Canadian eventer Hawley Bennett is in England for the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials with her fierce mare Gin & Juice and goodness knows we’ll all be watching. Because, of course, she’s well worth watching what with feathers in her cap like a silver medal from the recent World Equestrian Games. Not to mention she always leads the style way. And speaking of, that’s how we started our conversation before getting into life at the World Equestrian Games, losing David O’Connor to the Americans, and that good lookin’ husband of hers.
photo by Kristen Sykes
Q: I guessed that the fashion dominance of the Canadians at the WEGs had something to do with you. Was I right?
A. What happened was that we were supposed to wear khakis and red polos. I was like, I can’t wear khakis and a red polo at the World Equestrian Games! They said that we could wear anything else but it would be on our own dollars. I’d looked at White House Black Market and saw the white jacket then everyone liked it too. They’d just gotten them in so it was meant to be. I thought to top it off we’d all wear red lipstick. To get Selena to even put chapstick on is tough. I had to hold her down! It wasn’t fancy, we just stood out. I’m a big turnout person anyways. I think people take note of that. I always have polo shirt or long sleeve shirt tucked in with a hair net. You gotta look the part to be the part.
photo by USEA
It was a fun afternoon for us; we goofed off and tried on things. We do team stuff – I doubt the Americans went out shopping together. Every Canadian watched everyone else’s lessons and rides and went out for dinner. It’ the best team experiecne I’ve ever had. With eleven girls and one guy there’s bound to be a little catfight or something. There was nothing. The grooms riders and trainers got along. It was a neat experience.
Q: What created that atmosphere?
A: I think it was a combination of everyhting. Everyone went in with an open mind. Right from first day at training camp we had team meetings We called David [O’Connor] David Mother Goose. If you had a problem you’d just say it. The vets were on site, the farriers were on site. It wouldn’t have worked if everyone wasn’t on the same page. We all had the same goal and if everyone did their personal best we were going to do well. And that’s exactly what happened.
I didn’t have my personal best and my mare usually gets 8 and 9’s [in dressage] but she got fired up and blew some changes. I was a little dissappointed but I knew I could finish on that score. I went out and didn’t let that effect my ride on cross-country or showjumping.
Q. Gin & Juice is the best name and I love the fact that you ride a mare.
A: She is a crowd favorite. It’s unbelievable. People email about her and ask questions. If you told me 5 years ago I would have laughed. I’ve been sent to the hopsital 3 times. She has a mind of her own! In the past two years we’ve really been clicking. I feel great on her. Thank god she’s only 15.3 otherwise I’d never be able to ride her! She does stuff in the field like gumby on steroids! People love her because she’s little. There’s not too many of them out there who can go out and compete against the boys.
photo by Nico Morgan
Q: Why are there so few mares at the top?
A: I don’t think people give them enough credit. At Galway Downs the top 5 spots were mares. I don’t know if people are trusting and riding them more or what. I have four mares. I think people think, ‘Oh, it’s a mare, it won’t be good enough.’ To me a good horse is a good horse. The way our sport is changing I’d ride a mare over a good gelding because they try harder. Ginny would jump into black hole up-side-down if I asked her to.
Q: What about some of the other super stars in your string?
A: I have Gin & Juice’s full brother. He’s awesome. His barn name is Chunky. He was born at the farm where I ride. His show name is ‘5 O’clock Somewhere’. When he was born he looked like he was on steroids, like he was part Quarter Horse. I sold him to one of my clients and she had competed him training or prelim and she offered the ride on him. I did the one star last fall and was third so we moved up to intermediate. He’s very workmanlike but on other hand we call him Dennis the Menace. He gets in the garbage can or pulls brushes out of the tack box. He cracks me up. I don’t know if it’s a family trait but they both have so much personality. He’s not as flamboyant as Gin & Juice but he’s a great mover and great jumper but has a good mind and is more relaxed which is nice.
Q: When you look back at the road to where you are now (at the top) what were the key turns you made? What were the key decisions or moments?
A. The whole reason I have anything I have is because of my horse Livingtstone. I got him when I was 16 and he was only 4 years old. I owe everything I have to that horse. I always say that if I had that horse now I’d be in heaven. He taught me so much. Someone made me a big offer when he was 8 and that person would have taken him to the Olympics and medaled. But I wouldn’t have acheived my goals and dreams. It was a combination of him being a talented horse and we worked and learned together. Those lessons I applied to other horses. The mistakes I made with him hopeful I won’t make on Gin & Juice. He went advanced for 11 years. He’s 21 years this and year he’s going prelim now and just had back-to-back wins. He’s an absolute champ. I’d be shocked if I ever got a horse as good as him ever again and I know that.
photo by USEA
Q: Why horses? Why not accounting?
I tell people it’s a funny story. When I was in second grade I wrote in my year book that I wanted to go to the Olypmics on a horse and marry a black man, live in Australia and have twins. I went to college and married a black man. I have a great horse and never looked back. Twins…maybe in the next two years. I also alway tell people if you want something you can do it.
I was hooked the first time I did cross-country. I came off the course with the biggest smile and my mom was like, oh, here we go! She did the jumpers. It’s different people. Eventers are fun and will help each other. I fell in love with it and am lucky to be a part of it.
Q: Does it make it harder to be based in the West Coast to stay competitive at the upper levels?
A: I am 100% a west coast kid. I’m not a fan of moving my barn every six months. I’m not a fan of humidity and bugs. Maybe it was true 6 years ago that you couldn’t be competitive if you lived on the West Coast, but now it’s not. Amy Tryon seems to be doing ok. Gina Miles got a silver medal. Tiana did well at Boekelo. We may not have as many horses on the West Coast but the quality is top notch. Galway Downs now has a 3-star in the Fall designed by Ian Stark. Our courses are tough. You come out here and we have big jumps too! An advanced course is an advanced course. We don’t run on grass but we have perfect footing. I’m happy to be on the West Coast where I can ride every day of year. I hate moving. And the fungus in Florida, yuck. I just wish Buck was out here! He comes out once a month. He’s been helping me for a long time.
Q: Horses and life. Sometimes its hard to balance it all. I know you’re married…what’s your strategy to fit everything in that you’re trying to fit in?
A: On our first date I told him if we’re going to be together I’m in the barn 7am-5pm and gone most weekends He knew what was going on and I couldn’t ask for a more supportive husband. It helped he wasn’t into horses, I could kind of train him! Every Monday night we do a date night otherwise weeks go by and it’s like I haven’t seen him. That’s our day to be together and hang out. He’s never said know you can’t do that. He’s been behind me 110%. I’m really lucky to have him.
Q: What’s he like?
A: He’s perfect. He used to me a marine. He was a major and retired a couple years ago and went back to doing massage which is great for me! Now he’s moving on to horses and the horses love him. He’s very laid back and has an easy-going personality. He’s fun, good lookin’. I’m just really, really lucky. I’m very happy.
Q: Are children on the radar?
A: Oh in 2012 I’ll plan to have kid. Wait, that’s next year! Then on the other hand I’m getting old! At some point you gotta pull the trigger.
Q: How do you feel about David taking the American team coaching job?
A: We were told up front. I kind of knew that all along and that was his goal to do that. He’s been awesome for us and there will be a huge hole for someone to come in and fill. But I want him to be happy. If that’s his goal and dream then have at it.
Q: What’s a non-negotiable for you when it comes to your riding philosophy or approach, whether for yourself in the saddle or for your students?
A: It’s really important to have a goal. I don’t care what it is. Some people want to go to Young Riders. Cool. I have students who want to make the US Team. Awesome. Be a Novice champion. Great. I’ll put my heart and soul into it if you do too. I remember teaching Pony Club and a kid got off their pony and was picking flowers. I’d rather teach someone for free who’s working their butt off. To me I’d do anything for them. As long as you have a dream and goal. There should be a Spring goal and Fall goal – something to get excited about and work hard for. I do it for myself too. Otherwise you’re riding around to ride around. You gotta do the building blocks to get to your goals.
Q: What else are you dreaming of?
A: Before I wanted to go to Badminton. I went. But now I’d love to be in the top 10. David said if you’re not in the top 5 you screwed up. Ok. I want to be better. I shoud be able to jump every round clear. Yes, I’ve been to the Olympics but I want to get on the podium. I have different goals for each of my horses and it just comes down to being better.
Q: Is there anything you want to add?
A: Kids ask me things like ‘Can we ask you questions at shows? Can we talk to you?’ I want younger kids to ask me questions. Go ask Amy, ask Gina, ask me. I don’t want poeple to feel like you can’t approach us. I want to help as many people as I can because when I was young I didn’t have that. I’m a huge fan of giving back.
photo by Emily Daily at the USEA
Thanks to Hawley for taking the time to do this interview for all of us at Three Days Three Ways. Since there’s so much more to know be sure to stop by Hawley’s website to learn more about her and her incredible team.