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In Their Own Words: Four LRK3DE First-Timers

Four U.S. equestrians are competing for the first time at the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by Mars Equestrian, and all have connections to USEF programs that they say have contributed to their development and that of their horses.

by Glenye Cain Oakford | Apr 25, 2019, 3:01 PM EST

Hallie Coon on Celien

Hometown: Brunswick, Maine

Hallie Coon and Celien
Photo: Libby Law Photography

Recent history together: Celien and Coon, a member of US Equestrian’s 2019 Developing Potential Training List and a 2018 United States Equestrian Team Foundation Karen Stives Endowment Fund Grant recipient, finished third at the Cloud 11~Gavilan North LLC Carolina International CCI4*-S event in March. They also were part of the inaugural USEF/USET Foundation North American Futures Team Challenge at Carolina International.

Fun fact: Coon bought Celien, then just five, after seeing her on a YouTube video. She brought her along from the novice level to advanced in two years.

In her own words: “I’m looking forward to finally making it into that arena. I’ve entered a couple of times with the first horse I produced to that level and never quite made it there due to bad luck here and there. I’m really looking forward to hopefully being able to go there and lay down a competitive performance. My partnership with this mare is really, really strong. We know each other inside and out, and I think we can maybe pose a threat.

“I’m looking forward to the cross-country. I think Celien’s fitness is elevated, and she’s feeling incredible. But I have to say I’m really looking forward to the dressage. I’m not dreading the show jumping, either!

“I’m looking forward to the dressage because she’s incredibly intelligent, she knows exactly how to handle herself, and she loves a good atmosphere. I think being in that stadium will really help her, even give her a boost in confidence, and she’ll be able to show off a little bit. I know that if I ride the way I should ride, she’s going to respond. So, when it comes down to it, it’s really all on me. And I like that.

“Being on the 2019 Developing Potential Training List has been huge for me. It started with my getting the Karen Stives grant last year, which gave me the ability to go over to Europe and prove my worth and get that experience, and that was huge for me as a rider. … At [2018 Pau CCI5* in France] I really got to mesh with the program over there and be around all these top riders and horses and understand the level of competition and the standards over there. That really brought me on, and I understand the level I need to be at.

“Then, as a result of that, being placed on the Developing Potential List elevated me to a new level of performance, and I hope I can continue that momentum. It’s absolutely been a big part of my development to be able to work with [USEF Eventing Emerging Athlete and Development Potential Coach] Leslie Law and [U.S. Eventing Director of High Performance] Erik Duvander, and being at the core of the program has been huge.

“The exposure has been great, for sponsors and owners and all that. But having access to Erik, Leslie, [Managing Director of Eventing] Joanie Morris, and those people really changes the game. They give you all the tools you need to succeed—all the mentors and advice. You’re never short on support, help, or communication. The level of support and training is unparalleled. For example, [USEF human performance biomechanics analyst] Andy Thomas has made a huge difference by giving us exercises to absolutely maximize our riding potential. Things like that have been amazing and really help improve everything about our performances.”

About Celien: “[Buying a horse off a video] is not a normal thing for me, but my gut said I just had to have her. When I first saw her on the video, obviously she was an attractive horse to look at and a good jumper, but her enthusiasm for the job really showed on that video—that’s the main thing that drew me to her. Her tail was going, and it was obviously in a very positive way, not in an irritated way, and she just looked like she was really having fun. Amazingly, it’s really shown through that that is the case. She has so much enthusiasm for everything she does.

“She’s an amazing horse. She’s incredibly sweet, but she’s a bit like a cat: she wants attention when she wants it, and when she doesn’t, she’s done with you. She’s very much a one-person horse, and she’s become very much attached to me over the years. She’s very sweet, but she’s also very insistent, so if she needs something she’s going to tell you! If she has a stone in one of her feet, she’ll pick that foot up and show you and tell you that she needs it out. She’s incredibly smart and in tune with you, so it’s wonderful to be around. The intelligence in this horse is unlike any horse I’ve ever been around.”

 

Matthew Flynn on Wizzerd

Hometown: Potomac, Md.

Matthew Flynn and Wizzerd
Photo: Shannon Brinkman Photo

Recent history together: In March, they finished second in the advanced division at the Cloud 11~Gavilan North LLC Carolina International CCI and Horse Trials. Last year, their results included a 13th-place finish at The Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International Horse Trials. In 2016, Flynn and Wizzerd captured the USEF Young Horse Eventing National Championship at The Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International Horse Trials.

Fun fact: Wizzerd’s owners include Tyler Abell, who served as chief of protocol for President Lyndon B. Johnson, and Abell’s wife, Bess, who was assistant to First Lady Lady Bird Johnson and was the White House social secretary. The Abells met at a running of the Kentucky Derby in the 1950s.

In his own words: “I’m looking forward to hopefully being able to compete at such a prestigious event. The [USEF Young Horse Eventing National Championship] seven-year-old finals were a goal in our plan for Wizzerd after selecting him in Europe as a five-year-old. It was an exciting result.”

About Wizzerd: “Wizzerd makes friends with everyone he meets. He has been a gift to our program, and I am forever grateful to him, Tyler and Bess Abell, and my family for where we are and where we hope to go.”

 

Ariel Grald on Leamore Master Plan

Hometown: Southern Pines, N.C.

Recent history together: Grald currently is a member of US Equestrian’s 2019 Developing Potential Training List and previously was named to the USEF’s Emerging Athlete Eventing 25. On Leamore Master Plan (known in the barn as Simon), she also participated in the first USEF/USET Foundation North American Futures Team Challenge at the Cloud 11~Gavilan North LLC Carolina International CCI4*-S event earlier this spring, where they finished 13th overall.

Ariel Grald and Leamore Master Plan
Photo: USEA/Jessica Duffy

Fun fact: Grald began eventing at age eight, and her first eventing pony was a Welsh/Quarter Horse cross named Pinocchio, who now is Leamore Master Plan’s turnout companion. Grald got Pinocchio as a Christmas present when she was four. “My mother hid him from me for several days, so I had no idea,” said Grald. “I came out to the barn on Christmas morning, and there he was with a big red bow around his neck.”

In her own words: “Even to have gotten this far and be entered at Kentucky is pretty exciting! I grew up watching the Kentucky Three-Day Event as a kid and went a couple of times to watch when I was young, so it’s always been a dream of mine to go. Watching it as a kid, I remember the jumps looked so big, and I loved watching the horses galloping—the horses were having a good time, and the riders were having a good time. I really admired their endurance and athleticism on cross-country. I’m just looking forward to being there and getting the job done.

“I was on the Eventing 25 list a few years ago, which was a huge opportunity for me. That was my first introduction to eventing high performance. … Being named to the developing riders list was a really exciting honor. I’ve learned so much being exposed to the competitiveness and the culture of the U.S. team and what the high performance lists mean. It’s inspiring and exciting.

“Most recently, I was in the Team Challenge at Carolina International, and [U.S. Eventing Director of High Performance] Erik Duvander spoke a lot about team culture and the drive to be competitive, how to work with other people, and how to function within that system to support each other.

“Having the support from the vets, the physios, the body-workers, and the trainers was really helpful. I operate my own program on a very detailed level, but being able to talk through all of those things with Erik and [USEF Eventing Emerging Athlete and Development Potential Coach] Leslie Law is great. Being very detail-oriented about the vet work and your fitness program and having someone to bounce those ideas off of and get support behind that was really important.

“As individual competitors, we all have our own farriers and trainers, etc., at home. But you enter the team environment and you have all the team people behind you. You need to be a good communicator and work with them, because everyone is here to support the U.S. team—it’s about more than just the individual at that point. A support system is really crucial to success in any sport, and that starts with building from the ground up with all those team members.

“It’s really about the fine-tuning, and that’s a big thing Erik talks about. It’s not just about going and doing the job; it’s about being precise and knowing every little detail about your horse so that you can produce the best ride in any phase. It’s riding details, care-of-the-horse details, and being able to communicate all of those things to team members and coaches. You’re not just doing this on your own for yourself.”

About Leamore Master Plan: “My horse is a good galloper and a good jumper, and he’s very brave, so the cross-country is probably our favorite phase. I’m very lucky that Annie Eldridge bought him for me. We got him from Ireland almost five years ago, when he was five years old. He was a totally green young horse. We brought him over here, and I’ve developed him along from the start.

“He’s definitely a cheeky Irish horse! He’s by Master Imp, and he lives up to his sire’s reputation—there’s always been a lot of antics and enthusiasm under saddle! As a young horse, he’d buck in the dressage test, and he still bucks and leaps and there’s a lot of squealing when he’s excited. He’s just a goofy character. He loves to be turned out, loves to be ridden, loves entertainment.

“But he’s also very sweet and gentle. He’s a big, strong horse, but in the stall he just wants to cuddle and snuggle with you. I have a joke with my groom, Meredith Ferraris, that the more he snuggles with her when she’s tacking him up, the worse he’s going to be when I ride him as far as his energy level and what sort of trouble he wants to get into!

“He gets a lot of attention and we all love him to pieces.”

 

Chris Talley on Unmarked Bills

Hometown: Honey Brook, Pa.

Recent history together: This spring, Talley and 10-year-old Unmarked Bills, known as “Billy,” finished fourth in the advanced intermediate division at the Pine Top Intermediate Horse Trials. Last year’s performances included a seventh in The Event at Rebecca Farm’s CCI3* and an eighth in Fair Hill International April Horse Trials CIC3*. Talley also participated in the USEF Emerging Athlete Eventing 25 Program in 2018. In 2016, Talley and Unmarked Bills were reserve champions in the USEF Young Horse Eventing National Championship at The Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International. Earlier this year, Talley took part in the inaugural USEF/USET Foundation North American Futures Team Challenge at the Cloud 11~Gavilan North LLC Carolina International CCI4*-S.

Chris Talley and Unmarked Bills
Photo: Taylor Pence/US Equestrian

Talley and business partner Hannah Salazar, who also is his dressage coach, operate Zaragoza Acres in Jeffersonton, Va.

Fun fact: As a racehorse, the Thoroughbred Unmarked Bills set a course record at The Meadowlands about two weeks before retiring from racing in 2014. Two years later, he was competing at the advanced level in eventing.

In his own words: “Mostly, I’m excited to run the cross-country. We’ve all put in so much just to get there, so even just pulling into the main gate at the Kentucky Horse Park and taking in the whole weekend will be amazing. I’ve only ever been to Kentucky once as a groom, and all the jumps looked pretty spectacular, but jumping into the Head of the Lake and coming out the other side will be quite exciting.

“The Emerging Athlete program was a great experience with a lot of camaraderie. … There’s a lot of excitement around it. For me, it was also a great way to put my name on the map. There are so many good riders in that age bracket who are applying for it, so even to be selected was special. Being able to work with the team coaches, watching [U.S. Eventing Director of High Performance] Erik Duvander give lessons to the high-performance riders, working with [USEF Eventing Emerging Athlete and Development Potential Coach] Leslie Law—it’s so rewarding.

“Getting the reserve championship at the USEF Young Horse Eventing National Championship is still one of the most special moments in my career with Billy. He was a horse that was pretty tricky, and not everyone stood behind him, because he’s not the best showjumper, and he’s not the best in dressage, but he’s always been such a great cross-country horse. The Young Horse reserve championship just solidified what I believed in him. He was seven, but he had so much heart, and I’d always believed he was a special horse. Having that acknowledged gave me that extra push to keep going with him.”

About Unmarked Bills: “He struggles with tension, especially in the dressage and stadium phases. He’s quite a good mover and quite a good jumper, but tension can overtake him in big atmospheres, so we’ve really been working on keeping him relaxed.

“He’s so bold on cross-country, and even early on if I wasn’t quite ready for a jump or I made a mistake, he was always right there to pick me up and get to the other side. He’s that kind of horse: he gets a little bigger, like ‘We got this.’”

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