Lauren Hunkin marches to the beat of her own drum. She always has.
One of three daughters of a prominent banker, Lauren eschewed heels for horses. While her sisters pursued professional fields—one is a veterinarian, the other an accountant—she followed the nomadic life of an equestrian athlete. Growing up, her summer holidays were spent chasing ribbons on the Ontario/Quebec “A” circuit. In the winter, she migrated to the highly competitive Florida show circuit.
Despite an early start and intuitive feel for horses, Lauren was a late bloomer in the show ring. Ironically, it wasn’t until she reached the Grand Prix level that she really hit her stride. Her transition from successful amateur to up-and-coming professional has been nothing short of spectacular. In two short years, she’s built a thriving business and established herself as a staple on the short-list of the Canadian Team. But even in the equestrian field she’s a bit of renegade. At the top level of the sport, her laidback style is the exception, not the rule.
Lauren’s equestrian career began at a small riding school outside New York City. At seven, the Hunkin family moved to the equestrian hub of Schomberg, Ontario and Lauren started competing locally on the Trillium and “A” circuits. When Canadian Olympian Jay Hayes moved into the farm next door, her began training in earnest. Under the tutelage of the close-knit Hayes family, Lauren graduated from riding Harvey Wallbanger in the Medium Pony hunters to competing in the High Junior/Amateur jumpers. Her years with the Hayes laid the foundation for her riding career.
At 24, Lauren made the second most important move of her career when she relocated to Perth, Ontario to train full-time at Millar Brooke Stables, home of Canadian show jumping legend Ian Millar. It was there she learned the skills to succeed in the business of show jumping. Making her debut on the Grand Prix circuit in 2005 with Air of Gold, Lauren quickly established herself as a contender in the National Kubota Cup series. In her rookie season, she finished fifth overall in the Eastern Conference and the following year nearly took the title riding Dutch-bred gelding Orleans. Seasoned professional John Pearce narrowly edged Lauren out of the top spot. She finished second overall.
In 2007 came the turning point. Lauren found the equine partner that would take her career to the next level in the Oldenburg gelding Larry 0146. The two formed an instant partnership, accumulating several top 10 finishes throughout the year. But again, victory was just out of reach. The end of summer saw a nail-biting jump off between Lauren and one of her mentors, Amy Millar, for the $75,000 FEI World Cup Qualifier at Halton Place, Ontario. A few tenths of a second—and one stride – separated her from first place. In 2008, the years of hard work finally paid off when Lauren and Larry 0146 captured the Grand Prix at the Beaulieu’s Summer Classic I Horse Show. A week later, they led the victory gallop again. Lauren was named Cavalor’s “Athlete of the Month” (June 2008) by Equine Canada for the back-to-back wins and signed a sponsorship contract with Omega Alpha.
Lauren entered the professional ranks in the winter of 2008. With partner Mark Struthers and four horses, she established Synergy Farm at a rented 10-stall barn in Florida. She quickly doubled her string competing on the Ocala circuit.
Returning to Canada in spring of 2009, they leased a stable in Kemptville, Ontario, picking up sales clients, students, and a new sponsor—Performance Horse and Rider—over the summer. That same year, Lauren was “short listed” by Jump Canada and finished second in the $100,000 World Cup qualifier at Halton Place for the second year in a row.
With the New Year came a new string of successes. Second in the Grand Prix at Pépinière and first in the Grand Prix at St. Lazare, she was again named Cavalor’s “Athlete of the Month” in May 2010. One month later, she and Larry 0146 captured the Grand Prix Jumping du Quebec and the FEI Open Welcome in Blainville before scoring a career best with a first place finish in the $90,000 World Cup Qualifier in Palgrave, Ontario in August.
These impressive results earned Lauren a well-deserved spot on the Canadian Equestrian Team. In November, she donned the red coat for the first time in Buenos Aires, Argentina, helping to secure the Silver Medal in the Nations Cup.
Modeled after the Millar Brook system, Lauren’s teaching program emphasizes sound fundamentals, progressive development, and good horsemanship.
Since September 2009, Lauren has coached the University of Ottawa Equestrian Team. In two years, the Team has grown from 12 members to more than 40 riders and two show teams, competing in the highly competitive Intercollegiate Horse Show Association (IHSA) and Ontario University Equestrian Association (OUEA) leagues.
A supporter of aspiring talent, Synergy Farm also offers lease opportunities to uOttawa members for the summer “A” Circuit season and a comprehensive working student program. Synergy is currently home to 23 horses, including several retired Grand Prix horses—Air of Gold, Class Action, and Cabrio. Leased within the barn, these elite schoolmasters give Lauren’s students the unique opportunity to compete and learn on veteran competitors.
Lauren’s short-term focus is on developing her young Grand Prix prospects and her coaching business. In June 2012, Synergy Farm & Forge relocated to a new home in Ashton, Ontario bringing Lauren and the business closer to Ottawa and her growing clientele. She and Mark currently divide their time between Synergy Farm and Synergy South in Ocala, Florida.
Mark’s passion for horses goes way back, starting with riding lessons at the age of 10 and showing horses on the “A” circuit in London, Ontario at a time when there weren’t many guys in the ring. That passion for horses, and his fascination with the mechanics of their movement, led him to a career as a farrier, graduating with a 98% average from the Maryland Horseshoeing School in 2003. Returning to Canada, this time to Ottawa, Mark spent time further honing his craft with top local farriers and building a business specializing in performance horses and therapeutic shoeing, including shoeing horses for the RCMP Musical Ride. Keeping current on new techniques and developments in horse podiatry is an important aspect of farrier work, and Mark is always striving to improve his work by attending several clinics and conventions each year. In partnership with Lauren, Mark has worked hard to build the business at Synergy Farm & Forge taking on a variety of roles in operations, logistics, teaching and coaching. Mark can often be found in the warm-up ring providing encouragement and calming last minute nerves. He also continues to train and show his horses in both the Hunters and Jumpers at Ontario and Quebec Gold Level shows. His positive attitude, engaging manner and love for all things equestrian make him a valuable asset to the business.
“We’re a team and we each provide a unique perspective. It’s how we train and how we compete. It’s the way we treat our clients and operate our business. And, it’s how we succeed.”
— Mark Struthers –