Thursday, Jun. 13, 2024

Amateurs Like Us: Holly Bailey’s Greatest Gift Has Inspired Her To Combine Horses With Hospitality

It was a phone call in 2009 that resulted in what amateur rider Holly Bailey describes as “the greatest gift I’ve ever received.”

While she was attending Hollins University (Va.), Bailey had fallen in love with Assault Shaker, a horse in the college’s riding program. “I started riding him my sophomore year. He was a harder one to ride because he’d take off with riders after each fence,” Bailey said. “I got along with him the best of anyone who was there at the same time I was there.”

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It was a phone call in 2009 that resulted in what amateur rider Holly Bailey describes as “the greatest gift I’ve ever received.”

While she was attending Hollins University (Va.), Bailey had fallen in love with Assault Shaker, a horse in the college’s riding program. “I started riding him my sophomore year. He was a harder one to ride because he’d take off with riders after each fence,” Bailey said. “I got along with him the best of anyone who was there at the same time I was there.”

So, Bailey had the opportunity to show Assault Shaker, a Thoroughbred (Assault Landing—Lisa Hackett, Jungle Savage) who had been shown in the adult amateur hunter division before being donated to Hollins in 1999, in local shows.

She stayed at Hollins during the summer between her junior and senior years and the summer after her graduation in 2006 to keep riding.  She showed “Salty” or “Shaker” in the adult amateurs in shows in Roanoke, Va., and at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington.

Holly Bailey enjoyed showing Assault Shaker in the 
adult amateur hunter division during her college years.
Photo by Peggy Smith

“And then I left, because I had to go into the working world,” Bailey said.

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With her business degree from Hollins in hand, Bailey started working in hospitality at the Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va., in the fall of 2006. “I’ve been a supervisor in food and beverage since I started,” Bailey said.

“My career path was open to anything, but I enjoy food and beverage. I run the door and do reservations and I love meeting all the different people and I love the hotel. I do wish that hospitality did allow for a little more time for horses, but I love my job,” she said.

Bailey, 31, had ridden her whole life, showing quite a bit on the local Virginia circuit as a pony rider and junior, then continuing her riding at Hollins. But from 2006 to 2009, Bailey was horseless.  Because of her budget restrictions and lack of time, showing just wasn’t on her radar.

Then Hollins Riding Program Director Nancy Peterson called Bailey—Shaker was 21 and ready to move on to a less demanding home than the college program. “Since he was so difficult for everyone else to ride and he liked me, she thought to call me and I didn’t think twice. I said yes,” Bailey said. “When Nancy called me and asked me if I wanted to take him on, I told her, ‘You’re giving me the greatest gift I’ve ever received.’ It was nice to have a horse I called my own. At college, I couldn’t call him mine because he was owned by the university, but the last few years, I could call him my own. 

“So, he was a horse I could still show—I didn’t have to go out and buy one and get to know it. I knew him. I’d done the adult amateurs with him at school, but when I got him he was really only showing at 2’6″ and below. At horse shows, when he was on his game, he was the smoothest animal I’ve ever ridden,” Bailey said. “In his later years, my trainer used him as a great babysitter. He was in his 20s, and he’d go in the ring or out on trails or in the field. He loved jumping logs. He was very versatile for me.

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“He did try to buck me off the first time I got on him when I got him after he came, so he had his quirks, but he was the chance for me to have a horse to show. He was amazingly sound for a horse who had spent 10 years in college life, because they work hard. He lived a wonderful, long life. He was an amazingly put together Thoroughbred and he never went lame the whole time I knew him,” Bailey recalled.

From 2009 to 2013, Bailey showed Shaker a few times a year, when her schedule and budget allowed. “My job is very demanding because I work in hospitality. We work when it’s busy,” she said. “Horse shows and hospitality don’t really mix because we have to work on holidays and we have to work on weekends. If I wanted to go to a horse show, I’d have to request the weekend off at least six weeks in advance.”

In 2014, it was time for Shaker to move from her trainer’s barn to her family’s 350-acre farm in Hot Springs for an even slower pace. “He lived by himself and had all the hay and grass he could eat,” Bailey said. “His last year, he enjoyed trail rides and just hacking out.”

And then, in May, it was Shaker’s time and he passed at age 27. Bailey posted a tribute on Facebook, quoting the adage, “No heaven can heaven be, if my horse isn’t there to welcome me,” to announce the news to friends, who posted a string of comments remarking on Bailey’s special relationship with Shaker.

While she’s feeling Shaker’s loss keenly, Bailey is hoping that she’ll eventually be able to fill his stall with another best friend. “He definitely has inspired me to get another one that I could move back up to the three-foot with. I just have to find the time around my work schedule,” she said.

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