This article was originally published in the November 2016 issue of Heels Down Magazine. Get more access to articles by downloading the Heels Down Magazine app in the iTunes AppStore: http://apple.co/1QicprS or Google Play for Android phones and tablets: http://bit.ly/1sXQV75. Subscribe today to get your first issue free.
By Rebecca Agocs
From short stirrup classes with ponies to the Grand Prix ring with her spectacular mounts, Hunter Holloway has been there, and ridden it all. As the youngest rider in the United States to complete a Grand Prix class at just 12 years old, Hunter left the hunter/jumper world in awe. And let’s face it, she continues to do so on a regular basis.
Whether at her family’s facility, or at any number of the prestigious shows at which she competes, Hunter is dedicated, focused, and ambitiously making her way into the spotlight in the hunter, jumper, and equitation rings. What makes the three ring wonder tick?
First of all, the nickname gave Hunter a bit of laugh before she humbly accepted it. Hey, what’s a girl to do?! With an extensive resume in the hunter, jumper, and equitation rings, she represents the image of hard work and talent combined. Naturally, the question is which ingredients make up the recipe for success in each ring? What makes a rider fast and clean in the jumper ring? Or, what makes a picture perfect round in the equitation and hunter arenas?
“A solid basic background,” answers Hunter, emphasising that the basics are crucial to success in all english disciplines. Of course, we’ve been drilled with the basics: heels down, eyes up, hands quiet. The foundation to good riding is universal.
If a solid foundation makes a successful rider, there must be a formula for the horses, too. At Hunter’s farm, there are a variety of horses up at any given time, including homebred foals. She is heavily involved in the training of all of her horses, helping to guide the young horses to a job that suits them best.
When asked if there was a specific way to figure out what discipline a horse might be suitable for, Hunter quickly explains that it was all about their natural pace.
“Pace lets you know what fits the horse. If they have a steady pace, they’re good for the hunters,” she explains. “If they’re hot and have a lot of energy, they’re good for the jumpers.” Cultivate a steady, rhythmic pace and the jumps will come easily regardless of what ring you’re in!
As the seasons turn and horse shows move inside, strategies change, too. The indoor competitions are prestigious, but they also provide the challenge of riding in indoor arenas. Riddled with spectators and full of frightening dark corners where monsters hide, indoor arenas offer challenges different from the outdoor competitions.
“We make sure to ride the horses in an indoor before indoor [horse shows] start,” Hunter says of her fall season preparation. “Our indoor is smaller, but it’s inside so you and the horse get a feel for what the ring will be like.”
Desensitizing a horse to an indoor arena before the indoor shows start is part of Hunter’s routine. She takes into consideration that the indoor environment is very different from outdoor shows; sometimes the arenas are smaller and distances feel tighter.
With the indoor season comes finals, and Hunter has competed in many of the equitation finals, including the Maclay Finals. In 2014, she finished second to Tori Colvin at the Maclay, and recalled the final as devastating at first.
“It was really hard because I miscounted strides in a line, but afterwards Mclain [Ward, who was judging the Finals] said, ‘Second place worked out okay for me!’” The two-time Olympic gold medalist was referencing his own second place finish at the Maclay Finals when he was a young equitation rider. Mclain’s advice has stuck with Hunter, encouraging her to keep her eyes forward.
How does she keep her nerves quiet enough to, say, remember a course for a big class?
“Visualization of the course,” she says. “Sports psychology teaches you to visualize the course. I definitely think that a sports psychologist has been very helpful. Before a class, I visualize the course the way I want to ride it, and then I go in and ride.” Forgetting the outside noise, focusing on your trip, and executing a successful ride seems like sound advice to put down a great trip in any of the rings!
But what ring does Hunter see herself continuing once her junior career is over? There is no question as to which is her favorite: “Jumpers!”
And with experience in Grand Prixs all over the country over the past six years, it seems like she’s aiming well for her target goal. “The Olympics are the goal, someday,” says Hunter.
With her work ethic, determination, and wonderful horsemanship, it’s no surprise that her trajectory will shoot her towards the pinnacle of the sport.
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Read more articles like this in the March issue of Heels Down Magazine.
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