Thursday, September 1, 2011

Why Jon Holling deserves the Pan Ams (FINALLY).

Amy soaking it all in during a lesson at Willow Run.

Yesterday, my phone buzzed and I got a message that read "Did you see Jon made the Pan Am team?" It was from my friend Amy in Florida, who rides with Jon Holling in Ocala. I had a full teaching day, so I had yet to get home to check the web, and I was thrilled to get Amy's text! I expressed my excitement and congratulations, mentioning what a great asset he is to our sport and that it was ABOUT DAMN TIME he was named to an international team. With her usual no-nonsense, un-excitable style, Amy agreed, saying he was understandably thrilled himself, yet still so humble. She wrote, "I texted him and told him it was well deserved. He told me everyone deserved it, he was just lucky." Humble, indeed.

I remember first noticing Jon at the Area III championships about 6 or 7 years ago at Poplar. I was in the warm-up with a dear friend of mine who happened to be going into show jumping in 1st place in the Training Championship division. I was standing under a tent at the in-gate, watching her warm-up and feeling that her pony was just not quite right. He was fussy, stiff, and started stopping at the warm-up fence (he never stops, and it was later found he had overextended his stifles the day before on cross-country). I looked over at the arena, and she circled and came at the fence again. Her pony stopped again. I thought, "Hmmm.....he's not a stopper. This is really weird." There were several people under the tent standing next to me (who had no idea I was there with the rider whose horse had just skidded into the warm-up vertical) and they sort of scoffed and raised their eyebrows, but most of them just rolled their eyes and looked away. The man standing next to me turned to see what was going on, with a look of genuine concern in his eyes. Wow......he was striking! Handsome in a beautifully-knotted, creamy-white stock tie; an immaculate, tailored wool coat; sparkling white breeches; and polished, tan-cuffed tall boots....I found myself slightly weak-in-the-knees. He kept a keen blue eye on my friend in warm-up, then he looked back at the barns anxiously as his wife had gone to get his second horse for show jumping (he'd just leaped off of one horse) that was entered in the same division and due to jump at any moment. He looked at my friend and took a step toward warm-up, then looked back at the barns a second time. As my friend's horse stopped again -- this time knocking down the vertical -- he started to unbutton his coat and mumbled something about needing to go help her (as several other people standing around-- a few of them with well-known names -- sputtered and tried not to laugh, much less go and help a random, struggling rider). About that time, his wife and the second horse arrived. In the meantime, another trainer in the center of the warm-up had approached my friend to reset the fence and give her a few words of kindly advice. Jon looked on with consideration, saw that my friend would be fine, and only then did he finally turn to his second horse and prepare to go and show jump. When I heard someone say, "Good luck, Jon," then rib his wife (Jenn) for being slow on the ground as his fill-in groom, I realized exactly who the dashing would-be-rescuer was: Jon Holling. I was struck then by his concern for everyone around him, regardless of whether they paid his bills or put money in his pocket. 

I have kept track of Jon and Jenn since that day, and I have yet to be disappointed. A few years after the Poplar incident, my friend Amy moved to Florida and started training with Jon (lucky her!). She has a much closer and more personal frame of reference for Jon as a horseman, rider, trainer, and professional in our sport, and nothing she has experienced has ever caused me to change my initial impression. I have benefited vicariously through Amy from Jon and Jenn's advice and instruction, and I look forward to the day (which may be sooner rather than later) when I can spend a week or so at Amy's farm in Florida and ride with Jon myself. That is a goal that I haven't set in vain!

Now, I know that all of this sounds like random and possibly biased "hero worship," but here is why I think Jon deserves that Pinque coat he'll get in just a few weeks. 
  1. Jon cares about the bigger picture for the sport of eventing. Not only does Jon focus on his farm, his horses, his program, and his business, but he is interested in, involved in, and INVESTED in many aspects of our sport. He is concerned with our having a place to event (thus, his role at the Florida Horse Park); he is concerned with the quality of professionals and guidance in our sport (thus, his role with the PHC); and, he cares very much -- on an individual basis -- for each, every one of, and all of his matter what level they ride or aspire to. 
  2. Jon is a talented rider, with wonderful horses and great owners. I always found it very sweet and touching that a capable and talented upper-level rider herself (Jenn Holling) would turn her own horse over to her husband to campaign because she felt he could take him -- Lion King -- where he deserved to go. I was devastated for Jon when he lost Monty (Direct Merger) so unexpectedly several years ago. What a tragic loss for a rider who is intimately attached to every horse he sits on, much less one with such a record and such a promising future. The one thing I have always said and truly believe (and I know several other eventers who feel the same way) is that if I had a horse with any potential or any talent as an upper-level prospect, the rider I would want riding him would be Jonathan Holling. I'd love to have that once-in-a-lifetime horse to send to Jon to ride. Thankfully, other owners feel the same way, as well. I am not alone in this sentiment.
  3. Jon has a program, ethic, and process that is proven and successful. My friend Amy (and many others) are proof of this. Whether someone rides with him full-time, part-time, or one time, that rider will be a better horseman and better eventer for it. Jon doesn't spout rhetoric or jargon; he is knowledgeable, intelligent, and experienced....and he shares that effortlessly and meaningfully with everyone who has the chance to ride with him. Don't believe me? ASK ANYONE who has ridden with him. I have never heard a criticism of him from anyone who has had the privilege to train with him.
  4. Jon believes in and actively participates in a FUTURE for our sport. We all love our sport today. My gosh, we KNOW we all love the sport of yesterday. But, what about the eventing of tomorrow? There are some talented riders out there who care about eventing, but they live in today and can't seem to put today away in order to focus on tomorrow. Jon is one of those rare professionals who has spoken up and raised his voice, and he has backed his position by doing walking the walk, not just talking the talk. That takes guts, it takes conviction, and it takes the willingness to accept the bad with the good. It is thankless, it can be exhausting, and it is certainly highly-criticized, at times. But, he does it anyway, because he believes what he believes. How many of us can sit here all day and run off our mouths about what could be done, what should be done, and what WE WOULD DO in _____ situation? How many of those same people have actually gotten up and done something about it? Jon is not only trying constantly to make a positive difference in our sport, but he is also building a business, widening his student-base, and gaining more supporters and sponsors; and, he is also out there everyday riding his own horses, training other riders, and very quietly continuing to do what he does best: excel in the great sport of eventing. 
So, when the Pan Am Games roll around and everyone gathers in Mexico, and the horses are shipped, and the courses are set, I will absolutely be cheering for the U.S. This is a good and deserving team that has been named. Jon has earned his Pinque and I will swell with pride each time from here-on-out when I see him canter around a show jumping course in a blur of red. But, I will also remember that he's not in this sport just to make "the team," or just to make Pan Ams, or make an Olympic team, or make a WEG team, or just win the event in which he happens to be entered. He is a beacon for change, progress, inspiration, and growth in our sport. 

And, if after all this you still don't agree with me about what a shining light Jon is for eventing, just remember this: I said 'round about last September that the Canadians were a force to reckon with, that they had talent and pizzazz, and that they were about to bust it all out at WEG. And guess what? I was right.

1 comment:

Dee and Missy said...

Holly, my daughter rode with Jon and Jen for a period, and still does on occasion. You are so correct about him, and Jen. They have quite an affection for people they teach! I am glad he made it too!