Nov 29, 2023

Ever So Sweet Scholarship Winter 2023/2024 Awarded to Toria Walker

Photo courtesy of Strides for Equality Equestrians

Strides for Equality Equestrians (SEE) and the United States Eventing Association (USEA) Foundation are proud to announce the awarding of the Winter 2023/2024 Ever So Sweet Scholarship (ESS) to Toria Walker.

The Ever So Sweet Scholarship, the first of its kind, provides a fully-funded opportunity for riders from diverse backgrounds to train with five-star eventer and show jumper Sara Kozumplik. Toria Walker, Nashville, Tennessee, was selected by the Strides for Equality Equestrians leadership committee from a pool of impressive candidates. All applicants were encouraged to apply again for the Summer 2024 Ever So Sweet award.

Walker, 29, was thrilled to hear she was the recipient of this award. She has been working with her adopted ex-racehorse, Wes, since April of 2022 after becoming an equestrian as an adult. She works with event trainer Lauren Romanelli currently and is looking forward to building on her education with this immersive program.

"I am incredibly honored for this opportunity," Walker expressed with gratitude. "I am fully aware that such opportunities are not easily accessible to many individuals, which is why I intend to make the most of it. This will serve as a stepping stone for my equestrian career. My plan is to ride as frequently as possible, on a diverse range of horses, and absorb as much valuable information as I can. Following this experience, my goal is to establish a stronger partnership with Wes, enhance my technique, allow him to gain valuable experience, and establish a solid foundation to kickstart the competition season in 2024."

Toria noted that on her New Year’s resolutions list for 2023 she wrote that she wanted to go to Florida to ride. “But I had no idea how that was going to happen,” she recalled. Eventually, she met fellow equestrian Key Moore, at a horse show in Atlanta. Moore, who received a Leg Up Grant in 2022 from Strides for Equality Equestrians, suggested that Walker connected with the group. Thanks to the connections she made, she was able to meet Romanelli and now becomes the Winter 2023/2024 recipient of the scholarship.

“I would advocate for equal opportunities and access to resources for individuals from all backgrounds,” Walker wrote in her ESS application on the subject of equitable access in equestrian sports. “This could involve working with organizations and stakeholders to develop programs that provide financial assistance, scholarships, and mentorship opportunities to individuals who may face barriers to entry in the equestrian world. Furthermore, I would emphasize the importance of education and awareness regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion within the equestrian community. This could involve organizing workshops, seminars, and training sessions to educate equestrians about the value of inclusivity and the steps they can take to create a more welcoming environment. By fostering a culture of understanding and respect, we can work towards eliminating discrimination and bias within the equestrian world.”

The Ever So Sweet Scholarship is supported by Edy Rameika and Kozumplik. Beginning in summer 2021, bi-annual scholarship recipients were awarded funding to immerse themselves in a high-performance training program with Kozumplik at Overlook Farm Equestrian Center in Berryville, Virginia for three months.

During the winter, the scholarship provides two months of training with Kozumplik in Ocala, Florida. The scholarship covers expenses for full board and training costs for a horse, several lessons per week, housing for the rider, a stipend to cover living expenses, competition fees, and coaching at competitions. Participants learn to manage, care for, and compete horses in an immersive program and will have the opportunity to work as part of the team in all aspects of running a large, competitive barn.

Riders will also make professional connections that might otherwise be unattainable and play an active role in fostering a more inclusive environment within the sport.

"I've had to overcome many challenges in my life as an upper-level event rider, but I never had the challenge of feeling like the sport wasn't easily available to me. This scholarship allows access for those that currently don't have a clear pathway to fight for their dreams," Kozumplik said. The Ever So Sweet scholarship is an important step toward increasing diversity and inclusion in equestrian sports.

Rameika shares the passion for providing opportunities for deserving riders. “Our family loves horses and the sport of eventing. My daughters, Roxanne and Nadine, began riding when they were quite young. They rode and competed through high school, and Roxanne continued into her college career. We are very fortunate," she said. "But there are students in underserved communities who have the passion and talent for the sport but perhaps not the means. Roxanne passed away in 2017 but her passion lives on through her family. Nadine, Sara, and I want to honor Roxanne and Nadine's Native American heritage and their love of eventing through this scholarship in the hopes of helping to keep others' dreams alive. Ever So Sweet is a song that was beloved to Roxanne and Nadine, especially during those memorable years of riding.”

Past Ever So Sweet Scholarship recipient Sierra Lesny is now a full-time staff member at Overlook Farm, helping run Kozumplik's busy eventing and show jumping program and assisting with riding of young and sale or training horses. Lesny says Ever So Sweet helped the trajectory of her career. “Growing up, not seeing many people that look like me in the horse world was disheartening,” she said. “Putting people in this space so that younger kids grow up seeing someone that looks like them, doing the things that they want to do is the most important.”

Applications will open in Q1 of 2024 for the Summer Ever So Sweet Scholarship. Interested applicants can visit https://www.stridesforequality... for information.

Strides for Equality Equestrians (SEE), founded in 2020 as an allyship program for the equestrian community, seeks to address the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in equestrian sports. SEE promotes a more inclusive culture by listening to and addressing the concerns of Black, Indigenous, and people of color within the community while educating equestrians about effective allyship. For more information, please visit www.stridesforequality.org.

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