Josey Walker has been riding horses since before she could … well … since before she could do pretty much anything.
The Cartersville High senior said recently that she took her first ride when she was 2 weeks old. It should come as little surprise to learn that horses have become a significant part of Walker’s life.
So significant in fact that she signed her national letter of intent in early February to join the University of Georgia equestrian program.
Some people are probably surprised to learn UGA has an equestrian team. For those who may be unaware, suffice it to say, Walker is joining a top-notch program, which has won six national championships under head coach Meghan Boenig — the only coach the Bulldogs have ever had.
Walker looked into other options, including Baylor, California-Davis and Tennessee-Martin. Georgia had the obvious draw of being close to home. The Walker family also learned they had some things in common with Boenig, including Josey’s mother, Lisa, having attended Berry College, Boenig's alma mater, a few years prior.
“I felt I was really at home with the coaches,” Walker said. “They really welcomed me; they felt like family; and we had some cool connections with the head coach. … It felt like family in an instant, when we met them.“
Despite her early start with riding, it wasn’t always Walker’s singular focus.
“My sixth-grade or seventh-grade year, I really got into it,” she said. “I was playing soccer, volleyball and some softball. I was traveling with all of those. My parents sat me down and told me I needed to pick a sport that I truly loved, because I couldn’t play all of them in high school. I really wanted to and I was really upset, but I got it.
“I sat down and prayed about it. I asked God, ‘What sport do you see me in?’ I felt He was pulling me towards equestrian riding.”
The horse Walker first rode barely a fortnight into her life is still around. Roanie, though, has been retired for a few years now, so she won’t be competing with Walker at the next level. Her current show horse, Vivaldi, won’t be joining her in Athens either.
Walker made the choice to place a priority on her academics, opting to work with one of the school’s animals instead of bringing her own, for which she would have to provide care.
“I’m afraid that I won’t have time between classes — because I want to be a veterinarian — and the demands of the team,” Walker said. “I want to be able to put forth all of my efforts into the team and school. I’m afraid if I have my own horse, it will take away from that.”
She added that her future coach was supportive of the decision and impressed by Walker's work ethic.
“She understood just how much work it takes,” Walker said of Boenig. “I have my own farm, and we have about 200 acres that we play around with. We’ve got some cows and got some horses. She understands that I might not have a ton of experience showing and have a ton of experience spending a ton of money on a nice horse.
“But I have the hard work to take a horse that’s maybe young and inexperienced into a great horse that can show at the big level with the big dogs. She appreciates that a lot more than a high-roller kid who can buy a nice horse, a finished horse, as we call them.”
A hunter seat rider, Walker said she’s looking forward to building a close bond with a new horse. While she doesn’t expect to find one that compares to Roanie, Walker knows that she’ll get out of the partnership what she puts into it.
“She was a once-in-a-lifetime kind of animal,” Walker said of Roanie. “I think she really helped me decide that horses were my thing. …
“They love you unconditionally. You don’t have to be fancy, just love them, and they will love you back the same or even more.”