Several years ago, Animal Planet did a reality show “Horse Power: Road to the Maclay” that I became obsessed with. The journey of a group of teens from around the country trying to win the most prestigious hunt-seat equitation championship in the world was fascinating. On Sunday, Oct. 13, this year’s competitors took to the arena in Harrisburg to go after the Medal Finals at the Pennsylvania National Horse Show. While we didn’t get to follow them for months to see the obstacles they faced to be in that arena Sunday night, they undoubtedly overcame many, regardless of talent, money or training.
Lillie Keenan, who was crowned champion Sunday, admitted to the break in her confidence leading up to the Harrisburg show. Keenan is one of America’s top junior riders, and has been for many years. She made history at the 2007 USEF Pony Finals when she won all three regular pony hunter divisions. In 2008, she won five out of the six possible championships and was reserve champion in the medal. She has been in the top ten at the Maclay Finals twice.So what would shake such an accomplished rider’s trust in her horse and her own ability?
At the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals-East in New Jersey, where she was leading the competition after two rounds, Keenan’s ride, Clearway, stopped twice at a simple stone wall oxer, eliminating her.
“Horses are horses. I think it was a wake-up call that they’re not robots; they’re animals,” Keenan said, who admits she brought a backup horse with her to Harrisburg. She said that in the first round of the Medal Finals, she wasn’t riding her best. “I wasn’t trusting my horse as much as I should have and I wasn’t confident in myself. But my horse didn’t put a foot wrong all week, so I gradually began to trust him again and ride him like his old self.”
Sunday night the final six riders were put through a very difficult test over jumps, without their irons. Given to them in the arena, it was repeated three times before the first rider took to the course. Keenan’s carefully thought out ride that gave herself the time and room to do the required movements between jumps secured her the win.
Michael Hughes finished in second and Charlotte Jacobs, who had been leading the competition but was unable to complete the two lead changes required in the final test, dropped to third.