Plaidcast 327: Hunter Holloway by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services

Plaidcast Episode 237 Hunter Holloway

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Piper speaks with rising Grand Prix rider Hunter Holloway about growing up in this sport, her experience as a top junior equitation rider to now a top grand prix rider and how she develops her young jumpers. Brought to you by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services. Listen in!

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Piper Klemm [00:00:29] This is the Plaidcast. I’m Piper Klemm, publisher of the Plaid Horse Magazine. And coming up today on episode 327, I talk to hometown favorite Hunter Holloway for the FEI World Cup finals in Omaha, Nebraska. Hunter is from Topeka, Kansas, which is right nearby, and she is the leading American rider in the World Cup North American League standings at the end of the 2022-2023 season. She’s going to talk about growing up in the sport and what it was like going from a top junior equitation rider to now being a winning Grand Prix professional rider. This episode is brought to you by Taylor Harris Insurance Services. 

Piper Klemm [00:03:15] One of the winningest young riders, Hunter Holloway, is earning respect in the national and international showjumping rings. Hunter finished 16th place and her first ever Longines FEI jumping World Cup final in Leipzig, Germany in 2022, which quickly earned her elite ranks within the international show ring. Based in Topeka, Kansas, and Ocala, Florida. Hunter comes from a family deeply rooted in horses. In 2016, she rode to the win in the coveted ASPCA Maclay Championships, as well as the 2016 Washington International Equitation championships after winning all three phases of the competition. Hunter also won the Under 25 Jumper Championship at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show the same year. Welcome to the plaidcast, Hunter. 

Hunter Holloway [00:03:58] Thank you. I’m happy to be here. 

Piper Klemm [00:03:59] So you started riding at a very young age and you moved up the ranks very quickly. Can you talk about with us about your younger years and kind of what that looks like for you? 

Hunter Holloway [00:04:08] Yeah, you know, I was practically born in a barn, as everyone says, right. But I spent my whole entire childhood growing up in a barn around horses. This was really second nature for me. And I was very fortunate with my upbringing and my family situation for that to be so accessible to me. You know, my mom was a trainer, professional herself, and growing up in that atmosphere, I think was really beneficial to my riding career. 

Piper Klemm [00:04:33] So what age were you doing some of these divisions? I know you’re doing the junior Hunters like a very young age. 

Hunter Holloway [00:04:41] Oh, gosh, I think I did my first, like, large rated ponies at like six years old my first junior hunters at nine. And then I did my first Grand Prix at 12. You know, I think I started things quite young and I was quite tall for my age. And really the whole reason I moved up in the ponies so quick is, you know, my mom was a professional trainer and other trainers will get this, you know, you hate having the expenses or the bills and there was just nothing prize money wise and those lower pony division to the schooling ponies, the Children’s Hunter, the children’s ponies, whatever there was, was no no financial gain at all by, in any of those divisions, you know. So I think my mom paid the first horse show bill after doing like it was the children’s ponies or something, and she was like, never again. You’re going to grow up and you’re going to do the large ponies. So there’s at least something prize money wise, because I’m not going to foot that bill every week for you. So that was part of the reason we moved up in the large ponies so quickly and it’s a rather comical reason. But also it makes sense, you know? 

Piper Klemm [00:05:47] Absolutely. So I’m guessing you did you were really involved in the barn and did a lot of stuff with your mom. You’re saving money every every quarter you can find there. 

Hunter Holloway [00:06:00] Oh, yeah, absolutely. You know it. We did everything together growing up. The, you know, I was very involved, it was a very family like atmosphere. And, you know, the barn was my life and still is. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. 

Piper Klemm [00:06:16] I’ve always kind of wondered, you know, watching a lot of kids grow up in the sport, the ones that are taller when they’re younger, it’s it almost seems like they’re a little behind. But then then they’re way ahead because, as you said, you kind of got into those divisions at a younger age. I’m assuming you were very tall when you were young as well for your age. And so you kind of get into these divisions earlier. And so by the time, you know, other people get into them, you know, you’ve been there for three years. So while you are kind of behind, you know, you have like a lot more practice time in these divisions. And it’s always interesting, I think we see in the lower divisions are often often dominated by people who tend to be a little short for their age, which is like a short term advantage. But I almost think the long term advantages is moving up and having those challenges earlier. 

Hunter Holloway [00:07:05] Yeah. You know, I’ve always been a long leggy thing. I’m always a bit uncoordinated off of a horse. That’s just how I am. And I think, you know, it did benefit me because I was. I had long enough legs I could ride, you know, ponies or horses from a very young age, I think I rode horses before I ever rode a pony, actually, well before. Yeah I started on horses. And I think part of that comes with a little uncoordination. You know, you have to learn your body control and learn how to hold all your parts still. But I do think it can be a benefit once you learn how to control your body and so forth. 

Piper Klemm [00:07:47] So the first time I saw you ride in person was at the Saugerties Hunter Prix finals in September. I think you were 14 that year and you were up on the podium with the professionals in the $500,000 Diamond Mills class. Can you talk about what it was like traveling to all those horse shows at a young age? You know, being from Topeka, it’s not like there were rated shows nearby. I mean, these are all kind of epic ventures, especially for for a young person. 

Hunter Holloway [00:08:19] Yeah, well, I think we’ll touching on on that class of I have to speak a little bit to how what a wonderful horse that was at Lyons Creek Bellini was an amazing horse. My mom found him as a six year old, and her and I developed them together. And then Don came in once I was doing the juniors on him and really helped that horse, my my junior career and the horse and I had a wonderful relationship. And, you know, I had a lot of great success on that horse. Speaking on that class a little bit, you know, a lot a lot of moving parts there and a lot of people went into that that result. Regarding traveling as a young kid, I, I love traveling. I can remember being in the sixth grade, this is before we even went to Ocala. And so when we were going to Arizona for the winter Circuit, so this is a while ago and I missed six weeks of school, six weeks of school straight. And at the end of that six weeks, I mean, my teacher, I still had good grades. My teachers were great. They were really helpful through it all. But, you know, that was about to go on in middle school and high school after that. And they were like, you know, you really should think about online school for being gone this long. Just because you can’t school does not allow you public schools do not allow you to miss this much school once you move on from here. And I remember begging my dad like, please, my dad’s not a horse person. And I was like, please, you know, I really want to go online school. I’m traveling so much would be way easier. So it was a huge, huge kind of decision with my parents and so forth, just because my dad wanted to make sure, you know, I was so adamant at that age that I horses of what I wanted to do. But I was so young, you know, he didn’t want it to mess up my academic career either, which I get. So the the the online school really aided I guess in the traveling so much. And, you know, I really was able to chase that dream. The dream I’m still chasing now from a very young age. 

Piper Klemm [00:10:11] So as you said, you got connected with Don Stewart. So how did that change? How did that connection change? Obviously, it changed. You started going to Ocala. How did that change your life to start working with Don? 

Hunter Holloway [00:10:25] Yeah, Don, I absolutely love Don and I have had a a lot of success together and we have a really great relationship. I think the first time I met Don was actually my first year indoors. I went to indoors, I think I was either 12 or 13. I went for Prix de States. We got there, you know, and it’s that was so, so new and such a big deal for me at the time. I was so excited about it. And yeah, everyone kept saying, you know, I was I was not in equitation at the time, not even really been a thought except for a sales horse that came in the barn here or there. But everyone kept saying, if you’re going to do equitation, you should ride with Don. And then everyone kept saying, Well, she’s long and she’s tall. You know, kept on my mom. You know, you really should get her into equitation. So that kind of already been a subject Mom and I had been talking about amongst ourselves and within the family. And then I got to meet Don at Harrisburg that year, and it really clicked. And I really enjoyed him. And I think that’s kind of when the decision and the. Started the decision and then talking about going to Florida started, you know, like, oh, well, you’re going to ride with don in the equitation and we really should talk about going to Florida. And that ended up being the first year we went to Florida was, you know, later that that winter when it was when we would usually be going to Arizona, we decided Florida might be the better option because that’s where Don was. 

Piper Klemm [00:11:44] So you decide to start getting into the equitation and you know what kind of those next steps look like for you? You started having again, you had success in the equitation very young, but you were chasing that chasing that equitation final when until until your last junior year. 

Hunter Holloway [00:12:02] Yeah. You know, when I first rode equitation, I was just always on sale horses that we’d had in the barn. It wasn’t really like a, you know, a certain equitation horse that was mine that came about. It was just kind of whatever we had laying around. And then. We had a couple of good ones that were bought as sale horses, my younger junior years and then towards my final years. I think everyone knows Sonny, you know, we decided to geld him because he was originally a Stallion and he was my mom’s Grand Prix horse. So then when she was pregnant with my youngest brother, Boston, he went to Darragh Kenny to do the big jumper stuff there. Then he came back. I did some jumpers on him and then ultimately the  decision was made to make an equitation horse and do that to do too. So I had a big eq horse that was, you know, could do all those finals, be super competitive. And then I think is when you see kind of the change coming from being a competitive at the equitation finals to being a real, real contender was was that horse and that team. We’d kind of put it together between my family and, and Don Stewart and his his group and that horse, you know, that horse is amazing. He’s done a lot of a lot of good for a lot of different juniors in their career. 

Piper Klemm [00:15:11] So what do you think the equitation like taught you? We I think we kind of lose focus sometimes on, on what the purpose of the equitation is and it’s almost become this like own beast within itself of like but like the equitation, the original purpose, I think still the purpose is to focus on, on that discipline and the craft to make you a better jumper rider. You obviously were already winning grand prix by the time you stepped into the equitation rings. So you’re a little bit of a different case. But do you think it really served that doing the equitation for that many years really served that same purpose for you? 

Hunter Holloway [00:15:50] Absolutely I do. I mean, I was doing Grand Prix, but I was doing them, you know, with with no real discipline or I like I think I was doing Grand Prix before I could even count strides correctly. And I’m not I’m not saying that as a joke. I’m quite serious. You know, I land and I’d ride off my eye and my feel, but I had, like if you ask me how many strides I did in a line, I would be like, Oh, I don’t know. Like, I just did what felt right. So I think in that sense. The the equitation at it’s basis teaches a very good foundation for riders. You know, very good. Then after that, I think it teaches you discipline because, you know, you have numbers. You are are stuck to to be competitive anyway. And it teaches you to ride a good track, ride a good plan and stick to it and stay disciplined in it. And I think that’s huge. You know, then that that carries over to everything hunters, jumpers, whatever it may be, that you go on to that discipline that is drilled into it. And that good foundation is beneficial wherever you go. I’m not saying you have to get it by doing equitation, but it sure makes it a lot easier. And then after the good foundation and the discipline, you know, you have the pressure that you learn to handle from the equitation finals. That’s a huge amount of pressure that goes on to you as a child, essentially. And I’m not saying it’s put on to you by other people, but you put on yourself, you know, it’s a big event, it’s a big deal. You’re nervous. A lot of a lot going on. Right. And you have to learn how to deal with that pressure and that anxiousness and those nerves. It’s it’s a huge amount of things that it teaches you, really. 

Piper Klemm [00:17:30] Absolutely. And that pressure is not going to be any less when you go in for representing Team USA or in these big jumper competitions. And you went in so many equitation finals at that like kind of practice at the pressure. Do you feel like you still use those skills that you know, like at the World Cup last year you’re still using the same skill set that you gain from the equiation ring? 

Hunter Holloway [00:17:56] Oh, for sure. Sure, sure. You know, I think it I think it carries over, like you said, to every ring you’re in. I know going into World Cup finals last year, it’s like, okay, walk the course, stick to the plan. And that goes back to discipline. You know what I mean? If you get off that plan, you’re in trouble. Then you’ve got to, you know, figure it out from there and that your instincts have to kick in a little bit if you go off the plan. But, you know, the goal is to always ride the plan. And that learning to ride the plan and stick to it creates a bit of peace in your mind because that is something you can control. And when you walk into such a big, big classes like that, there’s so many variables you can’t control – what you can control as yourself. Being on time, being presentable, and your plan, right. You can have a good plan to rely on. And I think it really helps with that. 

Piper Klemm [00:18:44] Okay, so you finish your junior year, you’ve won two of the equitation finals. You have won so many Hunter Derbies, Grand Prix is you’ve literally been showing in the junior Hunters for nine years at that point, you turn professional. What does that look like? 

Hunter Holloway [00:19:02] Yeah. For me turning professional. I think it was a big step, but it was always a step that I knew I wanted to take. So it was just me following my dreams again and following the next step. And I guess my plan for myself. That’s what going pro was. It was the next step for my career, my life that was not some wasn’t like that was unplanned for me. So it was just the next natural step for me and my career and where I wanted to go with my career. And it was a pretty smooth transition, I’d say, for me. But it can be difficult. And I think I had a bit of the benefit of growing up in the business, so I was always involved in that side of everything, even as a kid. So that exposed me to that side my whole entire life. So the business side of, of our industry wasn’t a huge shock to me. It was like, okay, yeah, I get this, I can deal with this. Where I think a lot of juniors, you know, they’re juniors and ride with someone their whole entire career and then they’re whole entire junior career and then they want to go professional and they have no idea what the business side is and what it really looks like, you know, and I think that’s great, that’s where they go and work, you know, underneath some other great trainers and they get that exposure to the business side of it. And I think that’s that’s huge and that’s great. But I was lucky enough, like I said, to have been exposed, exposed to that my whole life. So I had a bit of a leg up in that sense. 

Piper Klemm [00:20:32] And it’s a lot of the same decisions in a different form. I mean, choosing between doing the children’s ponies and the large ponies because of prize money, that’s in a lot of ways a very similar decision of like, am I going to go to Ocala or Wellington with my Grand Prix horse? Like, where do I get enough prize money to keep going? 

Hunter Holloway [00:20:50] Exactly. At the end of the day, you’ve got to pay the bills and make enough money to continue and figuring out how. What that looks like for your business model and your horses is certainly a factor for for any trainer trying to make it or keep going. 

Piper Klemm [00:21:07] So I’m guessing I think your mom came to basically everything when you were a junior. How has that changed as your professional? Are you traveling on your own more or is that, you know, was it was there like even within within your family and within you continuing to do this? Was there like a leaving the nest kind of stage? 

Hunter Holloway [00:21:26] Yeah, I think when I you know, I my first professional year, I was still with my mom and we’re doing a lot of things together. And then I, I guess professionally I decided to kind of the branch out and do my own thing. My mom also was slowing down for some family thing, so she wasn’t quite as involved either. She, she had some family stuff going on and she kind of took a step back and was doing her own thing. And then I started kind of doing my own thing. And that’s where you see kind of the evolution of the business. You know, I’m Hunter Holloway Stables, my mom still has her farm. And that’s changed a bit. And I’ve kind of been doing my own thing since then. I had two. Two or three now great years in Wellington. That was super. I had some great opportunities there and certainly had the clients at that point to be there. And then two years ago now, we bought the place in Ocala, Florida, and we’ve been based out of here more, which is great for the young horses. I’ve been developing a lot of them and kind of bringing them up, so that’s certainly easier for me to do I feel here in Ocala then getting to go to Wellington for those big classes with those big hitter horses is obviously really important to me and we’re still making that happen. 

Piper Klemm [00:22:43] How do you manage balancing, bringing along your horses, your top horses, your clients? Kind of everyone’s needs are pulling you in different directions. 

Hunter Holloway [00:22:52] That is the hardest part of my business, but you know it. It kind of goes back to a good schedule, a good plan. And and being in Ocala really helps out because there’s so much to offer for everyone. And then if I need to go or want to go to a big FEI class with Pepita, I have a great team right now with you know, Dylan has been a big part of my my team for about two years now. And him and Pepita can just go off to Wellington together. Then I can show up for the the Thursday night or the Thursday welcome and the Saturday night Grand Prix and know that everything’s handled and taken, taken care of. So I think. Being able to. To be there for every horses needs and every person’s needs really goes back to having a good team and a good foundation. The people that really work well together and have the needs of the horses and the students at the forefront of everyone’s mind. 

Piper Klemm [00:23:52] Let’s talk a little bit more about Pepita. Where did you find Pepita and talk about the process of producing a horse to that level. 

Hunter Holloway [00:24:03] Yeah, She’s been amazing. She is in that horse on her own. The biggest teachers in this industry are the horses themselves. Right. We have to talk a little bit about that, I think, because I think we learn so much from them, you know, about ourselves and about business and about our job jobs riding them. We learn from them every day, and they’re the best teachers you could possibly have. But acquiring her, we I saw a video of her. I have a great friend and business partner in Holland who saw a video of her and really liked her and would come in talking about getting down there to try and see her. And I was like, Oh, I love her. I don’t really have a buyer for her at the moment yet, so I kind of had to put that together on my end and got lucky enough to to find two people that were willing to to help me in that adventure and. Was able to go go there and try her and fell in love with her immediately. And then, you know, getting her getting her here was a was awesome. You know, it was we’re very excited about her and I had very big goals from from the get go for her and. Then I think you kind of just see us. We took our took our time with her. You know, we really kind of just worked on developing her and making sure she had all the tools she needed to be successful in the show ring. We all knew she was talented and she certainly has a heart of gold and tries your hardest for her rider every time. And keeping that part of her intact was very important to me. 

Piper Klemm [00:25:37] After the 2022 to 2023 season, you are leading among the Americans on the Eastern U.S. World Cup qualifier rankings. Was was this a big goal for you after after last year going to Leipzig, Germany? 

Hunter Holloway [00:25:55] Yeah, I think, you know, it was a big goal for me last year was to make it the World Cup finals. And then we went there, we did it, and then that only made me hungry for more. And I was like, okay, we can do this. The horse can do it, I can do it. Let’s try and, you know, be a real contender. Now, not that we weren’t before, but you know it. And your mind changes a little bit. Once you’ve done it once, it’s like, you know, going back to finals for the second year in a row, you’re like, okay, I’ve done it once. I can do it again. Let’s do it better. So sort of that attitude has been this past year going into World Cup finals. It’s like we did it once, we did good. Let’s go back and do even better. 

Piper Klemm [00:26:31] Coming from Topeka, Kansas, you’ll be essentially the hometown hero in Omaha. What’s it like having an FEI international championship, having World Cup finals in in Omaha, in the middle of the country, having that level of competition in that market? 

Hunter Holloway [00:26:51] Oh, it’s amazing. And I think I know it’s certainly great for my my family because they actually get to come see me at a huge event, which they never get to do. And the support, you know, all the all of our barns from the surrounding areas, the Midwest, so to speak, get to come out and support, which is unusual. So unusual for us to have something like that so close, let alone were so accessible to the public to. 

Piper Klemm [00:27:20] And it really helps inspire, hopefully the next generation of people that our next generation of riders and students seeing you out there that, you know, they too, can aspire to these great things. 

Hunter Holloway [00:27:33] Yeah, I think it’s great for the sport all around. 

Piper Klemm [00:27:38] So tell us a little bit more about the youngsters you have at home. Are you doing a lot of the riding? How do you kind of plan a track for showing and pushing them and giving them time and learning and, you know, using the horse shows and the accessibility you have in Ocala. I mean, one of the amazing things about Ocala right now is as as you said, you can you can shoot down to Wellington any time you need. Now, we have the Terranova facility a couple hours away right there. You have the Florida Horse Park has shows. You have World Equestrian Center, obviously in Ocala. You have HITS in Ocala. You have a lot of choices, a lot of classes, a lot of young jumper stuff. How do you kind of manage that, that push and pull to bring those young horses along? 

Hunter Holloway [00:28:25] Yeah, I think I go a lot slower with my young horses than most people do. I really let them tell me and let them show me that they’re ready. I don’t push them at all. I think warm bloods grow a lot longer than your average breed of horse. They’re not done growing. They’re still growing when they’re six, sometimes even seven. So I just take my time and let them tell me what they need and what they want. You know, Dylan, he starts all the young horses in house too, so that’s great. He does a fantastic job with them. So knowing that they have such a good foundation on them already just kind of makes it where there’s no need to rush, you know, the jumps. That’s the easy part for these horses, they know how to jump. They they’re bred to jump. The bred to do it, making sure they mentally and physically have all the tools to make jumping easy for them. That’s a different different conversation. And that’s the hard part. 

Piper Klemm [00:29:20] It’s like coping mechanisms, like when we’re when we’re teaching riders we’re thinking about how do they have the toolbox and the coping mechanisms to handle every situation. And it’s the same approach with the young horses. 

Hunter Holloway [00:29:31] Correct. Yeah. You know, I don’t sometimes young horses don’t even show when they’re young horse divisions till they’re seven year old year, because I’m just I know, I know the young horses are talented and the ones we pick are exceptional that way. But I’m more concerned about mentally making sure they’re ready for the questions that are going to be asked to them once they start showing. You know, I think they’re my horses generally they’re five six year old year are not doing the age group divisions and are doing way more basic stuff and just getting those their foundation so secure and to where that second nature for them. Then by the end of the seven year old year, they seem to be just fine and stepping right up to the seven year old classes and seven year old finals by that year. But before that, there’s there’s no push and there’s no there’s nothing from me that saying they need to be doing this in the show ring. I’m just letting them tell me what they need. 

Piper Klemm [00:30:25] Well, Hunter, thank you so much for joining us on the Plaidcast. And I’ve interviewed you on many podiums over the years, and hopefully I will be interviewing you in two weeks in Omaha. 

Hunter Holloway [00:30:36] I sure hope so. Thank you very much. 

Piper Klemm [00:30:39] Thank you. 

Piper Klemm [00:32:41] To learn more about anything we’ve discussed on today’s show, visit the Plaid Horse.com . You can find show notes at theplaidhorse.com/Listen. Follow The Plaid Horse on all the social medias. You can subscribe to the print edition of the Plaid Horse Magazine at theplaidhorse.com/subscribe. Please rate and review the plaidcast anywhere you listen to it, and if you enjoy this episode please share it with your friends, I will see you at the ring!