There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Hawley Bennett-Awad walked into the main ring at Galway Downs for the final time on her four-star veteran Livingstone.
As announcer Mike Tucker read Bennett-Awad’s tribute aloud, she fought back tears while “Hank’s” support group, including Bennett-Awad’s husband, Gamal Awad, threw a cooler over his back and gave him plenty of pats.
Bennett-Awad chose Galway Downs as the place for the 23-year-old gelding’s final event and retirement ceremony. He finished on his dressage score at novice with her student Ellen Guthrie and was just as full of life in the ceremony as he was the first day Bennett-Awad sat on him.
“It’s a long time coming,” said Bennett-Awad. “The horse has been very special to me. I’ve had him for 19 years, and he’s so sound and willing to go. When do you draw the line? To finish on another double-clean round on his dressage score with an amateur rider at Galway Downs, he’s so well-deserving of it. I don’t think I’ve cried this much in a long time.”
Hank competed at the advanced level for 11 years, completing four four-stars, representing Canada at the Pan American Games in 2003 at Fair Hill (Md.), the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, and the World Cup Final in Malmö, Sweden in 2005.
Bennett-Awad’s last competition with the Thoroughbred gelding (Wander Kind—Dancing Proud) was the 2008 Rolex Kentucky CCI*** where they finished double-clear on cross-country.
“I tried to retire him a couple of years ago, and he got so depressed and stood in the back of the stall,” she said. “With a horse that had his career, it’s all he knows. He loves to be brushed, he likes to be part of the team, he likes to have shipping boots put on him and hop in the trailer every now and then.”
Hank took Allie Knowles, who was then a working student and groom for Bennett-Awad, to her first advanced and has taught countless other students the ropes at the lower levels. He completed the CIC* at Galway Downs in 2011 with Breann Hall at the age of 21 before Bennett-Awad decided to drop him down to the lower levels.
Bennett-Awad learned the ropes of the upper levels with the gelding and said he’s shaped her career.
“For the longest time, I only had the one horse,” she said. “If I didn’t ice him and wrap him and take care of him, I had nothing. He taught me horsemanship. I never got the big win on him, but I’ve learned so much and you always think back now, ‘Well, if I had that horse now…’ With all the knowledge he’s taught me, what would have happened? He’s literally a part of the family.”
Buck Davidson, who’s been Bennett-Awad’s longtime coach and friend, won the CCI*** with Petite Flower at Galway Downs and was awarded the inaugural Livingstone Award.
“I started teaching Hawley probably 18 or 20 years ago, and it was with Hank,” he said. “When she first came to me, Hank had a broken leg. He had gotten kicked in the field. I got to see Hawley go from where she was to where she is now. Hank was a huge part of that. It’s funny to go back and watch the videos of Hawley riding Hank and see how she rides now. He never did anything other than just go.”
Davidson laughed as he recalled Bennett-Awad’s early career with Hank.
“Back in those days, Hawley didn’t go very fast, so the stories I would make up for her to have to make the time, I would just totally lie about where the minute markers were and stuff like that!” he said. “Hank was just happy to go in his big, fat, Happy Mouth bit, and Hawley just patted him like crazy at every jump, and they jumped every fence perfect, but it was so slow! It worked at the last Kentucky because they went clean within the time! We played some games to make it work, but Hank knew his job, and Hawley took care of him and loved him to death.”
Hank will spend his days at Kingsway Farm, right across the street from Galway Downs, and Bennett-Awad plans to keep him in light work until he decides it’s time to stop.
“He’s just the most honest, genuine animal I’ve ever been around,” she said. “I went from Pony Club to six four-stars, six three-stars, 11 CIC***’s all in a rubber snaffle that was the first bit I bought for him as a 4-year-old. When I [say] everything I have today is because of him, I truly mean it. I would not be here without that horse, and I’m just so glad I never ever sent [his sale tape] off. That was a life-changing day.
“He’s just taught so many other people in the meantime,” she continued. “He hasn’t won a gold medal, but he’s won so many people’s hearts.”