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April 6, 2010

Three Days Three Ways Interviews Tiana Coudray

Tiana Coudray and Ringwood Magister are making a name for themselves in eventing. Photo by Kat Netzler.

Hey Eventers! This is the third interview in the “Watch Your Back” series featuring fiercely talented Young Riders coming up through the ranks of eventing. Tiana Coudray, Carmel Valley, Calif., just came off a big win in the CIC*** at Galway Downs (Calif.). I talked with Tiana about winning the U.S. Eventing Association Young Rider of the Year award three times, what she has in common with Martha Stewart, competing at Rolex Kentucky, and (naturally) what it’s like to compete on the world stage of Irish dancing.

Q. What words would you use to describe eventers?

A. Well, I think they’re pretty tough, hard working and willing to put in the hours that other sports don’t require. And I think also it’s a tight community that sticks together for the most part.

Q. How would you describe yourself?

A. I am very competitive. And very motivated and driven. I do my best to temper that! I would like to think that I’m sympathetic to my horses, and that I can temper my competitive side with the best interests of the horse. That’s a juggling act that you constantly face at competitions.

Last year I was in the lead after dressage in the three-star at Bromont (Que). The horse had finished third at [the Jersey Fresh CCI***], and he was ready to go well. Saturday morning he had a minor swelling in one leg that wasn’t typical. We ultra-sounded it but couldn’t find anything. But when it came down to it I didn’t run him cross-country. By all means there was nothing wrong. It was that choice of potentially winning a three-star event or going back to California with nothing to show for it. We got home, and he was fine. I’m at peace with it and would do it again. I’d much rather have him for years to come than be a flash in the pan.

Q. Tell me about your horses.

A. My main horse is Ringwood Magister. He’s an Irish-bred that I got when he was coming 4. He’s 9 now. He’s the first horse that I brought up from a young horse, and it’s very rewarding to have him be so special and going so well. I have two other young horses that are both preliminary one-star horses, and both of them I’ve had since they were young—Legal Promise and Calibrated.

Ringwood Magister has a huge personality and is always getting into everything. He has gotten out of every stall at competitions and jumped out of the fields. He has an absolutely uncontrollable, big personality!

Legal Promise is easy-going and as lovely as they come. He’s a little teddy bear, and he thinks if you would cuddle with him for the rest of his life that would be good.

Calibrated just wants to please. He spends every waking hour trying to figure out how to be a better horse. He’s the most rewarding horse because you give him something, and he comes back and asks, “How fast and how high and how hard?”

Q. What got you into eventing?

A. I’d done quite a bit of dressage and hunter/jumpers and was perfectly horse crazy and for sure wanting to do a lot with it. I think that the excitement and adrenaline rush of three-day eventing drew me to it, and there was no turning back.

Q. Is your family involved in your riding career?

A. They’re incredibly involved, and they’re not horse people, although they’ve become quite a bit more horsey. My older brother has helped me drive out to competitions as well as my younger brother. My mom drove me to Montana for Rebecca Farm. They’re all incredibly supportive, obviously. Who wants to drive all the way across the country?! They do an unbelievable amount to help me and make it happen. They come to the events as much as they can.

Q. You’re obviously an incredible competitor since you spent 10 years before the age of 15 as an Irish dancer competing around the world and in world championships. Can you tell me a story from that experience?

A. Oh, way too many to tell! It was really pretty cool because the world championships are in Ireland every year, and we would go over into Irish Nationals and Scottish Nationals, so I got to go to Europe a couple times a year since I was about 9 years old. That was a really cool way to spend my childhood. It made it worth having to miss school and friends’ things in the evenings. Often I’d have to go to school with curlers in my hair or other mortifying things for children. It was a very unusual childhood, but it was great. The North American championships moved around so I got to travel a whole lot.

Q. How did you get into Irish Dancing?

A. We’re not Irish. Nobody in my family had anything to do with Irish Dancing! The truth of the matter is that I was in ballet since I was 4, and it was altogether too boring. My younger childhood was in Santa Barbara, and they have all these cultural festivals. I saw the Irish Dancers dancing and they had bright costumes, big, curly hair and loud shoes, and it was all wonderfully exciting.

Q. What do you think makes you a good competitor across disciplines?

A. I think a lot of the things that made me a successful dancer carry over to riding more so than other sports: having a sense of rhythm, timing, balance, coordination and body awareness is hugely helpful. The dancing prepared me for riding. On top of that I spent many hours a day every day from a young age just practicing something. So to have that routine to life makes it pretty easy to approach other things in life in the same way.

Q. What would you say to a Young Rider who wants to be as successful as you are?

A. Obviously, if you’ve got the talent and the horse, you’re a good way there. The other thing I feel so fortunate for is my mom. She’s always been able to get me access to the best help, knowledge and advice out there. It happened that the Irish Dance teacher I started with was one of the best in the country. When I started eventing she would drive me upwards of six hours to lessons and clinics so I could get really good help. You can have the talent and the horse, but you have to get the knowledge somewhere. 

Q. How do you explain your incredible leap from novice to the two-star level in two years?

A. You can’t ignore the fact that King Street was an amazing horse. I was prepared by having all the other stuff, but he was just a walking saint. You know, I guess the best way to learn is go and do it, and I can’t possibly express how fortunate I was to have that horse and to get to do all that with him.

Q. You’re 21 and have already accomplished so much including riding at Kentucky and winning team gold and an individual silver at Young Rider Championships. Do you think having done all that already is to your advantage?

A. I would hope so. But I also think that every day I realize I know less and less! I think also when I went to Rolex I had the feeling of no expectations, nothing to prove, just sheer innocence. That’s how it’s been all the way so I don’t know if that is now going to be a challenge to recreate that. It’s easy when you’re just some kid and you know nothing. Now I have the challenge of maintaining that inertia or recreating it. It’s almost harder to stay on the roll than to shoot to the top. My goal is to now bring along more horses and do it again.

Q. What’s your schedule like at a competition like Rolex?

A. The whole thing was an amazing experience. It’s surreal, really. I think the whole thing was so relaxing and pleasurable and part of that was not having any expectations. I had one horse and I had my mom and a groom there helping me. So I had tons of time to just enjoy it, and I had a really super good dressage test, which was very exciting and got to do a press conference which was mortifying. The whole thing was pretty incredible. The organizers were just so wonderful to the competitors in terms of taking care of us and going out of their way to make things pleasurable for us. It was really very cool.

Q. What did you think when you won USEA Young Rider of the Year for a third time in 2009?

A. It is really funny because it was a year that I really didn’t win that much. I didn’t complete Rolex, and we did one event after that and had to retire King Street. My young horse at the time was Ringwood. I didn’t think I’d done that much. And likewise this year. I think I withdrew at more events than ran him at. It surprised me that I had any points! But he had done well at Jersey Fresh and Montana and that’s where we got the points. My mom is the one that saw it on the leader board. I told her she must be wrong.

Q. Do you see horses in your life for the long haul?

A. Yeah. I do. I often worry and wonder whether I can make it work. I suppose it’s something that everyone struggles with. I’m always second-guessing my path! But I want to make it work and certainly hope to continue where I’m heading.

Q. And where would that be?

A. Hopefully for big things!

Q. What’s your life like outside of riding? Favorite places to eat, go, books, hobbies?

A. I am pretty boring. I really don’t get off the farm very much, so I would say usually by the time I finish at the barn and come inside there’s not a lot of time left. I really enjoy cooking, and that’s something I can do after that. You could call that a hobby. I’m a big baker. But since I live alone I have to try to give it all away! It’s really dangerous living by myself and being a baker. Brownies are standard. Usually pretty fresh, green healthy stuff. I’m pretty lucky to live in California to have great vegetables and stuff.

I’m really a little bit of a Martha Stewart. I sew—usually repairing and fixing horse blankets! I had a roommate that would call me Martha Stewart for a while.

Q. Anything you want to add?

A. I’d like to thank my sponsors. I’ve been really fortunate that our local vet hospital has helped me out quite a bit with care, so that obviously helps. With an upper level horse there’s a lot that goes into keeping them performing well. Steinbeck Century Equine. So that’s been wonderful. They’ve been helping me for the past year and a half.

I’ve had a really great sponsorship with Iron Horse, Ovation and Mountain Horse, and they’ve been helping me since, gosh, 2007. They’ve been very generous. They other big one is APF. I’ve been able to have my horses on that for quite a while now, and again they’ve been incredibly supportive and generous and behind everything I’ve been doing over the years. They deserve a big thank you.

Courtney Young conducts in-depth interviews with the elite of the equestrian world on her blog Three Days Three Ways. Check it out for a behind-the-scenes look into three-day eventing.