Ringside Chat: Jon Holling Is Back In The Tack And Winning

Jun 3, 2015 - 4:47 PM
A win at preliminary at Poplar Place came after a lot of healing—from a broken leg and wrenched back for Jonathan Holling and a hind suspensory injury for Downtown Harrison. Photo by Lively Manor Photography

Jonathan Holling’s plans for another go at the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** this spring were thwarted when he broke his leg in a fall from a young horse in March, but he’s on the mend and competing again.

On May 30-31, he picked up an open preliminary win—scoring an impressive 18.4 in dressage—on Downtown Harrison, his 2012 Bromont CCI*** (Quebec) winner who he thought might never compete again after recovering, then reinjuring, a hind suspensory last year.

We caught up with Holling to talk about having his old friend back, plus his recent brush with death and why he’s trying to get #winnerswearhairnets trending.

Chronicle: Congratulations on the win! What’s it like to have Downtown Harrison, or “Will,” back competing again?

Holling: He was going to be [my wife] Jen’s horse [after reinjuring his leg last year]. I feel like every time I make plans with him it goes wrong! He was Jen’s horse, and she rode him around and kept looking at me and saying, “He’s great.” He came home after [the Cloud 11-Gavilan North LLC Carolina International CIC*** (N.C.)] last year and didn’t seem as good. He’d reaggravated it, and the vets did some work on it. He seems to be doing really well. Probably right now, touch wood, he seems to be as good as he’s ever been.

After Jen and my vet repeatedly harassed me and talked me into it, I decided to start riding him again. I’m not sure what we’ll do. We’ll take it event by event. I’m just thrilled to have him back at any level. I don’t know what the future holds. I’m just going to enjoy getting to ride my nice horse. If he gives me any indication that he doesn’t want to do the job, then we’ll back off again. I figure he’s good right now and the vets are very confident that the problem should be in the past.

How did he feel this weekend?

He went in there, and he was just great. He can be pretty spectacular, but along with being spectacular, he can be pretty naughty. I think having not been out much—we came out earlier this year and did a training level, then I broke my leg, then did a prelim at Chattahoochee Hills (Ga.) two weeks ago—he was naughty in the test.

He can be a little bit of a Trakhener sometimes.

This weekend at Poplar he was more settled now that he’s in more work and going places. He’s not as excited to off the farm. He was all class. He’s a fun horse. I forget how much fun he is until I get to compete him again. You just trot into the ring, and you know you’re on the best horse there. It’s a fun feeling. He doesn’t care what level he’s going, he just loves to compete.”

How is your leg feeling?

I broke my leg and started riding again pretty quickly after because I thought I might still get to [the Rolex Kentucky CCI****]. I jumped a couple of times and I couldn’t land evenly in my stirrups, so I scratched Rolex. I didn’t think it was fair to Zatopek B to be hanging off his right side all the way around an 11½-minute course. 

At six weeks to the day, I was out working on my farm picking up a tree limb with my tractor and it slipped off the back of the tractor and landed on top of me. It absolutely crushed me. I got 11 stitches in my hand, wrecked my shoulder, wrecked my back. I was actually very lucky. I legitimately thought as it was falling down that that was the end of it. I remember thinking, “I can’t believe this is how I’m going to die.” The tractor got really messed up; I got really messed up. 

That probably slowed me down as much as the leg. When I went to Chattahoochee Hills three weeks ago, my leg was OK, but my back was absolutely killing me. I’ve been going to a chiropractor and physiotherapy person ever since then. This weekend was the first time I was able to ride and compete without any thought of pain.

It’s been kind of a rough few months, but I think we’re coming out of all the mishaps.

What are your plans for Zatopek B and your other advanced horse Proper Timing?

We sold Zatopek. He’s gone on to a really nice young rider and he’s going to do Young Rider stuff with her. She’s thrilled to have him and it’s a great match. He was such a spectacular horse, but the opportunity came along to get him moved. As much as I love jumping him and as much as the cross-country had started to come in the last year, the dressage was tough. It was hard to get him to settle and focus and do the dressage competitively enough at the top level.

Unfortunately, the way the sport is today, you have to have a horse that’s a winner in all three phases and the days of having a horse that could be middle of the pack after dressage and jump two clear rounds and be a World Champion are long behind us.

I was sad to see him go. But with the goals that I have for my riding career, it probably wasn’t fair to him, as much as he was brave cross-country and careful in the show jumping, I just could not get the flatwork good enough. At the one- and two-star level, he did a great job on the flat and I think in his new life he’ll get to teach his new owner a lot about being brave over fences and he’s good enough on the flat to be competitive.

Proper Timing, I’m not sure what we’re going to do with him. Everything’s a bit on hold. I’m restocking the farm with a few young horses and trying to get the string bigger, better and stronger. 

Lastly, tell me about the photo of you in a hairnet going around Facebook?  

Last year I went to River Glen [Tenn.] and I’m very good friends with Joanie Morris [USEF’s Managing Director of Eventing]. She was venting about a kid at an event whose hair was all strewn about. Her joke at the time was that she wanted me to get a motion put forward that with your USEF membership, you should get a hair net because winners wear hairnets.

As a joke, at AECs [in Texas last year] before I did dressage, I put on a hairnet and snapped a picture. That was the picture. She was joking with me [about my win] and sent me that photo and said, “Well, you must have been wearing your hairnet today.”

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