Her Love of Thoroughbreds Runs Deep: Kendahl Holden Launches ABW Sporthorses in Honor of Avery Whisman

Kendahl and her first event horse and OTTB, Levitate. Photo courtesy of JJ Sillman.

Kendahl Holden’s love for Thoroughbreds started at a young age and it only continued to grow as she flourished in the eventing world with her first event horse and Thoroughbred, Levitate.

Avery Whisman came from a family of horse people and he was riding a horse by the age of two. From riding in the eventing world to becoming a jockey, he always also cultivated a deep love for Thoroughbreds.

Avery and his horse Stonewall Jackson had been partners since Avery was around 13 years old. They went up the levels together. The pair competed at the FEI North American Youth Championships (NAYC), formerly known as the North American Junior and Young Riders Championships (NAJYRC) in 2017.

“Avery had multiple event horses that were Thoroughbreds in his career, but Jackson was the most special to him,” Kendahl says. Jackson is now happily retired in Versailles, KY with Avery’s parents.

As Avery moved from eventing to racing, he became an apprentice jockey, and later began his professional career. Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith mentored Avery as he was starting his career. “From there, he never missed. He was so good at what he did,” Kendahl says.

Avery as a jockey at Del Mar Racetrack in California. Photo courtesy of Del Mar Racetrack.

In his racing career, Avery rode 810 horses through the starting gate, totaled 90 wins, and earned over $2.7 million.

On January 11, 2023, Avery passed away at the age of 23.

Kendahl, his fiancée, has been preserving his legacy since, launching ABW Sporthorses in January of this year. “We always wanted to start a business together and this is most definitely an honor to him,” she says.

Kendahl focuses on restarting Thoroughbreds — whether they’ve only been race trained or have had an entire racing career. Since Avery loved Thoroughbreds over other breeds, she wanted to honor him and focus on Thoroughbreds specifically.

“He is by far the most talented horseman I’ve ever met in my life. He had such a way with them that always captivated me. I could never understand how someone could be so deeply connected to an animal,” Kendahl says.

One of the horses that Avery raced was Stay Out, or as he called her, Mi Amor. “Out of all the horses that he sat on, she was one of his favorites. He loved her and would always send me videos and pictures of her,” Kendahl says.

At Avery’s tribute race in February 2023 at Laurel Park, Kendahl was able to get in contact with the owner of Mi Amor and paid the horse a visit. “I did a little kissy sound and I said ‘Mi Amor!’ and she perked her head up and she came over. Instantly, she put her head in my chest and closed her eyes. I have never in my life had such a quick and powerful connection with a horse before.”

Avery always told Kendahl he would love to bring Mi Amor home when it came time for her to retire from the track. So, she wanted to do just that. After a month-long process, she was able to follow through on Avery’s plan, buying Mi Amor and bringing her home.

Avery and Mi Amor. Photo courtesy of Jodi Murphy.

Kendahl’s mom came up with Mi Amor’s barn name: Mia for short. They knew that Mi Amor would be her competition name, but it was missing something. “I really wanted to honor Avery here and she is Avery’s love, so why don’t I put his initials in front of it and tell everyone that she’s ABW’s love? And that was the birth of the prefix ABW.”

Kendahl will have each client sign a contract in order to keep the ABW prefix tacked on each horse’s name. “It’s respect to him and it’s respect to the business. I can follow the horses and it shares his legacy.”

This was the start of ABW Sporthorses.

Kendahl’s love and passion for Thoroughbreds is evident in her training practices. She takes her time restarting them, understanding that they deserve a grace period after they get off the track. They deserve to be just a horse before learning an entirely new way of life.

“They’re just so intelligent; they’re level-headed. They have sense to them and they have heart like no other. The Thoroughbreds are just incredible; I love everything about them.”

Although she specializes in eventing, Kendahl recognizes that some horses that go through her program will end up in another discipline. “My main goal is to keep them happy inside their homes, and if that means it’s in another discipline, then that is fine with me.”

So far, connecting with the horses but not getting too attached has been a bit difficult for Kendahl. ABW Anath came to her at three years old just after she ran her last race. Kendahl knew she wanted to take as much time as needed to build a connection with her.

“I understand that having a quick turnaround is more financially responsible, but at the same time, I think that when we put in the time and effort into something, people gravitate toward that. I enjoy the process more than anything, so I’m happy to say that ABW Anath and I have definitely connected,” she says.

Good things take time, and Kendahl has been and will continue to channel this approach in her training with all the ABW Sporthorses.

Kendahl and Mi Amor. Photo courtesy of Mady Hsue with Tid Bits Media.

“You can’t expect them to listen to you and communicate with you if they don’t trust you. I want all my horses that come through my program to learn how to trust me,” she says.

Kendahl originally planned to become a nurse, but after Avery’s passing, she decided to not pursue that path. She turned to what has always kept her going: horses. “They’ve saved my life in the past when I’ve gone through tragedy and hard times. They keep me motivated and they make my heart full.”

Although ABW Sporthorses is still a fairly new business, Kendahl’s passion for her program and the meaning behind it shines through. For her, seeing the small wins and small progress each day keeps her going.

“You can never stop learning and I think that’s my favorite part about this business so far. Everyday I’m learning something new, whether it be about my horses, people, this business, or this community,” she says.

The support that Kendahl has received already from potential clients and her community keeps fueling her passion for the industry. This year, she plans to get the ABW Sporthorses name out there and build some clientele. Long-term, Kendahl hopes to see ABW Sporthorses all around the country.

“I want to be able to go on the USEA Horse Search, look up ABW, see all of the horses competing, and feel Avery’s legacy.”

Kendahl and Avery. Photo courtesy of JJ Sillman.

Continuing to keep Avery’s legacy alive motivates Kendahl to continue to develop her business. The main reason for ABW Sporthorses is Avery and he will continue to be the driving force behind it.

“To see his initials in front of horses that he loves, that he was passionate about, to see them grow in this community and this sport that we love, it’s vital.”

Kendahl cherishes her memories of being in the winner’s circle with Avery as well as celebrating his wins at eventing competitions. “He’s just the best horseman I’ll ever know and I strive to be even half the horseman he was.”

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