Young New York rider Lillie Keenan has won the 2013 Maclay National Finals, capping off a stellar year.
Keenan, 17, was crowned champion after three rounds of competition against 147 other riders at the Alltech National Horse Show in Kentucky earlier this month.
The challenging track was designed by judges Robert Ridland and Susan Humes, as well as Bobby Murphy. Precise lines were used to make riders showcase adjustability and style over gates, fan jumps, combinations and walls. At the end of the opening course, the judges invited the top 30 riders to return and showcase their skills in the flat phase.
Riders had to complete an extensive test on the flat, where they worked their mounts at the walk, trot and canter. They had to show collection and extension, as well as perform the counter canter and sitting trot. The judges also requested that the riders perform half-passes at the trot and canter throughout different patterns.
“I have to give my wife, Hillary, credit for shoving Debbie McDonald’s book in my face on the plane, which is how the half-pass ended up on the test,” Ridland said.
“When we boil things down to basics, controlling the horse, the forward movement, the extension, lengthening and shortening the strides – all the tests that we asked on the course were basically that. There were adjustments, extensions, collections on course, and of course directional accuracy was a test that we wanted to reward. The number one thing we were trying to test was that-basically being able to control your horse, forward and back, with lateral movements.”
After the three sections were complete, the top 20 riders were invited back for a final test with the best test of the day came at the very end from Keenan and Clearway, owned by Heritage Farm. Keenan’s flawless style gave her the lead going into the test, and the talented young rider was not about to let it slide through her fingers. She landed the counter canter and made it smoothly through each of the combinations, demonstrating everything the judges were looking for: style, accuracy and effectiveness. After she left the ring, there was no question that she was the winner, adding another championship title to her resume to conclude a stellar year.
It began with the 2013 North American Junior and Young Rider Championships Show Jumping Gold Medal, followed by her first grand prix victory at HITS-on-the-Hudson and a win in the USEF Junior Jumper Individual Championship.
Just a few short weeks ago, she won her second big equitation championship, the Pessoa/USEF Hunter Seat Medal.
Ten years ago, Keenan began riding with Andre Dignelli and the team at Heritage Farm, and it is a partnership that has flourished over time. “Conrad Homfeld started this relationship, and this show is a full circle moment for us,” said Dignelli.
“He was designing the courses, and Lillie was showing here in the open jumpers, so it was a magical moment. We would be remiss in not thanking Lillie’s mother. Nobody has been more supportive of this whole experience than Pam Keenan. She rode; she understood what this was all about. They gave up every vacation; they were at every show. They just spend more hours at Heritage than anyone ever has in 25 years of my training.”
The ASPCA Maclay Horsemanship class has been held since 1933, and it is one of the most prestigious competitions for junior riders in the United States. Its winners are some of the biggest names in equestrian sport. Previous winners include: William Steinkraus in 1941, Frank Chapot (1948), George Morris (1952), Leslie Burr Howard (1972), Stacia Klein Madden (1987) and Nicole Shahinian Simpson (1992). The 2011 ASPCA Maclay National Championship winner was Sarah Milliren of Sapulpa, OK, and in 2012 Jacob Pope of Columbia, MA, won the title.