Written by: Tracy Hanes

After losing her top ride over two years ago, Hawley Bennett-Awad now has a legitimate four-star horse in Jollybo.

Thumbnail for Back on the Block: Hawley Bennett-Awad

Shannon Brinkman Photo

As Hawley Bennett-Awad walked the cross-country course at the Rolex Kentucky CCI4* in late April, a few jumps gave her pause. “I was thinking, ‘does this seem big, or is it just because I haven’t done this for a while?’” she recalls. Her qualms were put to rest once she and her mare Jollybo tackled the course and confidently answered all the questions.

“Jolly honestly didn’t put a foot wrong. She’s amazing,” says Hawley, 40, of the bay 2004 British Sport Horse mare. The pair finished an impressive 12th in Kentucky, which marked Hawley’s return to Rolex after three years and Jollybo’s debut at the four-star level.

Revived Team Goals

Hawley, originally from Langley, BC, has been based in California since 2003. With her Thoroughbred gelding Livingstone she competed at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, the 2005 Eventing World Cup in Sweden, and the Badminton CCI4* and Rolex CCI4* in 2007 and 2008, respectively. For 10 years she was a trainer at KingsWay Farm in Temecula, CA, and in partnership with the farm’s owners, Terry and Linda Paine, rode the Thoroughbred mare Gin & Juice to top placings in many three- and four-star competitions. Hawley and ‘Ginny’ were members of the 2010 and 2014 World Equestrian Games Canadian team, and were named to the 2012 Canadian Olympic eventing team. In the fall of 2014, the relationship with the Paines ended, leaving Hawley without an upper-level horse. [Ginny was campaigned in the US in 2016 at the two- and three-star level by Sara Mittleider of Kuna, Idaho.]

The quick-footed Jollybo (by the legendary sport horse stallion Jumbo, who sired more than 40 advanced-level eventers, out of the mare Polly Coldunnell, who is by Belmont Stakes winner Danzig Connection) has reignited Hawley’s team goals.She’s now aiming to ride for Canada at the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina. “It’s been a long two-and-a-half years and now having such a special horse is pretty cool,” says Hawley, who is based at Copper Meadows eventing facility in Ramona, CA, where she runs a thriving training business.

Jollybo had been Justine Dutton’s mount at the three-star level and caught Hawley’s eye when Dutton came to compete at Galway Downs in California a year and a half ago. When the horse came up for sale and was sent to the Pennsylvania farm of Hawley’s coach, mentor, and longtime friend Buck Davidson, he urged her to get on a plane and come try the horse.

“I told Buck I didn’t have the money, but he insisted I try her and an angel lent me some money,” she explained. By the middle of June last year, Hawley, who had formed the Jollybo Syndicate, owned the mare.

Hawley and the mare wasted no time forging a successful partnership, with a third-place finish at the Rebecca Farm CCI3* and a top-20 finish at the Fair Hill International. “Jollybo knows what’s she’s doing; I just have to fine-tune a bit. Justine brought her along and did a great job.” Hawley then set her sights on Rolex, and after a bad winter of heavy rains in California limited her opportunities to run her horse there, she headed to Davidson’s place a month prior to train. “It’s important to have people behind you who believe in you,” Hawley says of her long-time association with Davidson.

“Jollybo’s an interesting little horse. In some pictures, she looks like Ginny, but [unlike Ginny] she’s dead quiet and I have to kick a bit. But she’s very straightforward on cross-country. Whatever you point her at, she’s going to jump it.”

Building for the Future

Hawley also has some up-and-coming talent in her barn including High Duty, an off-the-track Thoroughbred gelding she and husband Gamal Awad own that is competing at the two-star level.

Although Gamal, a former US Marine and current massage therapist and EMT, was originally not a horse person, he has become one of her staunchest supporters. “I’m very, very lucky,” Hawley says. “He has never once said ‘no,’ he’s always saying ‘yes’ to whatever I do and I support what he does.”

As much as she is passionate about competing, Hawley is equally passionate about coaching riders of all levels. “I love teaching,” she says. “I like seeing people getting better and I will teach anyone who wants to get better and work hard. I have super eight-year-olds and adult amateurs and kids who want to make the Young Riders’ team and some with Olympic goals.”

With Jollybo qualified for the WEG thanks to their Rolex placing, Hawley is excited for the future. “It was so cool to be there and to see Selena [O’Hanlon] and Jessica [Phoenix]. Having four Canadians in the top twenty was awesome. It made me realize how much I missed it [competing at the top level]. I’m so happy to
be back.”