The third week of the Great Lakes Equestrian Festival (GLEF) is going to be a very memorable one for Laurel Walker (USA). She made her FEI debut Thursday in the $38,700 Limitless Performance CSI2* Speed Classic aboard Armani, and she came out with a win.
“This is just the best feeling ever,” Walker said of her victory. “I’ve been looking forward to my first two-star, which is my first FEI [start]. I got his horse last year and that’s what we’ve been working up to ever since. To not only show in my first two-star with him, but also to win, it means the world and it shows that we’re working together. I’m really happy with our connection.”
Walker was one of 27 international entries to test the Bernardo Costa Cabral (POR) single-round speed track. On top of steep competition, she went early – just sixth in the order – and held her lead through the whole class. Ireland’s Conor O’Regan, who had a stellar week two, took second place with Mendini DR, owned by Dynomite Ranch, LLC, and Alexander Alston (USA) took third with Keoki, owned by Pine Hollow Farm.
Armani, a 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Namelus R x Lester), is still a newer partnership for Walker, but that didn’t stop her from giving it her all.
“I always love to go fast, so I’m always ready,” Walker explained regarding how she rose to the challenge Thursday. “And my horse loves to go fast. It was a really good course for him. He likes to cover the ground, and he’s scopey, so I used that to my advantage. He listened perfectly and followed my eye and my hand. I’m really happy.”
Walker just recently celebrated her 17th birthday, so she was among the youngest in Thursday’s opening FEI class, going up against seasoned professionals, including the likes of Kent Farrington (USA), Margie Engle (USA) and more.
“This has been my dream for my entire life: to ride and show horses,” Walker explained. “I started when I was five years old and I’ve worked my way up from the .75m up to the FEI classes.”
Helping her make the jump to full-time riding and into the FEI ranks is a highly successful team in Plain Bay Farm. “I started riding full time with Plain Bay Farm, with Katie and Henri Prudent and Paula Randall, last year,” Walker said. “I could not ask for a better team. They match me perfectly with my horses and they always support me. They walk the course and tell me exactly what to do everywhere. They know every little intricate thing that could help me at each jump. I really appreciate them; they are the best.”
Having the expertise of the Plain Bay team at the in-gate was a big key to the success Walker felt in her FEI debut. With two more FEI classes to come in her debut weekend, she plans to keep her mental game strong and continue to ride her best.
Show jumping continues for GLEF III with Friday’s $38,700 CSI2* Welcome Stake, followed by the $30,000 National Grand Prix Saturday and the $77,300 CSI2* Grand Prix to conclude show jumping Sunday.