Lillie Keenan Secures Another Major Equitation Victory with 6th Annual George Morris Excellence in Equitation Championship

RELEASE: March 23, 2013
AUTHOR/ADMINISTRATOR: Laura Cardon for Jennifer Wood Media, Inc.

Lillie Keenan and Clearway (Sportfot)
Lillie Keenan and Clearway (Sportfot)
Wellington, FL
- Fifteen-year-old Lillie Keenan rode to victory in the 6th Annual George Morris Excellence in Equitation Championship, presented by Alessandro Albanese, during week eleven of the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival (FTI WEF). Keenan, of New York City, piloted Heritage Farms' Clearway to a score of 89 during round one before upping the ante in round two with an astounding 98.5. Keenan was in second with a total score of 187.5 going into the final four test, when she rode Megan MacPherson's mount, Meridian Partners' Great Expectations, to a blue ribbon finish.

MacPherson and Great Expectations were in first place going into the final four, with scores of 95.5 and 94 for a total score of 189.5. Gabrielle Bausano and San Remo VDL, owned by Elizabeth Benson, were third to Keenan after having a lower score from the tie-breaking panel of judges. Bausano earned scores of 92.5 and 95 for a total of 187.5. Michael Hughes rounded out the top four with scores of 92 and 94.5 for a total of 186.5 aboard Drumnacross Farm's Zagreb.

MacPherson ultimately finished fourth after having a rail in the final test with Keenan's mount, Clearway. Bausano finished third as she ran into trouble holding a counter canter aboard Hughes' horse, Zagreb. Hughes piloted San Remo VDL to a second place finish. Keenan secured victory aboard Great Expectations, which was also recognized as the Best Equitation Horse and the Best Turned Out Horse for the evening.

Scores for the first two rounds were calculated by two panels of judges plus an additional schooling judge score for riders' preparation. Olympian Reed Kessler presided over the schooling ring and scored riders from zero to six after each round of schooling. Kessler's scores were based on timeliness, efficiency and any questionable practices or procedures by riders in the schooling arena. Riders were required to warm up and walk the course without the usual safety net of their trainers.

The 2013 judges panel was personally chosen by George Morris, who served on panel two alongside Jeffery Welles and Alex Jayne. Panel one comprised Cynthia Hankins, Anne Kursinski, and Jimmy Torano. Morris also consulted with course designer Richard Jeffery to put forth two challenging tracks for the field of twenty-nine young riders.

The original twenty-nine competitors were cut to twelve after the first round of competition. Riders were then asked to perform several tests within their second course, including a trot fence, counter cantering a fence and both flying and simple lead changes. The top four were then required to swap horses and repeat the second course and test for their final examination.

Morris described the swap as the "supreme test" of equitation and was pleased with Keenan's performance, as well as all of the evening's competitors. "She is a very finished rider. She's a very beautiful rider. She has great poise. Those top four, even past that, they were all excellent," Morris commented.

Morris emphasized the importance of showmanship in this type of class, commenting that his one criticism would be riders showing a lack of brilliance in their choices on course. "Any competition-jumper, hunter, equitation-what separates the top is brilliance. That is turns, that is pace, that is distances where you can do something a little bit faster or a little bit sharper than the other guys," Morris described.

Keenan admitted to not taking many risks in her first round, but was fully aware that she needed to step up her riding to make an impression. "Going into the second round, I wasn't leading and I wasn't in the top four, so I really knew I was going to have to take some risks. I tried to be a little bit fancy and show the gallop where I could. I knew my horse was totally prepared because [trainer Andre Dignelli] rode him this morning," Keenan explained.

Despite Dignelli's absence in the schooling arena, Keenan was perfectly confident preparing for the class on her own. Keenan was quick to credit Heritage Farm's extremely thorough schooling for all of their riders.

"For me, and for everyone at Heritage, going into the ring we are so prepared. I don't think they could have asked us to do anything we hadn't already done or known our horses were willing to do. That is such a wonderful feeling, to know that as long as you pull it together, your horse is ready for it, and you've practiced everything. It really gives all of us at Heritage an edge," Keenan explained.

Keenan was elated to take home another big equitation victory at the FTI WEF. Two weeks ago, she won the Sam Edelman Equitation Championship with another Heritage mount, Levistano 2. "It's definitely exciting. I couldn't have imagined this, coming to Florida, thinking I could win both. I had two great horses in both events. It just worked out," Keenan described.

Clearway, an eight-year-old Warmblood gelding, proved to be an equally successful partner for Keenan, who has shown him in equitation classes throughout the FTI WEF. "For him, the test is almost better because then I have a place to show off and I don't have to worry about him getting confused. I'm really the only person that's been showing him in the equitation, other than when he first started and Michael Murphy showed him, so I know the horse very well. I knew I could trust him and just try to show off," Keenan stated.

Dignelli acquired Clearway at the beginning of last year and described the gelding as one of his best equitation horses. "I've [been] doing this for twenty-five years. He's as good or better than any other horse that I've had. He has a softness, a rhythm, an athleticism, a presence," Dignelli described.

Keenan was just as well-matched with Great Expectations, the twelve-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding she rode in the final test. "I've had a lot of luck switching horses and I got a lovely horse tonight. I've watched him a bunch with her. I love the horse, and we matched well. It can be nerve-wracking not being able to do anything before you head to the first fence. I'd say after the first line I got a feel of the horse and it was a lot of fun," Keenan described.

The Excellence in Equitation Championship is just another of Keenan's long string of victories spanning the hunter, jumper, and equitation rings, but Dignelli never had a doubt his star pupil would have such a successful 2013 campaign in Florida.

"This was the plan, for her to win both classes. The fact that that has happened is so awesome. Her family has provided two of the best equitation horses in the country for her, so that we could fulfill these sort of dreams. It's magical when that happens," Dignelli commented.

"Lillie has it all," Dignelli continued. "Lillie has the ability; she's got the family support. She's got the brains for it, she has the work ethic. And she's got the look. She will go as far as she would like to take this."

Final Results: George Morris Excellence in Equitation Championship
1. Lillie Keenan and Clearway
2. Michael Hughes and Zagreb
3. Gabrielle Bausano and San Remo VDL
4. Megan MacPherson and Great Expectations
5. Charlotte Jacobs and Stallone VDL
6. Sydney Shulman and Eli
7. Lauren Tyree and Coco Pop
8. Victoria Colvin and VIP Z
9. Emma Schauder and SS Whisper
10. Caitlin Boyle and Loredo
11. Ali Trischler and Krunch
12. Spencer Smith and S&L Technicolor