Hunter Holloway: Jumping Into New Terrain

Holloway and Cassavel, Ph. Meg Banks
Holloway and Cassavel, Ph. Meg Banks

From a string of top medal final finishes, international hunter derbies, and an impressive list of grand prix victories, Hunter Holloway has certainly made her mark on all three rings. As Holloway has begun mapping out her 2017 strategy, there is no doubt she has a bright future ahead.

If there is a consistent theme behind the success of this Topeka, Kansas native, one could argue it’s the combination of hard work, talent and a great eye for future prospects. Not to mention, the top-level management and care both Holloway and her mother Brandie Holloway, herself a grand prix rider, provide their stable of 50 horses through their sales and training stable, Equi-Venture.

Although 18-year-old Holloway is young in her show jumping career, her list of accolades is long and extends equally between hunters, equitation, and jumpers. At age 12, Holloway won the $25,000 Dallas Harvest Horse Show Grand Prix, making her the youngest rider to win a national standard grand prix.

She was also the youngest rider chosen to represent the United States on the FEI Junior Young Riders Nations Cup in Hagen, Germany in 2014, which marked the beginning of the European Young Riders Tour. Currently ranked 11th on the USEF U25 Riders Ranking List, Holloway’s next challenge is transitioning to the 1.60m division, with the help of her newer mount, Cassavel; a very scopey, big strided, 2007 Holsteiner gelding (Cassini II x Tamara IX), owned by The Hays Corporation.

This year alone, Holloway earned six, first-place finishes during the HITS Ocala Winter Circuit, and on June 1st, she won the $75,000 Tryon Resort 1.50 Grand Prix, at Tryon International Equestrian Center in Tryon, North Carolina. That victory came just days after she topped the $25,000 Under 25 Grand Prix at Tryon, proving that she can hold her own both with her own age group, and against the pros.

Holloway and
Holloway and Cassavel under the lights at Tryon. Ph. Meg Banks

With hopes to one day represent her country in the Olympics, Holloway is focusing on the higher level grands prix. She discussed Cassavel, and the accuracy of the strategy that was created before going into the ring for her recent win at Tryon.

“I think I did anticipate Cassavel to perform quite well, he always comes out as a super reliable horse that works hard to jump all the jumps clean. He’s very careful and wants to do his best every time. As long as I don’t do anything too crazy, he’s going to jump clean,” noted Holloway. “Going into the jump-off, I think I had a very strong plan, on how to use his huge stride as an advantage in the turns and down long gallops. I think the plan worked really well in the end.”

Because Holloway’s sights are set on competing for her country, she has decided to pull away from the equitation and hunter riding. Even with a win in the WIHS Equitation Hunter Phase at the Kentucky Spring Classic Horse Show in May, Holloway is aiming her attention toward the jumpers this year, and her strategy is paying off. Holloway knows she will need to learn how to tackle some of the toughest tracks in the world. Her recent win in Tryon was a great confidence booster to continue full speed ahead. Holloway is looking to Cassavel, barn name “Casey”, to help her learn how to effectively ride the 1.60m track, moving forward.

Casey and Holloway possess similar characteristics; namely a cool, confident demeanor every time they enter the ring. Casey has proven himself to be a consistent partner for Holloway as she learns to navigate the bigger, and more technical FEI courses.

“I just jumped a five-star course on June 12th, and Casey was super,” she said. “He continues to step up to the plate. We’re both a little new to jumping these bigger courses, so together, we’re figuring it out as we go. I have done a couple 1.60 m classes, but not on a regular basis. I’m trying to learn how to jump a clean round at that height and Casey is definitely game for the job, she said.”

As Holloway continues to move up the U25 USEF rankings, she is considering the European show circuit for 2017 as a viable option. Intent on broadening her horizons, she knows her travel schedule will need to give way for the bigger FEI classes. While maintaining  a home base in Kansas, she has competed in Wellington, Ocala and at other top venues in North America, but the team at Equi-Venture must be taken into account every step of the way.

“Traveling to Europe is definitely something we have our eyes set on. I’m still trying to figure out my schedule with the new addition of Michael Henaghan [a very experienced trainer to riders in all three rings], at Equi-Venture. With my mom, Brandie, he’s always been a big part of the team, so I have to think about the big picture and what will be best for the entire barn,” Holloway states.

While maintaining solid rankings is vital for Holloway’s career, displaying Equi-Venture’s horses’ potential to future buyers will remain a key element to her future. Equi-Venture is dedicated to producing top horses for training and selling purposes, and has been the primary means of supporting Holloway throughout her equestrian career.

At home, it’s not uncommon for her to spend over 10 hours in the saddle, bringing the three and four year-olds along, as well as riding her top mounts. On the road, Holloway and her mother compete with many of the horses bred at their farm, showcasing them across all three rings. Their horses’ records range from top placings in the Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals, ASPCA Maclay Regionals and Finals, up to the HITS $1 Million Grand Prix and HITS $500,000 Hunter Prix.

For Holloway, none of this is new and she seems undaunted by the challenges ahead. “I think, right now, we’re playing it by ear, whether or not we decide to make changes with our growing stable. We have a pretty good program and an amazing group of people that definitely keep the barn together. We’re all working full-time as a team,” Holloway explained. “Moving forward, we’re also looking at Spruce, and possibly competing at Wellington a little more than we have in the past. We’re weighing all our options at the moment.”

Holloway and her mother are known for producing young talent within their barn. One of Equi-Venture’s top horses is none other than Any Given Sunday. “Sunny’s” list of accomplishments is long and include top finishes by both Holloway and Ireland’s Darragh Kenny.

“We have a lot of young horses actually. Many of Any Given Sunday’s babies are just now coming up. We have a five-year-old who’s doing the small junior hunters and there’s a seven-year-old that’s homebred, who I’m excited about. I look forward to focusing on these horses as they continue to develop. They’re going to start really showing themselves and competing in the bigger classes soon, which will be pretty exciting.”

A key contributor to Holloway’s success in the show ring most certainly stems from her flatwork roots and Holloway is vigilant in the preparation she provides each horse, no matter what level they’re at. Many trainers give each of their horses a totally personalized ride, which sets them up for their proposed competition ring. Holloway has a different outlook on this concept. Her methodology in the flatwork and the way she works with her top hunters and jumpers is actually, fairly similar.

““I’m a little more energetic on my jumpers. I require them to keep more pace in their step.”

“Flatwork plays a big, big part in our barn. You can’t go into the ring if your horse isn’t broke on the flat. The basic level of dressage is an important key aspect to have, especially when jumping the bigger courses. As for my hunters and jumpers, a lot of the training I do with them is similar. There’s not a big difference by any means, with the way I work them,” mentioned Holloway. “I’m a little more energetic on my jumpers. I require them to keep more pace in their step. I think it’s pretty similar with the hunters. I do most of the same flatwork, but it’s a little less demanding. Though, my hunters do know how to do the same things as my jumpers,” mentions Holloway.

A life-long student of the sport, Holloway loves the learning process and she relishes any feedback she receives as she is quick to test out her newfound knowledge on the flat and in the show ring. Always looking to enhance her connection to the horse, it’s no surprise Holloway turned to five-time Olympian, author, clinician and international competitor Anne Kursinski. Kursinski’s training has been instrumental to Holloway as she is well known for her fundamental training and effective teaching methods to find harmony with the horse. Kurskinski began mentoring Holloway in mid-2015, and Holloway spent time as a working student at Kurskinski’s Market Street Farm in New Jersey.

“Anne is such an inspiring person. She taught me a number of things. She has always made a point to really think about getting inside the horse’s head on the flat. If I’m on the flat and I’m having a difficult time with one of my horses, I have to think about what my horse is thinking. What can I do to make this work? She reinforced the importance of this. I have to get my horse to do what I say in a nice manner,” says Holloway.

When it comes to schoolwork, Holloway has been participating in her senior year online. As her equestrian career comes first, Holloway’s plans on attending university will be similar to her high school years. “I don’t have college plans at the moment. I think I’ll be attending online, the same as I did high school. I’d like to keep moving forward with my career in the sport. Therefore, I think college, online, will be the best option for me, with where I am right now.”

Beyond college, Holloway is clear on her goals and excited to face the challenges ahead. With a knack of helping her horses peak at just the right time, she will certainly be a strong contender for the US team competitions in the future. I’d like to be representing the USA on a team as much as possible. Hopefully, I’ll be a regular competitor in the big classes and I’d like to produce a good show record with my top horses,” explained Holloway.

With a steady career, a growing stable, and a lot of hard work, Holloway is on track to one day realize her dreams of representing her country at the highest level of equestrian competition.

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