Hunter Holloway and Pepita Con Spita have been on a roll this season. They racked up three grand prix wins during the HITS Ocala circuit (Florida), and they just reached a new milestone when they captured Pepita Con Spita’s first Fédération Equestre Internationale grand prix win during Tryon Spring 4 in Mill Spring, North Carolina.
Holloway and the 10-year-old Westphalian mare (Con Spirit—Pamina, Come On) owned by Hays Investment Group topped the $73,000 Tryon Resort Grand Prix CSI2* on May 29.
Holloway, 23, had a superstar junior career that included wins at the ASPCA Maclay Finals (Kentucky) and the Washington International Horse Show Equitation Final (District of Columbia), and the R.W. “Ronnie” Mutch Equitation Championship at Devon (Pennsylvania), among others, under the tutelage of her mother, Brandie Holloway, and Don Stewart. She also represented Team USA in a youth Nations Cup in Hagen, Germany.
Now, Hunter is off on her own and, with two top horses in Pepita Con Spita and Eastern Jam, she’s working hard toward a pinque coat, whether she’s at Hunter Holloway Stables’ home base in Topeka, Kansas, or on the road.
We caught up with Hunter after her latest win.
You just won an FEI grand prix at Tryon with Pepita Con Spita. Tell us about this mare’s season.
She’s been on fire.
We imported her two years ago in April as an 8-year-old. We’ve been super excited about her. We’re hoping she’ll be a top FEI horse, a horse I can get on some teams with, which is my main goal. I really took my time with her bringing her along.
She’s so careful and has so much talent. Horses like that, you’re really just trying to protect them and make sure you don’t mess them up along the way.
Last year, we made sure everything was solid, just a lot of consistent double clears.
The beginning of this year, she felt super, and I was like, “You know what? She’s ready to go and try and win some classes.”
This year, I’ve let her loose in the jump-offs, and she’s always up for the task. You couldn’t ask for a better mindset on a horse or a better horse in general. She’s really quite special.
Where did you find her?
A friend of mine who I do quite a bit of business with, Fred van Straaten, who’s from [the Netherlands], found “Pepita” in Belgium. I went over and tried her and fell in love with her, and that was that. She had done some 1.40-meter classes and some smaller two-star competitions.
Last year, we did grand prix classes. She third in the [AIG $500,000 Grand Prix (New York)] in Saugerties. She did plenty of big classes last year; I just wasn’t pushing her in the jump-offs as much. I was kind of protecting her and making sure I kept her solid so that I could save her for this year and years to come.
What kind of ride does she like?
She’s pretty simple; I just try to stay on her. She’s got a super sensitive, light mouth, which is nice for me. She’s on the spicier side. She likes to go and has her own motor, which I always love in a grand prix horse. It makes the rider’s job a lot easier.
Over the past two years, I’d say she’s just come into her own a little more. She’s gotten braver and more confident in herself.
My mom has helped me with her, and she always says mares like that tell you to believe in them. Eventually, they give you their heart, and once you have that, they’re on top of the world; they can do anything. They’ve got to be on your side, and they have to know that you’re on their side. I love a good mare.
What goals do you have with her?
There’s been so many good results from that horse, it’s been a little crazy this year. I’d love to get more consistent. I’d love to make it eventually where she’s a team horse; in years to come, that will be our focus with her. This year, I’m thinking just keep her consistent at the FEI level. Maybe make a run for the World Cup qualifiers and so forth.
Tell us about your business these days.
We have lots of sale horses, lots of students. We do it all: hunters, jumpers, equitation, a little bit of everything. My mom has slowed down a little bit. I have two younger brothers [Boston, 8, and Colt, 13] that take a lot of her time at home. She split off, and I do my own thing currently, but she helps me when she can and it fits in with her schedule.
When she can, she helps me at the shows or at home. I have a fantastic group of people that help me back at the barn. I couldn’t ask for a better team, really.
We spend our winters in Ocala, and we travel quite a bit for the summer. I’m in Tryon now, and we’ll do some [shows in] Colorado, go to Saugerties for the [HITS Saugerties $500,000 Grand Prix], and I’ll go to Maclay Regionals with some kids and, hopefully, indoors.
In addition to Pepita, Eastern Jam is another top grand prix horse I have at the moment, and he’s been great.
How much time do you spend at home versus on the road? Did that change with COVID?
It was a bummer to stay at home that long. But I don’t like to over-show my horses. Last week was the first time they had showed since Florida. They went home, and they got a nice break. I try to save them.
A lot of grand prix riders have quite a few horses they can rotate at shows: One will show Week 1, then give them Week 2 off, then go to the next group Week 3. I have my two.
I want to save them, so they’re going to get rested at home. When we hit the road, we’re going to go hard, then they’ll go get pampered at home and take a nice break then we’ll go again.
Talk about your trajectory after you aged out of the juniors.
Not a ton changed for me, to be honest. I just wasn’t in the junior ring, but I still have the same horses. I focused more on my jumpers, I would say, and trying to build up a decent clientele.
My youngest brother, Boston, got diagnosed with autism, so that’s slowed my mom down, [and] the business model kind of changed within the family.
I was able to focus on myself. The first couple of years were fun: I went to [the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida)] for two years and had a great time. I went to [Spruce Meadows (Alberta)] in 2018, and that year was awesome. The Eastern Jam horse was on fire there; I won my first five-star class with him.
What I want, at the end of the day, is to be in the grand prix ring and show at the top level and have the clients to do that.
In addition to your mother, do you have anyone at shows you rely on for eyes on the ground?
I have family friends I can toss ideas around with, and you have your show family you can rely on, but for the most part, I’m on my own.
Do you focus more on riding or training customers?
My main focus is obviously my riding for myself, but I do really enjoy teaching, and I do love helping kids.
I try to make it a balanced, even effort between the two, with certain shows more focused on me and my horses and certain shows more focused on my clients.
I’m doing the hunters as well as the jumpers. I just got done riding a lovely young hunter who we’re super excited about. We’re always open to the hunter ring. A good horse is a good horse.
I saw that you have babies sired by your former equitation horse, Any Given Sunday, on the ground at home. What’s going on with those horses?
We have lots of “Sunny” babies on the ground. The oldest one is actually , believe it or not. One of them, Ruby Tuesday, I do in the derbies. Another one, Come Monday, we sold as a 4-year-old, and he started doing [the equitation] three years ago as a 7-year-old. He showed against his father at the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals—East (North Carolina).]
We have a bunch, in addition to them, that we’ve sold, but those are the oldest ones in the show ring who you’d notice now. The rest are 6 and under. We usually breed our own, between two and four a year. The past two years, I was a bit overwhelmed and didn’t breed anything.
There are lots of similarities between the babies and their dad. The biggest thing that Sunny puts on all his offspring is a very, very confident attitude: That’s their ring, their time to shine. Definitely not lacking in confidence whatsoever.
They’re always game horses, and they’re fun to have. They have great mouths, very light, very sensitive that way.
We’ve had jumpers and hunters come out of it, so that’s also been exciting. Just like their dad, who would do a World Cup qualifier one week and Devon [Pennsylvania] the next. He truly did it all.
Don [Stewart] owns Sunny now, and he’s been leased out to kids here and there. He did [equitation] finals last year, and I believe placed quite well. He’s still kicking. He’s a great horse.
We also have a daughter out of the Pepita mare [by Coupex, named Paula Panther] that Don owns [with me] as well, who is 6. She’s quite special, but when I heard she’s Pepita’s daughter that sealed the deal for me. She’s getting in the show ring here and there, taking her time. There’s no rush with her so I’m just focused on getting her nice and broke. She’ll definitely be a horse for the future for me.
If you could go back and give your junior self advice what would it be?
Just relax and have fun. I was second at so many [equitation] finals because of stupid mistakes. Yes, I won two, but I think I was second at every single one of them, multiple times at a couple. It was a bit frustrating. It was great because it’s still a good result but at the same time it was like, “Gosh, I really wanted that blue ribbon.”
What’s been the best part about becoming a professional?
One thing that’s different is the teaching aspect. A lot of the other aspects didn’t change much for me. I’ve always been very involved in the family barn and everything behind the scenes. To be able to teach more of the kids and offer input has been really fun for me and really rewarding in a lot of ways. And it helps you become a better rider when you have to teach something and explain what you’re doing up there.
What’s been the hardest part of being a professional?
If there’s a mistake, it’s all on you. Not that it wasn’t before, but when you’re a junior there’s a more of a shared responsibility, especially within the family aspect I had. Now, when something goes wrong, it’s on me.
What are your goals?
Eventually the hope is to ride for the team one day. We’re not quite there yet, but that’s the dream.