All photos by Shawn McMillen Photography

All photos by Shawn McMillen Photography

Three flawless rounds earned Hunter Holloway her first major equitation final win at the 2016 Washington International Horse Show. A perennial favorite in the American division, Hunter has finished in second and in third in prior years.

And after an atypical round in the 2016 Pessoa/USEF Medal Final just weeks prior, she arrived at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. with her longtime partner, Any Given Sunday, feeling prepared to claim victory.

Read on to discover Hunter’s truths from the journey that ended with her finally leading the victory gallop.

1. I’m still in complete shock; it just hasn’t quite sunk in yet. It’s an incredible feeling, and I’m just so thankful to everyone that has been a part of this journey.

2. I felt very confident going into the hunter phase. The course was great and allowed you areas to gallop and show some brilliance to the jumps. Earlier that morning, I was able to find some success in the junior hunters; I think that played a big part in being able to step into the ring with the correct attitude.

3. After the hunter phase, it was a sigh of relief but also some added pressure. I’d had a great round and felt I rode well which was a relief. However, our scores were very close, and I wasn’t leading by much.

4. Going into the jumper phase I was probably the most nervous out of all the rounds. I really wanted to put in a solid round to hold the lead going into the top ten. I spent the morning trying to keep my mind off of everything and just focus on riding to the best of my ability.

5. As soon as I came out of the ring after the jumper phase, all I could think was, “I love my horse.” He’d ridden amazing and just absolutely couldn’t have been any better. I was thrilled. No matter what happened at that point I was happy and felt my horse and I both performed great.

6. While our scores were still extremely close going into the final, I was probably the most relaxed I’d been throughout the whole thing. The hard part was over, and now I was just focused on riding.

7. When I heard which horse I was switched onto I was very excited to get the chance to ride such an amazing horse. We flatted around for the couple minutes you’re allowed to, and I was able to get a feel for him. It took me the first two jumps to understand what ride he liked best, and thankfully you’re allowed three jumps in the schooling ring. Our third schooling jump was good and we headed for the ring.

8. Don [Stewart] is amazing, in general, but he is just absolutely the best at keeping things simple and light before big moments of important classes. Walking into the ring for that final round, I felt very confident and that I didn’t have anything to lose. I went out there and just rode.

9. All I could think [about] coming out of that final round was if I had done enough. Was it enough to hold the lead? I remember coming out of the ring and giving Don this look like, “Did I do it?!”

10. This has been something I’ve worked very hard for, for so long, it just doesn’t even seem real. I really can’t thank the people, especially everyone at Don Stewart Stables and my mom [and trainer], Brandie Holloway, enough. Then, of course, the amazing horses that have made this possible; I couldn’t have done it without them. It’s a dream come true, and now we’re looking ahead toward Maclay Final!