HILLSBURGH – It wasn’t the result she hoped for, but Holly Jacks and her British sport horse, Candy King did their country and community proud last weekend (Sept. 14 to 17), competing in the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) World Championships Eventing in Pratoni del Vivaro, Italy as members of the Canadian Eventing Team.
Team Canada ended the competition in 12th place, with Germany taking the lead position, and the United States and New Zealand rounding out the top three.
Canada needed to make the top eight to secure a spot in the Summer Olympics in 2024.
Yet, Jacks is grateful to have competed.
“The experience itself was amazing, to have such great teammates. We ended up having to work really hard together to get a team finish,” Jacks said.
Jacks was proud to be a member of the Canadian Eventing Team, which includes Hawley Awad and JollyBo, Karl Slezak and Fernhill Wishes, and Michael Winter and El Mundo. Dana Cooke was an individual competitor with Fe Mississippi.
“The support crew we had around was the best support crew I believe Canada has ever had,” she said.
Making the team was a dream come true, years in the making, and yet just the beginning of what the 36-year-old competitor hoped would be a significant experience not only for her career, but for that of her 12-year-old ride, Candy King.
“It’s been a lot of years of work, and I think that this is a really great horse for now, but also a really great horse for the future. And so, I think this will be a great experience,” Jacks said.
Candy King did not disappoint and Jacks is proud of her horse.
“I think he was fabulous,” she said.
“It was unfortunate that I couldn’t take the original routes that I wanted on cross country. But I think that at the end of the day, they needed me to ride as a teammate,” Jacks explained.
“And I think that coming home with no jump penalties was what needed to be done on the day and I’m really proud of my horse for stepping up to do that for Canada.”
Sending a Canadian team to Italy almost didn’t happen.
“Three months ago, there was not enough money to send a World Championship team to Italy,” Jacks said.
She credits Canada’s new High Performance Advisory Group (HPAG) of volunteers for raising $250,000 for the team to fund the trip to Europe.
“Eventing in Canada was in a challenging place 12 months ago and this amazing group of volunteers has done an incredible job pulling together a program for us,” said Jacks.
“I can’t thank the HPAG and our donors enough. We aspire to make this a world-class program and coming up with the funds to send a full team to the World Championships is a fabulous start. This group of volunteers has an amazing vision for our team and country.”
That momentum she hopes will inspire not only more investment in the sport, but show young riders there is a future in it.
“Your dreams have to start somewhere, right?,” she said.
“As a kid, seeing people going to the World Championships lets the kids be able to dream and try to get there too.”
Growing up in British Columbia, Jacks said she knew her future was with horses.
“I don’t remember ever wanting to do anything else,” she said. “The thought of being a team rider was always a dream.”
To earn her living with horses, Jacks has done “a little bit of everything,” from leading trails to galloping horses at Woodbine racetrack, riding for professional riders, teaching lessons, all before starting her own equine business.
“I think where I was lucky is that I really enjoyed the process of training horses, and I was blessed with the opportunity in 2015 to ride on my first Nation’s Cup team with a horse I produced,” Jacks said.
“It’s been a long road filled with real big highs and real big lows.”
Jacks and her veteran partner, More Inspiration, previously enjoyed success competing on two Nation Cup teams. They were long-listed for the 2015 Pan American Games and short-listed for the 2016 Olympic Games.
In 2020, Jacks qualified both More Inspiration and Candy King for the 2020 Olympics but had to retire the veteran due to a detected heart murmur.
Candy King, a 2010 gelding by Granfenstoltz out of Eye Candy, was imported as a six-year-old. Jacks has trained him to impressive results, including a win at the 2021 Bromont International CCI 2*. Highlights of 2022 include finishing 8th in the Advanced at Rocking Horse, 9th in the Red Hills International CCI4-S, and 8th in the Tryon International Spring CCI4-L.
“He’s actually quite a spooky horse, and probably wouldn’t be what people would think of as an upper-level event horse. But we built an amazing relationship over the last six years, and he is an absolute competitor and will jump anything put in front of him,” Jacks said, remarking that the last two years he has shown his capabilities.
“He doesn’t get tired.”
Jack’s dressage coach is no stranger to the pressure of competitive circuit. Tom Dvorak, owner of Friday Hill at Gilbrea Stables in Hillsburgh, is one of Canada’s top international dressage riders, developing horses through to Grand Prix, and representing Canada at the Pan America Games, World Cups and World Championships.
Dvorak made the trip to Italy to support Jacks.
“I’m really excited. This is a big moment for the two of us. We’ve been working together for eight or nine years,” Dvorak said. “She’s a very, very talented rider and she takes it very seriously. I’m really excited to be there with her for this big moment as her coach and friend.”
Dvorak is as impressed with his rider as he is with Candy King.
“From the dressage aspect of it, he is a nice moving horse. He has three really nice gaits. He is very athletic, very willing,” Dvorak said. “I think Holly and him click well together at every level; every new level they reach, they excel at it. So here we are, we’re going to the World Championship and he’s still pretty young in his career at this high level.”
Dvorak notes the relationship between Jacks and her horse is paramount.
“Eventing is a very intense sport. You’re really putting yourself on the line,” Dvorak said of the three-day competition.
“The horse has to be able to settle down and be relaxed with dressage and be that obedient, one with the rider, but then turn around and do the cross-country the next day,” he said.
“It takes a special horse to go through all three phases, three days in a row. It’s phenomenal. They are special horses, there’s no doubt about that.”
Dvorak’s believes Jacks’ spot on the national team is an important stepping-stone for her already successful career.
“I think there will be still great things to come,” he said. “It’s always determined by having the right horse at the right time, which this time is working out well.”
Dvorak also credits Jacks for seeking out expert coaches with championship experiences, including the legendary Buck Davidson, whose Team USA eventing career is renowned.
Competing and training at this level with these coaches requires that Jacks and Candy King winter in Ocala, Florida, where both Davidson and Dvorak, who also winters there, can work with them as they compete in the warmer climate.
“It’s a tough sport to build your career without financial help, whether that’s from sponsors or owners of horses, and so on. You really do need that as a competitor to help build your career,” Dvorak said.
To compete at this level, a horse like Candy King costs approximately $60,000 annually to maintain. International travel is not factored into that number.
Jacks accepts that this financial challenge exists in Canada but now that she has an opportunity to highlight the issue as a member of the Canadian Eventing Team, she hopes her experience will affect change in the sport.
“Canada is known for ice hockey, but we need to work hard to raise awareness of equestrian sport in order to find owners and raise funds to develop an Olympic equestrian team,” Jacks explains.
“I’ve had to sell a lot of other horses in order to develop one to the World Championship level.”
This was the impetus for Jacks to establish the Candy King Eventing Limited Partnership program.
“I decided that if I’m going to play the horse game with a lot of people who come from a little more money, that I needed to be creative to own good horses. I can’t do it without having owners,” Jacks said. “So, this was a way for the average person to be involved.”
Jacks said the ownership model is popular in Europe and the United States, but in Canada it is more of a boutique experience, because there isn’t the same volume of horses involved in the Canadian program.
“It’s truly like an investment of being part of something, so instead of somebody spending the money to be a member on a golf club, they become a member of Candy King Limited Partnership,” Jacks said.
Theses members act in an advisory capacity with shares in the future of the horse.
“They’ve bought into the horse but not in an investment capacity,” she explained.
“They’ve bought in to be a member of the next few years and kind of living the dream with us.”
This membership offers access to the world of upper-level eventing. Participants get a behind-the-scenes experience and attendance as owners to prestigious equine events, including the option to join her at future international championships.
By helping to cover the costs to maintain Candy King as a national athlete, they are part of the bigger Canadian dream.
“It’s a really fun time in Canada to start getting involved in this sport,” Jacks said, noting she currently has four owners in the Candy King syndicate and is hoping for more to come on board.
Julia Worden is one owner. A thoroughbred breeder and trainer in Ocala, Florida, she met Jacks about 16 years ago when Jacks came to work at a stable Worden was managing.
Years later, Jacks coached both Worden and her daughter for winter show season.
“Seeing how hard Holly works, I just think she’s a brilliant horse woman and so dedicated,” Worden said.
Worden notes that Jacks’ investment in her own career is equaled by her commitment to the growth of future generations in equine sport.
“Her dedication to her working students and helping bring along the next generation of riders … Holly, really puts her heart into teaching, and if they are willing and really want it, she is 100 per cent behind them, which I think is just amazing,” she said.
Investing in Jacks’ future was an easy decision.
“When she told me about syndicating Candy King, it just came along at the right time … So I was really happy to help be a part of it,” Worden said.
Worden shared in the hope for Olympic competition for Jacks and Candy King.
“He’s got the talent and so does she, so you know, that’s the dream. That’s, the goal to keep pushing towards,” she said.
The model of the Candy King Eventing Limited Partnership is something Worden thinks is of good value for other Canadian equine competitors, and she hopes others will get behind the concept.
“It’s really important. It’s such a great sport. And there are so many good riders in Canada. They just need the support to be able to go and be on the big stage with the rest of the world, because they have the talent,” Worden said. “They just need the support and the help to get there.”
Jacks admits it’s been challenging to setup the membership program.
“It was a bit of a new adventure for me, but it’s really exciting that it came together and that I’ve kept the horse on Canadian soil and ready to be part of the Canadian team,” Jacks said, proudly.
None of this would be possible without the grassroots support of her community of Erin and Hillsburgh.
That includes Dvorak’s wife Ellen and daughter Alex.
“We’re all a really close knit barn community,” Jacks said.
Another Hillsburgh neighbour, Siobhan O’Connor, hosted a fundraiser for Jacks, two weeks before her departure to Italy.
“It was a massive fundraiser and the whole community showed up,” Jacks said, expressing gratitude for the generosity of local businesses and private supporters.
“It was just something that a small-town community does where you get that feeling of support.”
On the eve of her departure, Jacks discovered her horse trailer had a shredded tire. Though it was after business hours, she called Torburgh Enterprises, an auto repair business in Hillsburgh.
“The mechanic came back to work and replaced all four tires to ensure their safety so I could hit the road at 3am,” Jacks said. “He told me, ‘I can’t send you down to the world championships with those tires.’”
Local support means the world to Jacks. After the team medals ceremony, Jacks took to her Instagram page to thank her community, coaches, sponosrs, and her support team.
“Thank you to my working students, all my students, for chipping in and letting me be away this long, running the farm. I appreciate you guys,” she said.
She acknowledged the HPAG for their incredible support for Team Canada.
“This experience is only going to make us better.”
Keeping the spotlight on equine sport investment, Jacks hopes people will support Team Canada’s efforts to compete at the Santiago 2023 Pan American Games, in a bid to qualify for the Paris Olympics. Selection of that team is yet to be determined.
The future looks bright for Jacks and Candy King, including a goal to compete at the Kentucky 5-Star in 2023.
For more information on Holly Jacks Eventing visit hollyjacksequestrian.com.