Grabbing The Reins

Annie Walters points to her family to explain the work ethic that has fueled her success in the equestrian world — both as an aspiring professional rider and a poised entrepreneur who has already established her own stables at age 22.

Her grandfather Harvey Walters brought his family to Isle of Palms in 1967 to work construction for developer J.C. Long, while her grandmother Carolyn served residents for decades through the island’s post o­ ce. ‑ eir son, Richard, joined his dad on the job as a teenager and still packs his schedule as a successful island contractor, while his wife, Linda, handles the  nances.

Richard and Linda initially discouraged Annie, the younger of their two children, from riding horses. ‑ ey didn’t know much about the sport, but heard it could get expensive. It was “Granny” who gave Walters weekly lessons in English riding when she turned 8, and a er that, there was no turning back.

“I did that for a year, and I was addicted,” Walters recalls. Seeing her intensity, her parents found a way to purchase Spinner, a sweet but challenging quarter horse, and once Walters got past her fears about cantering him, she soon excelled as a rider.

At 16, she le the Lowcountry for South Carolina’s horse country. She lived, worked and traveled the show circuit with a Camden horse trainer and his wife, and at 18, she became a professional rider. Even as she started classes at University of South Carolina, she drove daily between the Columbia campus and the Camden stables until she decided, in her third year, to delay getting her degree so she could commit to starting her own business.

She moved back to Isle of Palms and, in February 2017, o­ cially opened AMW Stables on the family’s land in rural Berkeley County.

Her dad constructed the stable buildings and her older brother, Troy, helped clear the  elds of stumps while mom does her books. But the business carries Walters’ initials for a reason, and when it comes to questions that involve horses and riders, she’s the expert and guiding force. It’s a role to which she is wholly committed and doesn’t mind devoting long hours, even if she’s not on the same page as others her age. “I’m living the life of an over-30-year-old, and I’m 22,” she admits.

While Walters credits her family’s example of hard work, her mom says much of her daughter’s success comes from qualities within. “We helped her pursue her passion, but I don’t think we gave her the drive. You either have it or you don’t.”

No doubt Walters has a natural gi for riding and training horses, and now a knack for selecting horses to purchase — a serious pursuit that takes her overseas. But her favorite role may be teaching. Within a year of opening, she had up to eight student riders and their horses at her stables and was also giving lessons at Rosebank Stables on Wadmalaw Island. She leads them all in competitions that o en take them out of state and allow her to continue riding at a professional level.

 You can see Walters’ con dence as she stands in the practice ring at AMW Stables in Huger and guides a 13-year-old rider and her pony through the course. “You knew he was going to turn le , and you did a great job of making him go straight there,” Walters instructs. “You always want to anticipate.”

Being close in age to many of her students helps her know how to talk to them. “She always goes into detail if there’s a problem, to make sure I know it and understand it,” says 15-year-old Charlotte Black.

That kind of rider satisfaction can be critical to a word-of-mouth business. At the same time, Walters’ ongoing success as a competitor should also build the stables’ reputation. Equestrian is a sport that demands experience, and most of the top riders are in their 30s, 40s and even 50s. While she may be young, Annie already understands an important life lesson: “To be successful, you have to earn it.”

-         Susan Hill Smith, Photos by Steve Rosamilia