No one in his family had been bitten by the riding bug – both his parents are teachers – but when Kevin Holowack’s affinity for the horse began, it was something he could not shake.
And when he attended university for architecture, it seemed only fitting to him that building – as in jumping courses – would be the path most suited to his desires.
Meet Kevin Holowack, course designer, trainer, rider and all-around barn guy.
“I decided after I graduated that I wanted to come back to horses and just stay in horses,” the 31-year-old originally from Waterloo, Ontario, explained. “So I always rode, I always trained and I still do. It’s a tough balance with designing, but for sure my first passion is sitting on a horse, being in a barn, and just spending time with horses.”
His initiation into the sport began when he worked for Augustin Walsh at W. Charlot Farms, as well as at Mill Creek Stables. From there he’s roamed the world, always striving to improve his skills.
“I spent a lot of time apprenticing,” said Holowack, who is going on six years designing and is a Level II. “My background in architecture helped, my background in riding helped, showing hunters and jumpers. But I also looked at this as education. So I flew down to Bogota, Colombia, to do the Colombian championships as the assistant designer. I’ve flown to Europe, to Kentucky, all over. I was supposed to be on the build team for the World Cup Finals in Vegas last year, but had the big shutdown.
“I think I’ve progressed quickly, because I don’t see it as a paycheque. Don’t get me wrong; everyone needs a paycheque. But for me there’s also getting better at the craft that we do and with that it’s learning from the best people. I’ve spent a lot of my own money travelling to assist and spending time with good designers.”
Holowack, who owns the Global Sport Horses training stable and sales barn, moved to Vancouver six years ago and now lives five minutes away from Thunderbird Show Park, a Canadian riding institution.
“It’s a great management group there,” he noted. “They run a great horse show. And I swear that’s not a sales plug! I try to help them out any way I can. For me being able to do hunters and jumpers, they can move you around.”
He has yet to personally build any FEI classes, but has done national grand prix. He has the former in his sights, though.
“I was competitive as a rider,” he explained. “That same drive crosses over. You always want to design bigger horse shows and bigger classes. At the end of the day, if all goes well, it would be amazing to either be on a build team and/or the designer for those big events. I have a lot of fun doing the big hunters as well, so I am aspiring to build the Maclays one day.
“Megan Rawlings and I were supposed to build the junior hunter finals in Devon last year before Covid hit and those things are really exciting for me. So as much as I think I aspire to be the course designers like the Alan Wades and the Level IVs that do the Olympics, there’s also a passion for me for doing hunters and equitation.”
Relatively new to the industry, Holowack has a line-up of designers he hopes to emulate.
“I’ve worked a lot under Bernardo Costa Cabral, the Portuguese course designer,” Holowack said. “I think his way of working and the way he sees courses and the way he designs, he has a style and yet he has so many styles he can pull from, which I find fascinating from an architectural design point of view.
“Guilherme Jorge, who did Brazil Olympics, is just classical; same with Alan Wade, both phenomenal designers. Locally no one would ever question a guy like Peter Holmes. He’s always willing to take the time to help; that comes down to being a human being. Peter Holmes is just an incredible human. And as a designer, he’s quite brilliant. You watch him do the Nations Cup at Thunderbird and he pulls it off like the best of them.”
This season is chock-full for Holowack. He’s already been down to Thermal, California, and later this month he heads to Wellington, Florida, before hitting New York, Chicago, El Paso, San Diego, Virginia …
“I’m going to do a big U.S. run this year. I have a working visa that allows me to do that. It’s essentially turned into a full-time job, which I don’t know if I really wanted or expected.
His idea of the perfect balance? “I still think I would love to settle back into maybe course designing half the time and riding half the time. I didn’t think as a rider I realized the creativeness and the mental strain that designers are under on a weekly basis to produce results.”
The proverbial stable rat, Holowack can be seen at a horse show teaching, prepping horses for grand prix riders and just being an extra hand for whoever needs one. How about designing a course and then riding it?
“I’m pretty sure,” he chuckled, “there’s a rule against that.”