March 2015 - Horse People: Hawley Bennett-Awad
Written by Kim F. Miller
Monday, 02 March 2015 00:59
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Olympic eventer changes her barn but not her brand of hard work, happy attitude and, always, gratitude.

Hawley & Hank

by Kim F. Miller

If you want to find a good place for riding lessons, ask someone who’s riding a horse. That seemed like a good idea to the Duke family, so they set out for a drive on Los Corralitos Road in Temecula. It’s the road that runs along the backside of increasingly busy equestrian venue, Galway Downs, and it’s where the Dukes flagged down Hawley Bennett-Awad, who was doing trot sets that day two years ago.

Hawley with her '#1 fan,' husband Gamal Awad, left, and '#1 coach' Buck Davidson, Jr.

Hawley was her usual friendly self and inquired about the family’s interests to provide useful recommendations. Having a little trouble understanding the rider’s mild Canadian accent, the Dukes asked her name three times. When they got home and googled it, their jawed dropped. They’d just pulled over a two-time Olympian and a World Equestrian Games silver medalist. They signed up their then 8-year-old daughter Elise, who took her first lesson aboard Hawley’s 2004 Olympic partner, Livingston. Not a bad way to start an eventing career.

Hawley welcomes any student that genuinely wants to learn and her effect on newbies and experienced equestrians, not to mention horses, is powerful. Owners Jerry and Jan Hawthorne had placed several horses retired from their JJ & H Stables racing string in various settings, but they were unfamiliar with eventing when a neighbor recommended Hawley to them. Jan was immediately struck by Hawley’s enthusiasm and her way with horses continues to amaze her in the two years since Hawley’s been riding the Hawthorne’s ex-racers, including Bodark and Hi Duty.

A board from the barn where Hawley first learned to ride and posted photos and notes of her progess with her first horse, an Arabian named Ibn. She received it from a family friend who wound up buying and remodeling the same barn many years later and recognized the board’s significance to Hawley.

Hawley and Bodark. Photo: Amy McCool

Jan was a bit worried for the diminutive rider’s well-being when Hawley first came to pick-up Bodark, a young Thoroughbred out of JJ & H’s mare Xylonia (by the South African Triple Crown winner Horse Chestnut) and by the stallion Kafwain.  “He’d had something happen to him and he just would not load into a trailer,” Jan explains. “He could be a little dangerous because he went a little way in, then burst out backwards.

“Hawley just kept talking to him, calming him, working with him,” Jan continues of that telling encounter. “Somehow she generated enough trust to get him in that trailer. That was our first indicator that she had something special with horses.”

Under Hawley’s hand, Bodark had no such reservations about eventing. He’s sailing along, doing 2* competition and is Hawley’s declared mount to represent her native Canada at the Pan Am Games this year in Toronto.

Hawley is well known for her longtime partnership with the mare Gin & Juice and she was based at Kingsway Farms for most of her 11 years in California until an unexpected parting of the ways late last year. Losing a top mount, in this case her 2010 WEG team silver partner, and treasured equine friend are occupational hazards for professional riders. Intent on moving on immediately, Hawley did so rather nicely and without having to move far away in relocating down Los Corralitos Road to Sweet Oaks Ranch.

Hawley with groom, assistant and competitor Sarah Bruan, with Sarah’s Candy. Sarah won the USEF’s Christine E. Stafford Grooms Award in 2014.

Sweet Digs

Built by Bill and Amy Dickinson to accommodate Bill and son Travis’ passion for top flight cutting horses, the ranch has many amenities. None trump its sense of calm, Hawley relays. When new horses arrive or competitors return from an event, there’s no acclimation period, she explains. “Usually, they’ll fuss around for a while, but here, they settle down immediately.” Three-year-old The Twain daughter, Bikini Martini, demonstrated that point during our hour-long visit by literally sprawling in her stall, her head nestled in deep shavings. Some of that is the youngster’s laid-back nature, Hawley says, and a lot of it is the “calm vibe” that pervades the place.

Shade, steady breezes and open-sided stalls keep her 22-horse main barn cool. Ample pastures allow all horses the overnight turn-outs Hawley favors, and two large arenas and a high-walled, lighted round pen facilitate all types of training and exercise. Plus, there’s easy access to the same conditioning hills and side of the street trot tracks she’s always used to prepare her horses.  An additional seven 24’ x 24’ open air stalls await students who are hauling in soon for a few months of training and competing on the thriving California event scene.

Maintenance at Sweet Oaks Ranch is addressed proactively. “They told me the other day they were going to repaint my barn,” Hawley relays, her bright blue eyes opening wide. “Wow! I thought. It already looks great to me, but OK!”

It’s the perfect launchpad for the next phase of Hawley’s career. She hopes and plans for more Olympics and WEGs, and has the immediate goal of this summer’s Pan Am Games. She and Bodark are among about 90 pairs vying to represent Canada. That unusually high number stems from two things: whether or not Canada will need a Pan Am medal to earn a 2016 Olympic berth and the event’s staging on home turf. “Nobody knows right now if they should declare their 2* horse or their 4* horse,” Hawley explains. She expects that the list will eventually be paired down to 20 or so candidates and the first step to getting on it is completing a qualifying 2* at Twin Rivers Ranch in April.

Stalls are open on all sides for maximum airflow.

Entrance to Hawley’s breezy 22-stall main barn.

In addition to coaching her own clients, Hawley has been teaching clinics regularly for some time and last year stepped into an Area VI Young Riders coaching role. This year, she’ll serve on the NAJYRC Selectors Committee, (Brian Sabo is coaching the team) because the Championships conflict with the Pan Am Games time-wise. Giving back to the Young Riders program has been specially rewarding because it’s a competition that influenced her hugely when she and Livingstone finished fourth in 1998.

Clinics have been another fun add-on to an already busy schedule. Jennifer and Earl McFall’s Dragonfire Farm in the Sacramento area’s Wilton is a favorite destination. “I’ve been giving clinics there for a few years now and it’s fun getting to know the riders and seeing their progress.”

“I’ve gotten good at scheduling those Friday night flights,” she says of her crazy schedule. “I teach from 8 am to 4 pm, until I’m hoarse. Come home Sunday night and start it all over again.”

Hawley’s yellow lab Hurley oversees a final phase of converting Sweet Oaks Ranch for eventing use with the arrival of a dressage court.

An understanding and supportive husband in Gamal Awad has been a huge help. He’s a favorite on the eventing scene, so much so that Hawley playfully huffs about friends asking “Where’s Gamal?” if she shows up at a competition without him. “Hey, I’m here!”

3-year-old Bikini Martini, aka Olive, enjoys the peaceful environment at Sweet Oaks Ranch.

Hawley’s 11 years in California have gone by in a flash. She loves the 80-degree average weather, especially on returning from visits home to Langley, British Columbia, where 50 is a typical temperature during winter holidays. And the eventing scene throughout Area VI has flourished during her time here, in both quantity and quality of events. “It used to be we’d say, ‘Oh, we’re going to this and that show,’” she notes. “Now, it’s like, ‘Hey, cool! We get to go this and that event!’”

She credits organizers who have stepped up throughout the state. Robert Kellerhouse is the king of that category with shows at Galway Downs and the Woodside Horse Park that present eventing as a sport even non-horse people can love. Copper Meadows in Ramona, Twin Rivers in Paso Robles, Shepard Ranch in Solvang and the Fresno Horse Park are a few of the many venues enabling Area VI eventers to reach their goals, from beginners to international contenders, Hawley notes. She recalls being one of five contenders when she and Livingstone did their first Advanced run at Galway Downs. Now, the venue hosts CCI3* that attract riders from throughout the States, plus Canada and Europe.

Hawley & Hi Duty. Photo: Betsy Braun

After 11 years of Advanced competition that took Hawley into the national spotlight, Livingstone, better known as “Hank” and now 25, no longer competes but he’s still a big part of the program. From his center stall in the barn, he keeps an eye on all comers, gives lessons to beginners and enjoys regular exercise and nights in turn-out. He’s fit and sound and perks up when groomed in the crossties. “This time of year, he probably thinks its time to get ready for Rolex,” Hawley laughs affectionately.

Hank tops a long list of horses and people Hawley emphatically credits with helping her get where she is. Her mom Gerry Bennett, mentor Buck Davidson, agent Frankie (Thieriot) Stutes, USEF award winning groom and rider Sarah Braun and all owners, students and sponsors share top billing. No matter how busy, Hawley makes a point of blogging, tweeting, posting and finding any other way to acknowledge those who’ve helped her.

“I’m a please and thank you girl,” she smiles earnestly. “I came from nothing and I take pride in what I’ve accomplished and really appreciate those who’ve helped me. There’s no reason not to find time throughout the day to let them know that.”

Cocktail Hour: Livingstone, aka “Hank,” was the first of Hawley’s many horses to be named after a cocktail. The tradition flows from Hawley’s five years bartending at Milestones in Langley, British Columbia. Bartender by night and eventer by day, she credits restaurant owner John Gillis as one of her earliest supporters. “He gave me so much freedom to take off for events and he’s a huge reason for my success.” A photo of her and Hank at the 2004 Olympics in Athens hangs on the wall at Milestones today and it’s a regular hang-out when she is home visiting family. The cocktail name tradition continued with Gin & Juice and now with Bikini Martini, aka “Olive,” the promising 3-year-old by the Twain. Here’s a few of Hawley’s favorite recipes:

Livingstone: Two shots London dry gin, one shot Martini Extra Dry, and a ¼ shot sugar syrup.

Milestone Bikini Martini: Vodka, blue curacao, peach liqueur and cranberry juice.