Hawley Bennett-Awad: Back in My Happy Place

Hawley Bennett-Awad has made a successful return to the Advanced level thanks to her new ride, Jollybo. In her latest Athletux Equine blog, Hawley talks about the special little mare who she has big plans for and the journey that has brought her back to the top. Many thanks to Hawley for writing and to Athletux for partnering with us on this blog series.

Hawley Bennett and Jollybo at Rebecca Farm. Photo courtesy of Hope Carlin.

Hawley Bennett and Jollybo at Rebecca Farm. Photo courtesy of Hope Carlin.

It’s been almost two years since I last set foot on an Advanced level cross country course. My last trip around a four-star was in 2014 at the World Equestrian Games in Normandy, and I’ve been waiting to get my chance to return to the level ever since.

That chance finally came just a few months ago, when I received a call from my longtime coach, Buck Davidson. He told me to get on a plane to try a mare that another student (and friend of mine) had for sale: Jollybo. I laughed at him, but he persisted and before I knew it I was on a plane to Pennsylvania, where Justine Dutton, Jollybo’s former owner and rider, picked me up from the airport.

After a whirlwind trip (I think I was gone for only about 15 hours), I knew that I had to do something to try to make Jollybo mine. She was exactly the type of ride I wanted – quick with her feet and equally quick with her brain. I hadn’t jumped an Advanced size fence for a long time, but Buck put the jumps up and Jollybo made them feel easy.

I have never syndicated or acquired a horse like Jollybo, so my work was cut out for me. After several phone calls and a lot of advice from my family and my husband, Gamal, I was able to secure the support I needed to make the biggest purchase of my life. It all happened so fast, I still can’t believe it! Before I knew it, I was on my way, trailer in tow, to LAX to meet a FedEx plane that had my precious cargo on it.

Hawley had a big smile on her face over the last. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Hawley had a big smile on her face over the last. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Jollybo stepped off the plane looking fresh and fit, thanks to the excellent care and training she received under Justine, and settled right in to her new stall at my home base in Temecula. I was itching to get a saddle on her, so a few days later I took her for an easy ride and couldn’t wipe the grin off of my face.

I’ve always tried hard to listen to what Buck tells me to do – he is always right! So when he told me to aim for Rebecca Farm in Montana, I immediately assumed he wanted me to take Jollybo Intermediate. When I said as much, he said “No, the three-star.” Once again, I laughed but knew he was serious, so I set to work planning out my prep runs with a horse I would only have had for a couple of months by the time Rebecca rolled around.

I took Jollybo Prelim her first trip out, at Copper Meadows in June, which she handily won and gave me the greatest feeling on cross country. Buck told me to kick for the time when he found out we were placed well after dressage, and she flew around easily with me to take home the blue ribbon. We then went on to Arizona, where we won our first Intermediate together and finished second in the Advanced CT at Coconino Horse Trials.

There was no turning back from there, as Rebecca Farm came next. My good friend Robyn Fisher made the trip with me to help me (and convince me that I wasn’t crazy!), and Buck was also in Montana to compete several horses.

I can’t say I was exactly nervous for my first three-star in several years, but it felt strange to be back at the level much sooner than I had ever anticipated. Jollybo settled in great in Montana, definitely appreciating the vast amounts of grass she had to enjoy!

On cross country in Montana! Photo courtesy of Hope Carlin.

On cross country in Montana! Photo courtesy of Hope Carlin.

Our dressage left me with a big smile. For this being such a new partnership, I was thrilled with our score, and I know that we will only continue to improve over time. Overall she really worked hard for me. Our score of 53.9 put us in fourth going into cross country.

Heading out of the start box, I felt a few nerves, but as soon as I jumped the first few fences, I knew I was back. This is what we all live for, and I wouldn’t have wanted to be out on that course with any other horse. Jollybo is such a pro at her job – she has been beautifully produced by Justine and I am lucky to get to enjoy her now. She locked on to every question and never put a foot wrong, coming home well under the time and cooling out perfectly. I couldn’t have been any happier, and the icing on the cake was that we moved up to third after cross country!

I felt great about show jumping after our warm-up. I was honored to be able to put on my red coat for Canada once again, and I wanted to do my country proud. Jollybo had jogged up perfectly (Buck was kind enough to trot her up for the Ground Jury as I was show jumping my Prelim horse at the same time) and was feeling no ill effects from her effort the day before. We had just one rail down in our round, but I was so thrilled with her. Her effort earned us third place in our very first FEI event together, which makes me so excited to see what the future holds.

Hawley Bennett-Awad and Jollybo. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

Hawley Bennett-Awad and Jollybo. Photo by Leslie Wylie.

I plan to take Jollybo to Fair Hill to compete in the CCI3* and am also aiming to return to Rolex in the spring. I still have to pinch myself that this wonderful horse is mine. I have to say a big thank you to Justine Dutton for all of her support and for the hard work she put into this talented horse.

I also want to thank Buck Davidson, Robyn Fisher, and Susie Hutchinson for all of their help. Buck has been in my corner through the good and the bad, and I owe him a lot for his mentorship. And as always, I could not do any of this without the love and support of my family, friends, sponsors and my husband. It really does take a village, and I am very lucky to have such a good one!

I am still looking for a few people to join Jollybo and I on our new journey together so please feel free to visit my website to follow along on our adventures and also learn more about how to join on with Jolly. 

Thank you to everyone who believed in me even when I did not believe in what could be possible! And if you are an upper level rider who is for whatever reason not jumping blue at this moment, remember that the community of fellow riders and friends around you is an incredible one and that you can and will be back at the top!

Hawley still has some opportunities available to join her journey with Jollybo. For more information on joining this syndicate, please email Hawley.