Hawley Bennett-Awad, based out of Sisters Equestrian in Temecula, California, has been a key member of the Canadian eventing squad for nearly two decades, representing her country at numerous international competitions including the Pan American Games, Olympic Games and World Equestrian Games. Most recently, she and her current partner, Jollybo, competed as individuals at the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina.
Jollybo (owned by Bennett-Awad and the Jollybo Syndicate) is a 15-year-old British Sport Horse mare sired by Jumbo. Jumbo himself had a successful career, competing to the CCI3* level with Andrew Nicholson, but was probably best known as a sporthorse sire, producing well-known four-star eventers such as three-time Burghley winner Avebury and Headley Britannia, the only mare in history to win Rolex Kentucky, Badminton and Burghley.
With her bright smile and long silver-blonde hair, Bennett-Awad is easy to spot in a crowd, but her dedication to her horses and approachable demeanor makes her a fan favorite. We caught up with Bennett-Awad to find out her plans for this year’s Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event and to see what she’s been working on this spring. Also, Bennett-Awad has graciously agreed to do an Instagram takeover with the Practical Horseman team during #KY3Day19, so stay tuned for some behind-the-scenes action!
1. How did you first get started in eventing? What drew you to the sport? Who are some of your mentors/inspirations and how did they shape you into the rider you are today?
I grew up in Aldergrove, British Columbia, and was a member of the Otter 4H Horse Club. That was my first introduction to doing “horse things” together as group. I met some amazing friends there, learned how to keep a record book of monthly expenses and one of the most important things I learned from 4H was being confident in public speaking. I really think that shaped me to be able to be confident out in public (or the dressage ring) by myself. I then joined the Langley Pony Club where I got hooked on eventing.
My horse of a lifetime (Livingstone) was purchased as an OTTB for me by my amazing mum, Gerry. On Livingstone, I learned the ropes of D Rally and C Rally. Livingstone not only won first and fittest horse at both rallies, but it was my first taste of a team competition. I absolutely fell in love with the sport. If you notice in any jumping picture of Hank (Livingstone) he is wearing a full-cheek rubber snaffle. At the time, Hank he was a young Thoroughbred, and I was obsessed with the ’96 Olympics. In a magazine there was a picture of Jil Walton riding Patrona in a rubber snaffle. I still remember sitting on my couch at home and thinking, hmm, if she rides in a rubber snaffle, I should! (Just shows you never know who or where you are making an impression!) Long story short, Jil made an impact on me, and Hank continued to compete until he was 23 years old (11 years of that at Advanced!) in a rubber snaffle.
Along the way, I have been very lucky to have some amazing people in my life. Some of the most important people, for many different reasons are: Pam Arthur, who is my coach of a lifetime; Ann and Troy Glaus, for being amazing friends and allowing me to start my business in California; Buck Davidson, who is not only a great friend, but a coach that is always there for you through good or bad; my mum, who’s my number-one fan and supporter; ALL the vets/farriers/true friends, and, of course, my husband, Gamal, who has always said yes, and been the best support system.
I grew up in a divorced family. If I wanted to ride, I needed to pay for things. I started working at McDonalds when I was 15 and would also gallop racehorses. I guess not having everything just given to me made me want it more and work harder.
2. Tell me about Jollybo. What’s her personality like? What is she like to ride? Does she have any quirks or funny habits?
Jolly is the BEST! I am truly in love with her! Since I have had her, her personality has changed quite a bit. She has gotten a little sassier, which I like! I think it is because she knows she is a little bad a** now! Also, I don’t think that she has been as fit as she was last year. Aiming for the WEG, I really focused on fitness. Any weekend I was away for a clinic teaching, Jolly would go spend time at Trifecta Equine and work on the water treadmill there. It was a GAME CHANGER! It has made a major difference. At the end of cross country at WEG, I had to walk Jolly back with a chain on–that has never happened before!
Riding Jolly is a dream. She goes in a rubber snaffle in dressage, and I now just ride her in a full-cheek snaffle on cross country. She is one of the most honest and brave horses I have ever ridden on cross country, too. Although she is tiny, she has a massive stride and can cover the ground. I know that she may not be the fanciest on the flat, BUT, she is one of the most consistent, workmanlike horses ever. It’s nice when the judges reward that!
3. What are some of the main things you’ve worked on with Jollybo this season? What are her strengths and weaknesses, and what types of exercises have you been doing to help her prepare for Kentucky? What are your goals for her this year at the event?
After WEG I gave Jolly 6 weeks off. It was important that she had a true break, get turned out with her friends and let her body relax. She had a super busy year last year and I wanted her to have time to be a horse.
Coming back this spring, I haven’t really drilled her on one specific thing. Now that she is a little older, I am not really going to change too much. It is just going to be little things. I have been focusing on my show jumping. I know that she is consistent in dressage and there is not too much on cross country that I would change as she is a machine! The homework paid off as she jumped the only double-clean show jumping round at the Fresno CCI***S.
Buck has had me focus on keeping her on a true 12-foot stride. Sometimes I think that my canter is good enough and it’s not, and then I make a move the fence. It’s all about a balanced, consistent canter.
Looking ahead to Kentucky, I will be doing the combined test at Copper Meadows and then heading to Florida to be with Buck’s crew. I have found that this is the best for me to be able to have a lot of lessons and also watch a lot of lessons. I learn just as much from watching as I do from riding. Since this isn’t my first time at Kentucky, I really want a solid dressage score, I feel I can jump around clean and hopefully the homework has paid off for a great show jumping round!
4. You’ve coached many up-and-coming event riders over the years. What are some of your key training and horsemanship philosophies you share with these riders? Do you have any favorite exercises or gymnastics you like to use in your sessions?
I only had one horse for a long time. If he got hurt, that was it. I learned to really take care of him. Grooming him myself everyday was important. I wanted to know what his body felt like.
I also ice, wrap and bute after a hard jump school or gallop. If you can help prevent an injury, why wouldn’t you? I also am a big believer in the Revitavet system, the Equilibrium Massage pads and the Weatherbeeta Therapy-tec cooler. These are used daily either as a warm-up or cool down.
In my daily sessions, I like to use a lot of pole work. They can be on a circle or a straight line. I feel like it gives the horses something to focus on, while making them work a little harder.
5. How are you preparing yourself, physically and mentally, for the big event? You’ve said before that you enjoy working out at the Healthy Hart fitness center in Ocala during your lead-up period. Is this still something you plan to do? And mentally, how do you stay focused before and during such an important competition?
Being fit is SUPER important! I feel as riders, we get used to just riding. So, to keep myself in check, I go to either 9 Round (kickboxing gym) or I go to an Orange Theory gym 3-4 times a week. Once in Florida, I will join Ann Glaus back training with Clint Hart (Healthy Hart Fitness) and continue with Orange Theory. I don’t ever want to be the tired rider at the end of a cross-country round that can’t help their horse out! Everyone has their own mental game that works for them. I love to be able to have a quiet vibe around the barn and listen to my music. It’s always nice to have the right people around you, and I have been super lucky to have some great friends “groom” for me at big events. The less stress the better.
6. What are some of your favorite memories at the Kentucky Three-Day Event?
Being able to compete at Kentucky is still a dream come true. I have been lucky enough to do it successfully on three very different horses, multiple times. It never gets old being able to canter down that center line, and know that all those spectators came to see you. I think it’s super important as a rider to give back. That’s why I do so many autograph signings there. I love to meet people. You never know who you are making an impression on. If I can help inspire one person, I am doing my job. I always want to be that person you can talk to. I remember being in such awe of Bruce Davidson, Mark Todd and Lucinda Green. I was always so nervous to go up and ask a question, yet they were always willing to give an answer and take time to chat.
7. What’s something about you that many people might not know?
My first obsession was gymnastics. I watched every routine of Mary-Lou Retton from the ’84 Olympics. Unfortunately, I broke my ankle really bad and that dream went down the drain real fast. I was told that I would never make anything of myself riding. So, being the stubborn person that I am, I did everything in my power to prove that person wrong. I was never the best rider or had the expensive horse. I just wanted it bad enough and worked as hard as I could.
Also, I am a huge football fan. I’ve been on the Philadelphia Eagles band wagon for 26 years! Lets go, birds!