sarah also rode the lightweight hunter Suppose So to the supreme at the National Hunter Show, while So Smart won his
coloured class and championship at HOYS.

"That was a moment to cherish. I had to stop myself from crying," she recalls.

Sarah and Robert relocated to Tarporley in 1999 and a second move to Cotebrook in 2007 left them well settled at Eric Cousins’s former racing yard.

The 48 stables — "We wouldn’t want the mall filled at the same time"—outdoor school, gallops and common land for hacking give the Walkers ample space to produce their horses.

"We have a mixture of youngsters and established horses," explains Sarah, who is on the yard at 6am every day.

After mucking out, she has breakfast and reads with son Sam. Then after the school run, Sarah’s back on the yard for riding or
anything else that needs to be done — except backing.

"I don’t do that," she declares.

Add to this admin duties such as show entries and feed ordering and Sarah’s days are invariably full. Nor is there a close season. Youngsters come in through the
winter to be backed and because Robert is joint-master of the Cheshire Hunt, hunters must be exercised and second horses got
out on hunting days.

It’s all in a days work for Sarah, but this human dynamo isn’t as robust as she appears. Sarah was born with a hole in the heart. She had major surgery as a youngster and returns to Manchester University Hospital every year for a check up. This time, it revealed an enlarged heart, narrowing of
the artery to the lung and a leaky valve.

The advice was: "Take things
easy and don’t do any lifting." But those who know Sarah well are hardly surprised to find she’s still mucking out and riding. Not quite what the doctor ordered, but you can’t keep a good woman down.