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Hunter Holloway: “I know my horses like the back of my hand, and I always rely on my relationship with them”

Friday, 27 May 2022
Interview

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping With her charming 11-year-old mare Pepita Con Spita, USA’s Hunter Holloway finished 16th at the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Final 2022 in Leipzig, Germany. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

USA’s Hunter Holloway finished 16th in the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Final 2022 in Leipzig, Germany, with her charming 11-year-old mare Pepita Con Spita (DSP Con Spirit x Come On). World of Showjumping sat down with the 25-year-old to learn more about her deep connection with horses, her path to become a professional rider, as well as her experience in Leipzig with the American team.

“It was a goal of mine, and I was excited to be in Leipzig with the US team and to get to experience that,” Holloway says. “Everyone was so supportive; our whole team environment is something really special. There is a lot of comradery and we did this event as a team event – which is pretty cool because it is actually not a team event, it is scored individually. You really felt like you were doing something with a team, and you had a lot of people supporting you throughout it. Also, there were so many riders that I look up to there: You could look at a schooling ring and learn something from everyone.” 

“The beginning of 2022 was a little slow for me,” Holloway tells about the build-up for the World Cup Final, which was her first. “We knew I was going to Leipzig, so Pepita only showed a few times leading up to that, to keep her legs fresh and her feeling the best she could for that event.”

Putting the horse at the fore front

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping “It was something I always knew, there was never another option for me,” Holloway says about her career choice of being a professional rider. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Based in Kansas, Holloway comes from a family deeply involved with horses. “For us, it is a family business; especially my mom Brandie Holloway is passionate about horses,” Holloway tells about her background. “I grew up at the farm, I was in the stable every day and have ridden all my life. Our main farm is in Kansas, while we have another farm in Ocala, Florida, where we spend the winters. Throughout the summer and spring, we travel quite a bit. We do a little bit of everything; hunters, jumpers, clients and my personal horses.”

“My primary focus is my top horses and my goals, and then I try to fit everything else around that – always putting the horse at the fore front of every thought,” Holloway continues. “We do some breeding as well. However, the last couple of years have been slow with it because I have been too busy. It is exciting, though; we have some youngsters out of top stallions and the mares we use are our old Grand Prix horses so the lineages are special.”

“It was something I always knew, there was never another option for me,” Holloway says about her career choice of being a professional rider. “I never had any doubts about it; I knew my path. I enjoy the horses and I think for all of us, what we do comes from the love of the horse. I have a deep connection with them in my heart and as long as the horse is happy, I am too.”

Holloway also finds time to train other riders. “It can be difficult at times, but getting to help other people – especially when it benefits the horse – is something I have always found rewarding,” Holloway says.

Pepita Con Spita

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping “She is special, she is a princess,” Holloway tells about Pepita Con Spita, that charmed everyone at the World Cup Final in Leipzig. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“She is special, she is a princess,” Holloway tells about the 11-year-old grey mare that charmed everyone at the World Cup Final in Leipzig. “She really has it all: She has the scope, the talent, the mind. She is resilient and forgiving; she allows me to make a mistake here and there and to learn from it. That is what the week in Leipzig was all about: I made mistakes, but she came back and allowed me to learn, which is a super special quality in a horse. My contact in the Netherlands, Fred Van Straaten, found her for me four years ago, when she was turning eight. I just had this connection with her from day one: I got on her and I knew she would be special, and I did everything I could to get her. Dylan Gamble plays a big part in flatting Pepita and helping to keep her happy and calm. He also starts all the young horses and plays a big part in bringing the young horses along. Him and I are always bouncing around ideas for the horses and brain storming together. We really work as team to see and do what each horse needs.”

Holloway’s goals for the season ahead revolve around Pepita, and keeping her in top shape. “She had a rest after Leipzig and I look forward to some more team events that we hopefully can aim towards,” Holloway tells. “My goals are to keep her peak performance and aim for those bigger classes with her – as well as developing the younger ones to take the pressure off her. By the end of the year, I hope to have a string of horses I can rotate around her. Jumping big classes and getting more consistent on this level, as well as getting on more teams with Pepita, that is where my focus lies, moving forward. And as always, working on my own riding.”

While Pepita Con Spita is Holloway’s top mount at the moment, she has an interesting string of younger horses coming up. “I have a couple of really nice eight-year-olds, one nine-year-old and quite a few five- and six-year-olds,” she tells. “In a few years, it should be exciting for me and my owners; hopefully we should see these horses in the Grand Prix rings. Bringing the young ones along is really fun, I enjoy seeing them develop. We do everything from starting them, we get to see their first ride and then I get to take them to the show rings. It is always a special feeling, seeing them from start to finish.”

Character always comes first

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping “First is character, always their character,” Holloway says about the qualities she looks for in a horse. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“I have had a lot of good horses during my career,” Holloway tells. “My first Grand Prix horse was one of my mum’s Grand Prix horses. He was a little bit older, so she handed him over to me and said ‘This is going to be your first Grand Prix horse, good luck’. He was a very strong, powerful stallion and I was 12, so that was a lot of horse for me. However, he was so special and so kind, I jumped my first 1.45m on him, my first 1.50m – at the age of 12. He gave me a lot of confidence in my riding. Any good horse gives a rider confidence, and it was huge for me to have that early on, it carried on to all my other horses. Once I was confident, I gave my horses confidence too and I think they enjoy that from a rider.”

“First is character, always their character,” Holloway says about the qualities she looks for in a horse. “Their heart comes first, then after that I look at their ability. I like mine to be quick footed, careful and scopey enough to jump big jumps. However, character always comes first to me.”

“For me, finding horses that are capable for the top of the sport but still within a reasonable price, is a challenge. Everything is getting so expensive and I think many struggle with that,” Holloway continues. “I can see that it is getting harder to buy good mounts for juniors and amateurs, because the price range is getting very hard to obtain. For me, the key is to get them young, but I enjoy that anyway. I love starting the horses young and jumping their first courses with them.”

Trying to be a better horseperson every day

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping "I know my horses like the back of my hand and I always rely on my relationship with them. When I am in doubt of anything, I go back to that,” Holloway says. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

Doing her first World Cup Final at the age of 25 without the support of a trainer, Holloway has found her own way to deal with the mental aspect of the sport. “It is definitely tough,” Holloway says. “For me, the pressure is always to do my best. I am a bit of a perfectionist, like I think many of us are at this level. We can be hard on ourselves. I think it is important to remember to enjoy it too, to still have fun. In the US, we have a great equitation system and I think through those finals, we really learn how to handle this type of pressure; at least you get an idea of how to handle your nerves during big events. Almost all of us in my age group have gone through this pipeline. You can do without, I am not saying it is the only way to go, but I do believe it helps, especially with the mental side of the sport. Also, you will have a solid base because the emphasis is on good position and good, quality riding. It all helps, and it carries through if you have that solid base.”

“I have been very fortunate to work with so many amazing people throughout my junior years and to this day now,” Holloway continues. “I have always found that by riding with a lot of people here and there, you can learn a lot from everyone – even if it was what not to do. There is a lot of knowledge out there and I have ridden with so many people and been fortunate to learn in that way. I have had trainers all my life, and have people I can call back on and get ideas. However, riding without a trainer for the past year has been fun. I am always trying to learn from other people, I think it is huge; looking up to someone and trying to be a better horseperson every day. It is nice as well in the sense that I know my horses like the back of my hand and I always rely on my relationship with them. When I am in doubt of anything, I go back to that.”

For the love of the horse

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping "Back at the barn, I am with my horses every day and I love them – they are part of my family," Holloway tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

For Holloway it is important that the wider audience gets to see that the top sport is about the relationship between horse and rider. “The public should understand that what we do comes from the love of the horse,” she says. “Back at the barn, I am with my horses every day and I love them – they are part of my family. I think most at the top would say the same; these horses give a lot to us and we give a lot to them. And the top horses, they love their job – but they also get to be horses and enjoy that part of life too.”

“I think we need to keep getting the right people out there, in front of that wider audience, so that they can see that most of us do the best we can by the horse – every day,” Holloway points out. “The majority of us do this because we love the horse. I think that in this sport, there is no place for those who are doing wrong by the horse – and they won’t last either. If we within our community keep working as a team in getting stronger, and putting the welfare of the horse first – always – then any bad eggs will no longer be in. We have to unite together and push for this.”

 

No reproduction without written permission, copyright © World of Showjumping.com



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