Junior Spotlight: Haley Honegger Proves That Multi-Discipline Riders Have More Fun

Feb 4, 2021 - 7:57 AM

Haley Honegger is not your typical trainer’s kid. Sure she competes in the 1.10-meter jumpers, but she can also be found team penning on the western circuit, training and reselling auction projects, and even riding sheep.

The daughter of Alexia Honegger, Haley, 10, trains at her family’s Millbrook Equestrian in Elizabeth, Colorado.

On her way to a barrel racing competition in Castle Rock, Colorado, before heading to the Desert Circuit in Thermal, California, Haley shared a little about herself.

How long have you been riding?
My whole life. When I was in my mom’s belly, she was riding, so kind of [before] I was born.

Do you homeschool or do you go to a school or cyber school?
I’m homeschooled.

Tell us a little about yourself and the horses you ride?
I have two ponies. I have a pony jumper, a bay Welsh Pony mare, Sugar Rush, but she’s out on lease in California right now. I also have Wild Hickory who I run barrels and team pen on.

Then I have a 10-year-old black Irish Sport Horse gelding named Top Secret B, and he’s imported from Switzerland. I do everything with him: eventing, dressage, jumping and team penning. And then I have a gray mare that is named Wilde Hilde that is a Holsteiner. We just got her, so [I’m] hoping to do 1.10 meters, maybe 1.20 meters at the end of the season.

They both came from the Etter family in Switzerland. My parents met at their barn, so it’s really cool that now [the Etter family] takes care of me by sending me the best horses.

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Top Secret B and Haley Honegger are a force to be reckoned with in the children’s jumper ring. Photo Courtesy Of Mark Bostley

You mentioned the Etter family. Tell me about them.
Gerhard and Hedi Etter are the parents and main founders; they are like grandparents. Gerhard is a horse dealer, in the best way, and Hedi runs the office and house and makes the best food. Their facility is in Müntschemier, Switzerland. Gerhard sent Sugar Rush and Top Secret B.

Daniel and Marc Etter are the sons. Dani is a [FEI World Cup Final]-level rider. They both also live in Müntschemier with their families. Dani sent Wilde Hilde.

Andrea Etter is the daughter; she runs the breeding farm in Offaly, Ireland, where Top Secret was born, Belmont House Stud Farm.

Who trains you?
Mostly my mom, Alexia. Natascha Gates helps me too. Sara Storch teaches me dressage, and Harriet Bunker helps me sometimes at shows.

What disciplines do you practice?
Show jumping is my main sport. I also do three-day-eventing, team penning, barrel racing and [participate in] Little Britches Rodeo events. Plus I do dressage, pony racing and foxhunting [with Bijou Springs Hunt (Colorado)]. Gathering and branding cattle is super fun too, and I used to mutton bust when I was small.

Top Secret B Capture
Haley Honegger said Top Secret B’s favorite phase of eventing is cross-country. Photo Courtesy Of Mark Bostley

Which one is your favorite?
Probably show jumping, but I’m barrel racing today.

What’s your favorite part about three-day eventing?
Cross-country, and I’d say that’s Top Secret’s favorite too.

What’s your favorite part of barrel racing?
I had this really fast horse named Hickory, and he’s fun. I love it, because it’s timed on speed, and whoever can make the tightest track wins. It’s kind of like jumpers, but with three barrels. It’s really fun.

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Haley Honegger barrel races aboard horses like Peanut. Photo Courtesy Of Alexia Honegger

What on earth is mutton busting?
You have to be a certain age and weight, and then you really go in these slots, and you ride on a sheep. You grab the sheep’s fur, and they release the sheep, and the sheep runs off. If you make it the longest time and the farthest, you win.

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When she was younger, Haley Honegger participated in mutton busting competitions. Photo Courtesy Of Alexia Honegger

Tell me about pony racing.
You [race] Shetland ponies, and it’s literally a track with jumps. Have you seen horse racing? It’s just the same thing but with Shetland ponies. You literally gallop around. I did that [at the 2018 Washington International Horse Show (District of Columbia)].

The funniest thing is, I was doing my laps and was in first, and then my pony cut part of the corner and an orange cone, so I had to let everyone else go by and do a big circle through the turn again so I was back in last. I was going really fast, and the crowd went wild. I went over my jumps and turned towards the finish so fast that I fell off. The pony ran across the finish line anyway in third place without me, and I was running behind. Then I’m running around the stadium trying to catch the pony as the others crossed the finish. It was so funny.

Watch Haley’s race at the 2018 Washington International Horse Show.

Have you ever gone swimming with your horses before?
Yeah, we’ve done that. We had this old barn that had this lake. We’d take the ponies after the lessons, and we would swim them in the lake. We had this one mini that we’d take in the lake, and the mini would literally float. It was so funny. He was so fat. It was kind of like he was wearing an air vest because he’s so fat; it just popped him up to the surface. It was crazy.

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After showing at Blenheim Equisports shows in San Juan Capistrano, Calif., Alexia Honegger kept a hand on Top Secret B as Haley Honegger took a dip. Photo Courtesy Of Alexia Honegger

Tell me about a time when you really bonded with a horse?
When I am sad I spend time with my horses, and they make me feel better.

Also, when we were at a show once, I was in Top Secret’s stall doing homework. He kept bringing his hay over and dropping it on me so he could eat out of my lap. I didn’t get a lot of homework done that day because he kept messing up my homework. I love times like that with him though; he is the friendliest horse. He always wants you to hold his head.

Tell me about your barn chores?
At home, I feed them morning and night and blanket/unblanket them as they live outside. Then I always walk around their pasture fence to make sure it’s all up and the electric is running. They have an automatic waterer, but I have to clean it out as they get hay in it sometimes. Then of course there’s riding and grooming, but that’s fun. We also have a cow, cats, dogs, chickens and ducks, so I have to take care of them as well.

At the show, I do all my own care. It was harder this show with two horses for the first time. I hand walk, bathe, groom, tack, poultice, hoof pack, braid, [clean] stalls, feed, turnout if the show has turnout, and wrap them every night. Wrapping is my favorite time with the horses because it’s always at the end of the day, and it’s calming, and your horse will tell you if anything hurts while you are touching their legs.

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At horse shows and at home Haley Honegger is in charge of her own barn work. Photo Courtesy Of Alexia Honegger

Who’s a rider you admire and why?
Danielle Goldstein [Waldman] because she’s different like me; I ride with her feathers in my hair too. [Also] Daniel Etter because he rides the fastest jump-offs, and I’ve known him since I was a baby.

What is one piece of advice that you would give to other riders?
Even though you are young, you can do anything and get to know your horse. We don’t have grooms, so I know all about my horses and their care.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment?
Last year at the [National Western Stock Show]—the biggest show in Colorado—I had a bad fall in the warm-up, but I went in and was champion in the low children’s jumpers. It was the first show together for Top Secret and me.

Also, I sell ponies from auctions to make money to horse show. I’m proud of that.

Tell me about that.
I go to the [Troyer Auction in Brighton, Colorado] every summer and buy ponies there. I train them and [teach them to] jump. I train them on all the basics, and then I will sell them, and then that money goes [toward my horse] showing.

I hope the auction goes this year because it’s so fun. I get to ride some sale horses through the auction for my mom and for other people we have met along the way. It’s fun to ride until the hammer goes down and do lots of tricks with the horses to show them off. I hope we can buy some project ponies soon again if the auctions start.

I heard that when you were 8 you bought a pony named Jasper at the auction, trained and sold him, and then used that money to fully pay for both you and your mom to go to Ireland and train with Jonathan Reape. What was your favorite part of training in Ireland?
Probably showing at [the Cavan Equestrian Center]. It was so fun because we all got to sleep in the lorry on the way there, and a bottle of vinegar broke on the way and made the whole lorry smell nasty. Also, I love their dogs, and trotting the ponies on the road with the dogs in the rain every morning was fun!

Tell me about a time that you had a really hard time with a pony that you were training, but it worked out.
Probably Little Bit. She was a mini. After we got her—I was probably 6 or 7—I hopped on her bareback, which wasn’t the smartest choice. I walked five steps, and the pony bucked me off. I grabbed a saddle; I threw it on, and then literally that’s how I learned how to stick so well in the saddle when horses buck because the pony would buck 10 times, trying to get me off. It was crazy, and it was so fun to do it, but at the end I got her to stop bucking, and now she’s a therapy pony!

What are some of the tough aspects of being a trainer’s kid that others might not realize?
If you’re a trainer’s kid people expect you to be really good, and also it draws a lot more attention to you, which sometimes gets you nervous and makes it harder.

Plus, even if my class is in the afternoon I am still at the show from early morning with my mom, which is fun, but I don’t think people know we are there all day, not just for the class. And I feel like I see more of the harder stuff with horses than clients do, like when a horse has to get put down, or we have to walk it all night because of colic, or when we drive forever to bring the horses across the country.

But I love also being a trainer’s kid because I get lots of opportunities to ride with my mom’s friends.

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Haley Honegger is always smiling when she’s in the tack, whether she’s jumping, practicing dressage, foxhunting, team penning or barrel racing. Photo Courtesy Of Mark Bostley

How often do you lesson?
At home, I do every day. With dressage, I do two days a week.

How have you been passing the time during the pandemic?
It’s kind of been the same. When everyone was at home and things were shut down, we had to get out 20 horses a day. My mom would ride a couple, as well as her assistant, and then I would ride a couple too. We live at the barn, so it kind of was just normal. The only thing that wasn’t normal was we weren’t driving around to go to places a lot more.

Do you have any good luck charms or superstitions?
My feathers, because Danielle Goldstein [Waldman] sent me four of her feathers, so all four of my pairs have one of her feathers as well. It’s kind of like a good luck charm for me. They’re dark blue at the end and light blue and have black dots on them. They’re really pretty. They match my feathers, because I have blue ones and white, so they blend right in.

That’s really cool. When did you start wearing feathers in your hair?
About two years ago, my mom pulled up a picture of her and said, “Hey, look at this. She has feathers in her hair,” and I was like, “Could I do that?” So she ordered me feathers, and I put them in my hair.

Have you ever met Dani Waldman before?
No, but she sent me a video.

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Biscuit the cat likes to join Haley Honegger on pony rides. Photo Courtesy Of Alexia Honegger

Tell me another fun pet story.
We have these really crazy cats, and if you stand by a mounting block, they will hop on the mounting block and jump onto the horse and literally do pony rides with you. They are so funny.

What do you want to be when you grow up?
I want to be able to do the big jumps but still have a barn and just be able to show in the bigger levels while having a barn to teach at.

Have you heard of the USHJA Horsemanship Quiz? I would like to ask you a fun practice question. I haven’t heard of it, but I hope I know the answer.

OK, here is your question: Name a horse breed? Welsh Ponies! My Sugar Rush pony is Welsh, and I love her.


Ella Doerr, 18, from Avon, North Carolina, is a recipient of the USHJA Youth Leadership Award, the USHJA Youth Sportsmanship Award and the USHJA Foundation Gochman Family Grant. Since she was 7 she’s bought and paid for her ponies with her own earnings while keeping them at home and performing all their care. She’s brought them along from just broke to zone championships and USEF Pony Finals (Kentucky). She’s the brand ambassador for multiple companies and chairs the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Youth Group. She volunteers for charities and has managed three horse shows to raise funds for terminally ill children.

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