Saturday, Apr. 13, 2024

Throwback Thursday: Hunter Holloway’s First Grand Prix Win—At Age 12

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In the wake of Hunter Holloway’s breakout performance earlier this month at the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Final, where the 26-year-old finished third aboard Pepita Con Spita and was the top-placed U.S. rider, we’re looking back at the Topeka, Kansas-based rider’s very first grand prix win. Which, by the way, happened at age 12.

Hunter Holloway wasn’t even a teenager yet when she first moved up to the grand prix ranks in the summer of 2010, yet she already was thinking like a professional as she faced early struggles at the new level. 

“I was going through this weird phase where I would jump the first round clean, and then I would just make the silliest mistakes in the jump-offs and blow it; this happened to me for seven or eight grand prix classes straight,” she said. “So at that time, my goal was to ride a consistent, clear jump-off round.” 

That goal was in 12-year-old Holloway’s mind in November 2010 when she walked the course for the $25,000 Dallas Harvest Grand Prix, held at the Dallas Harvest Horse Show in Tyler, Texas.

Hunter Holloway won her first grand prix, the $25,000 Dallas Harvest Grand Prix (Texas), at age 12 riding her mother Brandie Holloway’s Argentina. David Mullinix Photo

“Honestly I was just excited to be doing that class,” she said. “But I do remember the other riders being like, ‘This course just walks a little weird.’ And I was oblivious to it. I was like, ‘Oh whatever, it’s just another grand prix course; just keep on riding.’ 

“Back then,” she added, “I think I was a stupidly brave kid, and I probably had a bit of a sense of confidence that I didn’t really need to have at that age!”

But as Holloway watched the class unfold, she realized there was an opportunity for her to make the jump-off. Several of the top professional riders—including Matt Cyphert, Holloway’s mom Brandie Holloway and Tracy Fenney—made mistakes and had rails in the first round. 

“Back in those days, the Texas grand prix [classes] were very hard,” Hunter said. “I remember that MTM Farm’s head trainer Mike McCormick was still showing at that time, and he had a rail as well. I went clear in the first round and he didn’t. I remember everyone giving Mike a hard time because there was a 50-year age difference between him and I. They were all razzing him up about it, and that was rather comical.” 

Perhaps it was a course that favored youth, because Holloway remembered that among those qualifying for the jump-off were the three youngest riders in the class, herself included.

Hunter’s mount was Argentina, a 12-year-old chestnut Argentinian Warmblood stallion of unknown breeding who was owned and previously shown by her mother. 

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Hunter had started riding him consistently earlier that year, starting in the high junior jumper division and then moving up to grand prix that summer. 

“We clicked right away,” Hunter said of her partnership with Argentina. “My mom knew that horse like the back of her hand, which helped quite a bit. She trusted him and knew he was going to take care of me even if I made mistakes here and there.”

That day in Tyler, Texas, as Hunter and Argentina headed into the ring as the last pair to tackle the jump-off, she had one goal in mind: “I remember thinking, ‘No one has been double clear yet; all I have to do is be double clear.” 

Hunter had no trouble with the first three fences, but ran into an equipment malfunction on the left rollback turn to the one-stride combination. 

“As I was making a left inside turn to the in-and-out, my glove hit one of the sticky spots on the rubber reins,” she recalled. “The old-school rubber reins used to get really tacky and sticky when it was hot, and at the time, we just used whatever tack we had available. I had shortened the left rein too much, and I couldn’t let it slip to get back to the length I wanted because my hand got stuck on the reins. And then I ended up adding a whole stride out of the turn because of it. So we had a little miss because it was a really deep distance, and he was a good boy. After that, I was still trying to get my rein back to normal, but the glove was still stuck to the sticky part. 

“I think we still have those reins at home somewhere,” she added, “but they are not allowed to be show reins anymore!”

After the one-stride combination, the pair regrouped quickly and finished the jump-off faster than the other two competitors, winning the class. 

Watch their winning round:

“I remember being thrilled and excited [to win], but it was more like, ‘OK, finally I just kept my composure here for a jump-off!’” Hunter said. “And I can’t remember who called my grandma back at home to tell her, but I remember that she was shocked. She thought that my mom had won the grand prix, and everyone was like, ‘No, Hunter won it!’ It was a rather funny phone call to listen to.” 

Hunter was also happy to have won her first grand prix in such a welcoming atmosphere. 

“If you’re showing in Texas, everyone is family,” she said. “They make everyone feel very included, and they’re all excited for you.”

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Hunter, now 26 years old and fresh off winning a bronze medal at the 2023 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Finals, credits Argentina for always forgiving her mistakes. She also recognizes what she did correctly, even back then, to help him and other horses she’s ridden. 

“He had so much power and scope that I was able to miss,” Hunter said. “Argentina was always like, ‘It’s OK, kiddo, I’ll take care of it.’ 

“I think one thing that I had as a kid—I still do this now—even if I make a mistake, I support my horses in a mistake,” she added. “I don’t just go, ‘Oh God, I’m missing,’ and do nothing. I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m missing. OK, it’s all right. We’re just going to keep riding through it.’ I think that really helped back then and it still helps me now to this day. It’s OK to make a little mistake here and there, as long as you support the horse and help them through it.”

 That first grand prix win allowed Hunter to begin the process of creating a new goal: To make the Zone 7 for the 2011 Prix des States Junior Jumper Championships at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show with Argentina. 

“Throughout my riding career, I’ve always tried to make a goal. I try to hit it, and then I make a new goal,” Hunter said. “Once we achieved [the Prix des States] goal, that led us to beginning our relationship with equitation trainer Don Stewart. 

“You have to be grateful to the horses because in a way, they’re such career-makers,” she continued. “They’re stepping stones; I couldn’t do it without any of them.”

So how did Hunter and her family celebrate her first grand prix win? 

“I think we had to pack the trailer and drive back to Kansas, honestly,” she said. 

When Hunter and Pepita Con Spita won the $405,300 HITS Grand Prix CSI5* in Saugerties, New York, last September, her celebration pattern was similar. 

“So we had that huge win with her; we’re all so excited, and then everyone was like, ‘How are you celebrating?’ and I was like, ‘I’m going to go finish packing the barn, I’m going to go get a bite to eat, we’re going to sleep for two hours, and then we’re going to get on the road,’ ” she recalled. “Load the truck and trailer, make sure the horses are all taken care of, and we go to the next place. That’s the nature of this business.”

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