Most junior riders do not enter an arena at medal finals and think, “this is easy.” However, with Any Given Sunday, American rider Hunter Holloway of Topeka, Kansas had a leg up on her competitors last weekend when competing in the high-pressure Pessoa/US Hunt Seat Medal Final, at Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The 12-year-old Oldenburg gelding (Indoctro x Condor) has a resume as a grand prix jumper with other riders and with Holloway herself. Having jumped grand prix tracks in the past gave both horse and rider the skills to tackle the Pessoa Medal Final with the level of confidence that is critical in standing out among almost 200 entries.
Any Given Sunday was bred in South America by Juan C Morstadt Anwandter of Chile, and found his way to the United States via horse dealer Eduardo Braun. Holloway’s mother, grand prix rider and trainer Brandie Holloway, spotted the horse that was originally called “Icarus” as a three-year-old stallion. But when he jumped out of a seven-foot round pen and galloped around the farm causing chaos, Brandie decided it was best if he had time to develop.
“Very few horses posses the wherewithal to jump slow and scopey over 3’6”, make a handy turn on the counter canter, and gallop full speed over a jumpoff course over 5’3”, all when the occasion calls for it.”
Two years later, she saw him again as a well behaved, but just as scopey five year old and bought him. With a name change and a new nickname, “Sunny” became a permanent fixture at the Holloway’s Equi-Venture Farm. Brandie oversaw his development, and brought him up the jumper ranks to the grand prix level, with Hunter occasionally riding him as well.
When Brandie took time off from riding due to pregnancy in 2013, she tapped Darragh Kenny of Ireland to temporarily take over the ride on Sunny. Kenny picked up wins and top finishes on the Wellington, Florida winter circuits and campaigned Sunny at the CSIO5* in Calgary, Canada before handing the reins back over to the Holloways.
Now a level-headed, steady ride that helped Hunter step up into her first grand prix classes, Sunny competed steadily on the East Coast grand prix circuit. Equitation wasn’t part of his plan at all, but when Hunter’s equitation horse strained a muscle before the 2014 USET finals, she realized that the only horse in the barn that could possibly fill in was Sunny.
“He’s a natural athlete, he can do anything well,” Holloway says. “We just get our game face on and go out and do our thing.”
Holloway and Sunny proceeded to rack up a string of top medal final finishes in 2014s. They finished 2nd in the WIHS Medal and ASPCA Maclay Medal Finals, and look to be on a similar track this fall. They’re on track for more of the same this year; on Sunday Holloway took 2nd place honors behind Kelly Cruciotti in the Pessoa Medal Final. She’s going to try her luck again at WIHS and the Maclay in the coming weeks.
With those classes, Sunny’s 2015 record will boast a mix of competitions as varied as any in the sport: he and Holloway placed 2nd in the $55,000 FEI World Cup Qualifier Grand Prix at Omaha in April, and finished 3rd in the $50,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at Colorado over the summer.
Holloway sees the differences and similarities in all three arenas, and takes each challenge as they come. But it’s in the similarities that she finds her edge. This year’s Pessoa workoff included a gallop to a square oxer, a counter canter bend to an oxer-oxer four stride, and a tight end rollback to the final fence – all questions that are common on grand prix tracks, and that Holloway had tackled before when the jumps were at least two feet taller.
Very few horses posses the wherewithal to jump slow and scopey over 3’6”, make a handy turn on the counter canter, and gallop full speed over a jumpoff course over 5’3”, all when the occasion calls for it.
“[Medal finals] are a big stressful time, but it’s an extra confidence boost when I go in the ring,” Holloway adds. “I think, I’ve done grand prixs on this horse, I can do this.”