A girl power weekend at Thornton Hill Fort Valley Hounds in Sperryville
Monday, Mar. 11
First time ladies timber competitor Abbi Walker won last Saturday's race on Skunked. Photo by Betsy Burke Parker
Twenty-year-old Abbi Walker has dreamed about racing most of her young life.
Although she has enjoyed show riding and some junior steeplechase with her Welsh pony Lickety Split, but “he wasn't very fast,” Walker said.
It left her hungry for more. All she needed was an opportunity.
On the other end of the spectrum, Chris Harting has galloped racehorses for decades, logging thousands of miles working horses at Charles Town, Laurel Park, and at tracks and farms up and down the mid-Atlantic coast. She had experience but hadn't gotten the chance to race.
Too big to race on the flat, Harting figured, someday, she'd figure out how to go in a point-to-point.
She'd made a promise to herself – she wanted to race before her 50th birthday. At 49, Harting's clock was ticking.
Saturday at the Thornton Hill Fort Valley Hounds Point-to-Point in Sperryville, Walker and Harting fulfilled their destiny.
Walker and Harting met for the first time in the paddock before the ladies' timber race. Walker would ride friend and fellow foxhunter Larry Levy's first-time starter Skunked, while Harting would steer her own Two Is A Crowd, also a first-timer.
“We talked about it,” Walker said. “I told Chris I needed a lead over the first couple fences, since Skunked is a little tricky, and he never raced [or even trained] at the flat track. She told me OK, but that she wanted to go slow because she and her horse weren't quite fit.”
Armed with a plan, the two ladies set off in the 2 1/2-mile race.
Though she tried to hold Skunked back at first, Walker actually found that the 5-year-old jumped better from a faster pace, so she let him go to the lead, with Harting falling behind, but staying safe and straight with Two Is A Crowd.
They remained that way to the wire with Walker winning.
Walker waited for Harting after the finish so the pair could celebrate their joint triumph, together. They clasped hands and smiled face-splitting grins as they turned to jog back to the winner's circle.
“That was so much fun,” said Walker, saying though she was nervous, all fear dropped away as soon as she recognized that Skunked relished the competition.
“I can't believe I finally did it,” Harting said. “That was amazing.”
Walker lives in Somerset, and hunts regularly with Keswick. She's a skilled show rider, with two mini-prix victories to date.
Her step-father Dale Jenkins, and step-uncle Rodney Jenkins, provide her a direct link to the racetrack, though she hadn't really worked directly with racehorses until this spring.
Harting lives in Owings Mills, Md. She traded the hard work of galloping at the track some years ago for professional dog grooming.