In her glory days, Arrington Walker worked among the stars of horse sport.
An assistant competition manager for equestrian sport at the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta, she saw the very best athletes strive for the fabled five rings at the pinnacle of their careers.
But now, at age 73, the soft-spoken South Carolina grandmother is doing something even more exciting. She is doing what those in the Thoroughbred world refer to as myth busting.
To the amazement, and mild concern of friends, family and coaches, Walker bought herself an off-track Thoroughbred two years ago, practically pulled the old mare from a field and saddled her up.
Before the horse and rider met, Walker had been looking for the perfect riding horse for several years when in 2012, while chatting at dinner with some friends, she learned that a friend of a friend had a horse she could try.
New name: Sip and See
Dam: Suzy’s Surprise
Foal date: Jan. 30, 1996“I was giving my usual does-anybody-know-of-a-horse story when a friend got this lady on the phone,” and the next instant, Walker was chatting with a former college classmate and horsewoman, who, upon hearing Walker’s story proclaimed, “I’ve got a horse.”
And those words, uttered so confidently by her old school chum Jane Gunnell, turned out to be true. She had a horse all right. And what a gem she was.
“As soon as I put my foot in the stirrup” to try her “I knew. It’s an instinct, and that’s the only way I can explain it,” she says. “We went out in the hunt country of Aiken, and there were two of us riding … and she never put a foot wrong.”
After a two-week tryout, Walker purchased the former racehorse and broodmare, and eventually named her Sip and See. The name, taken from a southern colloquialism used by grandmothers, came to her one day while she and a bunch of lady friends gathered in a field to look at her new horse.
“When you have a grandchild, you invite your friends over to sip wine and see the grandchild, so we say, ‘Come over for a sip-and-see.’ And one day in May, six of my friends came with me to her pasture—they brought their lawn chairs— and somebody said, ‘We’ve come to your sip-and-see!’ ”
And all who took a peek at the mare, who was 16 at the time, proclaimed that there, standing in the field serenely grazing, was a gem of a racehorse.
Her calm nature won over everyone, including her riding instructors who initially advised her, for obvious reasons, to purchase an older, smaller, well-trained animal.
Quite the opposite, the mare stood 16 hands, and possessed little training beyond the racetrack. And yet, her lack of a competitive streak made her quite agreeable to train and calm in most situations.
Last month, after a year of training together, the pair of “old ladies” made quite the splash at the Jumping Branch Horse Trials in Aiken.
The 18-year-old Thoroughbred and 73-year-old rider completed their first three-phase, an impressive feat for a rider who hadn’t competed in 22 years.
Though not the Olympic games, the competition was a monumental achievement for her.
“This is my miracle horse,” Walker says. “I’m out there competing, and I haven’t done it in 22 years! I’ve run into so many people from my Atlanta days, and they can’t believe I’m out there riding a horse and jumping!”