Valeria Walther participated for the first time in a White Turf skijoring race in St. Moritz at the age of 18. In this discipline, horsewomen stand on skis and are pulled by the horse across the racecourse on a rope. The start is explosive, and fights for position are tough. In 2019, 21-year-old Valeria won a silver medal. Next year, the native from neighbouring Pontresina will fight for a place on the podium for the sixth time in a row.
What kind of person are you? I am addicted to adrenaline. Next to horse riding, I love riding my motorbike. Moreover, I have a zest for life, I enjoy the moment, and I’m grateful for everything I experience, and I look forward to everything to come. In skijoring, you are pulled on skis across the racecourse by wildly galloping horses. That surely takes a lot of courage. I admit, skijoring is a little crazy. However, the amount of adrenaline that flows through your body during a race is so enormous that it blanks out everything else. At that moment, all I perceive is the powerful energy of the horses, the snow that splashes through the air, and the tension of the spectators. When the boxes open and the horses start to gallop, that is an exhilarating moment for any spectator. How do you experience it? The moment shortly before the start box opens is the most intense. My pulse feels like it is at 700 bpm. Then I hear 3, 2, 1 and a shot, the doors fly open, the horses leap forward, and for the duration of a second you can see almost nothing. The task then is to find my place in the pack as quickly as possible. Where is my horse going, what’s happening to the left and to the right? These are decisive seconds. On the racecourse, who is in command, you or your horse? I control the horse. However, one has to take into consideration that we are behind the horse, our reins are long, and we cannot use our legs to give a command. Consequently, we cannot control a horse as well as a rider sitting on the horse can. In addition, in skijoring you need a horse with a strong personality and enormous determination. These are aspects you don’t have under control at all. Neither I nor the horse decide alone between victory and defeat, we always decide together as a team. My role is to guide the horse and remain on course in order to prevent a gap behind us which a competitor could take advantage of. I have to defend our position, and the horse, on the other hand, rushes ahead and fights for the best position.
What goes through your head during a race, what kind of emotions do you experience across the 2,700 metres distance? It’s an emotional roller coaster. Initial nervousness and insecurity are followed by a high degree of concentration and a surge of adrenaline. I grow much calmer. Then, when I enter the last arch on the finish line, I experience a moment of pure joy. I can actually feel the heat of the fired-up crowd. And then, behind the finishing line, I experience a huge sense of relief. How do you prepare for a skijoring race, mentally and physically? In my training regimen I give mental aspects more attention than the physical. I used to be extremely nervous before a race, I was hardly able to control myself. I felt nauseous, and I had stomach cramps, which crashed over me like a wave. I wanted to change that. Mental coaching helps me with anxiety. I managed to convert anxiety into focused vision. Which characteristics does a horse need to make it suitable for skijoring? We say: «A skijoring horse has to be a diesel», in other words, a horse that constantly runs at full throttle. It’s got to be of strong character, ambitious and always ready to push itself to its limits. It must never give up. Skijoring is different from other disciplines. These are horses that never make it to the front in other disciplines, while in skijoring on snow and without a rider they will win one race after another. What are the demands made on a skier in a skijoring race? You have to be a good skier and used to working with horses. You need to know the rules of the sport, be courageous and never give up. Up until two years ago I fell more often than I reached the finishing line. I had to overcome these setbacks and grow more tenacious. White Turf reflects luxury. What does luxury mean to you? For me, being a part of this occasion is luxury. The entire event is something exceptional and involves a lot of voluntary work. Enjoying something like this right on my own doorstep is luxury.
Words Martin Hoch
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