Making a Maclay Winner: JN Exclusive Interview with Hunter Holloway

Hunter Holloway and C’est La Vie at the CP National Horse Show. Photo by Taylor Renner/Phelps Media

Everyone has a unique story about how they got into equestrian sports, but Hunter Holloway can’t remember a day where horses were not in her life. In fact, she told JN that her mom fell off of a horse the day before she was born! It takes a strong support team and years of hard work and dedication to create a champion, both of which Hunter was able to lean on. A lifetime in the saddle and a supportive family who always encouraged her to pursue her dreams helped her get to that victory gallop on Sunday, November 6th when she was dubbed the 2016 Maclay Champion.

Hunter told JN, “this [riding competitively] was what I always wanted. I can’t imagine my life any other way.” It hasn’t always been as glamorous as competing at the Kentucky Horse Park at one of the equestrian industry’s most prestigious events, however.

On a typical summer morning, Hunter is usually in the barn by 7AM and starts riding around 8AM. She normally rides anywhere from 8-10 horses a day, ranging from her own string, clients horses at the barn, re-sale projects, and young greenies.

Around the 6th grade, her traveling schedule for shows became more intense and she and her mother/trainer made the executive decision to pursue an online education for her so she would be able to show year round. “It took a lot of dedication,” she claims, “but it was worth it!”

Dedication seems to be a great word to use when describing Hunter. She grew up in Topeka, Kansas, not exactly the worlds largest equestrian hub, and rides/trains out of her mother Brandie Holloway’s barn. “It can be difficult,” she said when describing working with her mother as her trainer, “but I wouldn’t want it any other way. We had to learn how to balance the roles. She is my trainer when I am on the horse and my mom when I am off the horse.” The strong foundation her mother set for her and her massive amount of support made Hunter the rider she is today.

By the age of 12, Hunter had won her first Grand Prix — a goal many competitors won’t accomplish until well into their adult years, if at all — but Hunter spoke of the win humbly. There is nothing about this young woman that doesn’t reflect the character that has been instilled in her through years of hard work.

Watch: Hunter Holloway and Argentina in Hunter’s first Grand Prix win, the $25,000 Dallas Harvest Horse Show GP. 

It was around that age that the Holloways made the connection with Don Stewart of Don Stewart Stables in Florida. Hunter formed a working connection with him and he took her on as one of his students when she was in Ocala and traveling for indoors. That partnership was a stepping stone in her career.

Hunter’s heart is in the Jumpers and she speaks of her many days in the Grand Prix ring without the slightest hint of hesitation in her voice, but the Equitation ring is a different story. “Equitation actually makes me more nervous,” she said with a giggle. “Which is strange because the courses are only set to 3’6” and I am used to jumping Grand Prix!”

She tells JN that when those nasty nerves creep up, she always remembers that the biggest competition you have is yourself. She likes to listen to music and focus on her rides as she waits for her turn to make her round, but she has a great amount of help from her team to keep her calm and collected. “Don is known for his humor! He always seems to crack a joke at the in gate which helps get my mind off of my nerves.” Hunter’s positive outlook has been a contributor to her success, and says that even when she inevitably makes mistakes, she keeps persevering.

That perseverance had to play a big role on the Friday before the initial Maclay testing when her mount Any Given Sunday came up with a fever. “He just didn’t feel right,” she said, “we were warming up and he wasn’t off, but I knew something wasn’t right.” She continued saying she was more upset over the illness of her beloved mount who has been in the Holloway family since he was 5 than she was nervous about riding a new horse in the finals.

Watch: Hunter Holloway and Any Given Sunday Reserve Championship Performance in 2015 Pessoa/US Medal Finals

The handsome gray the she won atop of, C’est La Vie, was her backup. He was actually purchased right before USEF Finals as a resale prospect and was clipped the day before the competition began. Despite the last minute switch, Hunter was smooth and polished and rode her way to the win with ease.

For now, Hunter is winding down and soaking in the reality of her new accomplishment, but she won’t be that way for long. She has her ambitions set high with planning her future career as a competitive equestrian (she has yet to decide if she wants to move on as a Professional or start off as an Amateur) and deciding which online college program to enroll in. She is happy for now being a hometown girl in Kansas, but this won’t be the last we see of her. That passion for horses instilled in her from before her birth will live on past the Maclay win and we should expect great things from her in the future.

Watch: Hunter Holloway’s winning ride in the Maclay earlier this month: