Cover Story - Vol. 48, No.2 - Issue #7

Cover Story -

Cover Story - Vol. 48, No.2 - Issue #7

Holland Stevens—Beyond the Show Ring
by KARA LARSON

“Truly connecting with a horse means really caring for them and their well-being as much as you care for your family and friends’ well-beings. When you look at them as more than just a tool, but as a friend and speechless mentor, I think that is when you are connecting. When you realize words are not always necessary to communicate.”
– Holland Stevens

There’s change brewing in the Arabian show industry and it emanates from perceptive individuals like Holland Stevens. In an increasingly modern, impersonal world, we have a new generation of young equestrians longing for personal connection with man’s first companion—the horse. No longer are the days of commoditizing the horse, utilizing their talents in order to add to your own personal trophy collection, in fashion. For Holland, a genuine connection to the horse is vital for her happiness. It tethers her to reality, to the woman she wishes to become, to the change she wants to see in the world.

And yet, Holland’s start in the Arabian horse world didn’t come from within. More interested in soccer, she grew up watching her sister, Madison, ride and show horses in the Arabian horse circuit. Holland begins, “By the time I was born, I was thrown into the horse world with my sister and it took me some time to fall in love with horses and showing.”

Though Holland began riding when she was about 3 years old, her passion for riding did not develop until she started showing in walk/trot at the age of 7. But from that point on, she assures, the passion was real—and unrelenting. Looking back, she believes starting this young was important to the rider she has become. “I think starting young in this world was essential for my success in showing because it became a second language. I never had to sit down and try to learn or understand anything about the people or the horses; I felt I just knew, because it had been my way of life.”

How quickly she adapted to this way of life and made it her own is a testament to her natural abilities as a horsewoman. And over the years, she recognizes an evolution in her relationship with the horse. When Holland was younger, she loved her horses like she loved her dogs. But today, she explains, “I look at my horses as much more than just pets. They are my teammates, companions, and family. Without them, nothing I have accomplished would have been possible, which I recognize more now than I did when I was younger.”

This switch in perspective was essential to Holland and the incredible success to come. Through hard work, patience, and an innate bond, this young equestrian accrued a multitude of national titles in a wide range of disciplines. And still, her favorite show ring memory came in 2008 when she won her first Hunter Pleasure National Championship with her first horse, GR Khaleidoscope, who she is proud to still own today. Holland fondly remembers, “It was my second year competing at nationals and winning was completely off my radar. I was only doing it for the fun with my horse, and the win was so pure and a complete surprise.”

Since this foundational win, Holland has grown immensely as a rider and individual. Every horse, every ride, and every performance has given her an experience in which to grow. As a contemplative individual, and since competing has been a huge part of her life, Holland has considered what her time in the show ring has given her over the years. She shares, “Competing has helped me learn to accept failure, especially when I don’t do well in a class. Sportsmanship comes naturally to me, but sometimes there are moments when a victory was so close and you miss it by just one mistake and you have to collect your emotions, put a smile on your face, and really mean it when you tell the winner congratulations.”

Humility and perspective are good things to understand early—and for Holland, becoming familiar with these attributes has made her realize what she values in life. She looks beyond the championship titles and victory passes—to the magic beneath the surface. “I love feeling so connected with another being that is not a human and achieving your goals through an animal you feel very connected with. It is a completely different type of bond, and one only few people ever get to experience.”

There is profound depth to an honest connection with a horse, a bond seldom reached, but often portrayed in movies and books as a mysterious, extraordinary entity. Every rider has “that special one,” that horse who, for whatever reason, speaks to them. Holland has found this connection with Apollos Cary Grant, affectionately called Moose. She shares, “I have had Moose for a long time and I have gotten to grow with him. He has taught me more than any other horse. He is very goofy, so he is constantly making me smile. He does this weird thing after he eats or drinks anything where he sucks on his tongue and sticks it out. It’s quite strange, but never fails to make me smile.” 

Outside of the horse world, Holland lives a colorful, interesting life inspired by her travels, her love for learning, and her connection to nature through hiking and exploration. This is important to her—to live a life of variation and adventure—letting one part of her person inform the other, finding connections with herself, other people, and animals, and allowing them to impact her worldview. Holland cherishes her sundry experiences as a young person, realizing the profundity in these opportunities. “I love to travel and I am very fortunate to be able to do it often. It has influenced the way in which I see the world and appreciate the various perspectives of people. Although I love travel, home is very important to me too. I am from LA and I grew up there, but I spent the last four years going to school in Sun Valley, Idaho.”

And perhaps the most fitting home is the one Holland finds in the Arabian horse community. Here, she has discovered profound friendships. “Everyone in the community is there for one reason, which allows people from different backgrounds to meet and share a common thought. I love the friendships I have, because I would probably never know most of the people if it wasn’t for horses.”

2017 will mark Holland’s final year of competing at Youth Nationals. In the fall, she will be attending the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where she is thinking to study Business Finance, International Relations with a continuation in Mandarin. On June 4th, Holland graduated from Community School in Sun Valley, Idaho, with the highest of academic performance, receiving honors in all of her classes—Astrophysics, Islamic Fundamentalism, Probability and Statistics, Calculus, and Mandarin. Holland also traveled to China this past spring for her studies and research work for her senior project involving Chinese culture, and to practice her 7 years of Mandarin study.

Beyond her academic future, Holland Stevens sets out to live a life alongside her horses.  Even with the incredible success she has enjoyed in the show ring, her favorite days spent with the horse are the simple ones. “My ideal days with my horses are the days I spend at my farm in Sun Valley. I just wander around the property bareback and there is no stress about training or what is going on in the show world. It is relaxed and perfect.”