‘It’s just me and my horse’
An Alberta teenager with Cape Breton roots remembers being hoisted up onto the back of a horse at only three years of age.
“The feeling of travelling faster than my own two legs could carry me was when my love for riding was born,” said Olivia Walker, who lives in De Winton, Alta.
According to her mother, it was a rocking horse given to her by grandparents, Basil and Brenda Crane of Georges River, that began her fascination with equines.
“When I’m running barrels at these fast speeds it’s just me and my horse together as one, and sometimes I don’t even realize how fast I’m going,” said the 13-year-old barrel racer and roper. “I guess I’m just in the zone and loving every minute.”
Last Friday, Walker was awarded the prestigious title of the Alberta Junior High School Rodeo Association’s “All-around Cowgirl.”
Bringing with it a shiny belt buckle, the award is given to a Grade 6 to 8 student who earns the highest accumulative points throughout a racing season.
Olivia is the daughter of Glenn Walker of North Sydney and Lindsey (Crane) Walker of Georges River, who met while working in Western Canada.
With three horses in tow, Olivia competes in barrel racing, pole bending, team roping, goat tying, breakaway roping and ribbon roping.
In April, she clocked a personal best in barrels — a 14.0 second run on her eight-year-old quarter-horse, Razzle.
“She has three horses and two dogs, so we’re quite the circus coming to the rodeo,” said her mother Lindsey, with a laugh.
“This is her obsession — her passion — her life.”
A Grade 8 honours student at St. Francis of Assisi Academy in De Winton, Olivia’s parents bought their daughter her first horse at age five.
By age eight, she was picked as the Calgary Stampede’s youth reporter for the day.
And although she doesn’t visit Cape Breton often, Olivia makes a point of visiting Sunrise Stables in Georges River when visiting her grandparents on vacation.
Lindsey said a handful of riders from Sunrise Stables also supported Olivia last year during a rising star performance at the Canadian Finals Rodeo in Edmonton.
Her biggest supporter, however, is her great-grandmother, Theresa MacLean, 90, who lives in North Sydney.
“She’s a huge Olivia fan, we call her Nanny T,” said Lindsey. “We have to call Nanny T after every rodeo and let her know how she did.”
As part of her training, Olivia stables and rides her horses at her own arena at home. She was also approached by Secure Energy Services for a sponsorship that helps cover the cost of her expenses.
As part of her commitment to Western riding, Olivia must feed, water and clean out her horses as part of a daily routine.
“I love to compete and push myself and my horses to be better each run,” Olivia said. “I really enjoy the friendships I’ve made and the lessons I’ve learned along the way, but my biggest love is the bond between myself and my horses — they are my team and we’ve created a bond second to none.”
Olivia wants to become a veterinarian when she’s older and hopes to compete professionally at events such as the Calgary Stampede.
Her Canadian racing idols are Alberta racers Lindsay Sears, along with Rene Leclercq, who the family purchased their newest horse Razzle from.
“She’s made the Alberta provincial finals every year that she’s been in junior high, which is a pretty big deal out here,” said Lindsey.
“I won’t lie, sometimes my heart is in my throat, but she’s quite talented and her horses look after her. I’m usually pretty calm in the stands, but there are some breathtaking moments where she’s leaned over mid-run and pulled up barrels and kept them up.”
In addition to Razzle, Olivia rides and owns John Wayne, a 14-year-old roper, along with her all-round horse Sparky, 10, who last year was named Horse of the Year by the Canadian All-Girls Rodeo Association.
A big contributor to Olivia’s success in rodeoing is her father Glenn, who acts as a coach and often saddles and conditions horses prior to her runs.