Wednesday, May. 22, 2024

After 10 Years, Tiana Coudray Made It Back To Badminton

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As Tiana Coudray pulled into the Mars Badminton Horse Trials this year, she felt like she’d already accomplished one of her goals. It was the third time she’d aimed Cancaras Girl towards England’s spring five-star, but until last week, she’d been thwarted.

The 2022 edition had been immensely popular, and the pair was waitlisted. As the event drew nearer, Coudray watched her name creep towards the top of the list until it was next in line. But no others withdrew, so they didn’t get a slot.

“It meant that she had to do all her gallops, all her preparation, and literally didn’t get to go,” said the British-based U.S. rider. “That was heartbreaking because she was really right in herself, and I felt she was peaking right on time, and what can you do?”

Last spring “Cara,” who is also known as “Nana,” injured a hamstring, and Coudray felt it was too much of a push to have the mare fit in time.

“So this year I sort of, the lead up, kept thinking what’s going to go wrong this time?” she said. “It was really a matter of just sort of feeling that dread. I didn’t really believe we were going until probably we were packing.”

Tiana Coudray rode Cancaras Girl to 25th at Mars Badminton Horse Trials. Bob Langrish Photo

At this year’s event, held May 8-12, in Gloucestershire, England, the 14-year-old Holsteiner mare (Cancara—Rubina VI, Narew) not only made it to the start day but logged her first five-star completion after she and Coudray parted ways on cross-country at Burghley (England) last fall.

“We had a fantastic week, and I was just excited to be going in the first place,” Coudray said. “I certainly didn’t have any expectations. Obviously, I wanted the mare to go well, and I wanted to complete. Obviously, I believed in her, or I wouldn’t have taken her, but sort of the big goal for us was just to get to Badminton, so it was special just driving in, and everything after that we were just pleased to be there really.”

The pair started their weekend in sixth with a 29.8 in dressage. Coudray set out slowly on cross-country and picked up 30.4 time penalties, a move she was frustrated with herself for, as she felt Cara was capable of a quicker time. They had three down and added 1.2 time penalties over an influential show jumping track to finish 25th.

We spoke with Coudray following the event. This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How’d you find Cancaras Girl, and what did you see in her?

I saw her in a Facebook post, and she was just quite a pretty little mare that I thought would be a nice junior’s horse.

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I was certainly underwhelmed—she was no mover whatsoever—but she was very cute, and there was something really honest and natural. It didn’t matter what angle it was, what line it was, she just inherently understood that you could put something in front of her, that was her line. She was quite a green horse when I tried her. It was definitely her mindset and her brain that I bought her for. It certainly wasn’t that she was anything impressive or flashy.

The plan was to produce her to sell; she was such a natural cross-country horse. But equally, because she didn’t ever produce a really wonderful result, she was never worth great sums of money, so it didn’t make sense to sell her, so we kept going and kept producing her.

She’s very small, so she wouldn’t be anything that most professionals would want, and she didn’t have a big, flashy result that young riders want, so we just kept chipping away, and when we got to four-star, she had some really impressive performances around some very difficult four-stars. That was the point where we stopped thinking she was a sales horse. Because she really was so impressive, and she was ninth at Bramham [CCI4*-L (England)]. That’s probably the first time anyone on the circuit realized what a great horse she was. We knew she was pretty special, but I think that was the first time anyone else took notice of her. It definitely was never in the cards for her to be where she is now.

When did you start thinking she’s going to be a top horse?

She’s a funny mare because she only does as much as she needs to do.

When we were heading back to the stables after cross-country at Badminton, a good friend of mine said, ”She jumped around there exactly the same as she jumped around her novices,” and I said, “Yes, she did.” She did the same at novice as she did at intermediate as she did at advanced as she did at four-star as she just did around Badminton. She just does what she needs to do, so as a result I don’t think at intermediate you would look at her and say, well, that’s a four-star horse. She stepped up to four-star and did that really easy, and so we sort of thought, OK this might be a five-star horse.


“It was just so lucky for me that she was a little bit underwhelming and a little bit, dare I say, unimpressive, because otherwise she would’ve been sold long ago. I have to feel that somebody somewhere said, no, this one needs to stay with you.”

You would never know what horse is going to be a five-star horse until you try, but with her you would never know how far she would go, because she never looked terribly impressive but equally she always did it very easily. I said in one of my interviews that it was just so lucky for me that she was a little bit underwhelming and a little bit, dare I say, unimpressive, because otherwise she would’ve been sold long ago. I have to feel that somebody somewhere said, no, this one needs to stay with you.

How did it feel when you drove in to Badminton again after 10 years?

It’s so special. There’s just something about Badminton. I grew up watching the videos of everybody from years past at Badminton, and it’s just so iconic and so historical, and to me it feels like the original real three day event. To feel that you’re a part of that is unbelievably special. I was very fortunate to get to Badminton twice [in 2013 and 2014] with Ringwood Magister and had two good finishes there with him, but it’s been so many years of trying to get back.

I think a part of me knew—I certainly had conversations with myself—that try as I might, it was very realistic I might never get back there again. It doesn’t mean I ever stopped trying, but I did probably start to accept that maybe it wasn’t ever going to happen again, so to actually be pulling back into the property and unloading in the stables, and to take the mare out for grass on the front lawn in front of the house, you feel like you’re a piece of history.  

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How do you feel she handled the big environment at Badminton?

She just makes me so proud because she was all business. Particularly dressage, she was really quite tense outside the ring, and she would typically be a horse that gets very tight, and not a big mover in the first place, so when she gets tight she can mince around the test, and it feels like it takes about two hours to get from start to finish. And I thought, “Oh God, here we go; this is going to be a long test.”

But as she came down centerline, I felt like she just went, “OK, you’ve got me. Let’s do this,” and she just settled in, and it was like all of a sudden she didn’t notice anything outside the arena. She was just in that 20-by-60 with me, and it was the most remarkable feeling. She was so on my side. And really what a time and a place to do that. It was a really special six minutes, and there was floods of tears after our test because it was just so unexpected from her. … To have that happen in there was incredibly rewarding and incredibly special.

She’s never seen crowds even remotely like we had at Badminton. I genuinely don’t think she noticed a single bit of that because it was just eyes on the prize for her. She really was all business.

A few years back at Blenheim [CCI4*-L (England)] it was the first event back after COVID with any crowds. She got completely overwhelmed by the crowds and had a bit of a very unfortunate show jumping round. So I did have a thought of this could affect her at Badminton with the crowds. Especially because when she came out of her dressage test, everybody went wild with the score, so I thought, ‘Oh God, going back in that ring could really affect her,” but similarly it shows the maturity over the last few years that I really felt she went in there and again was just mind on the job.

What are you thinking about moving forward with her?

When you say the first five-star your horse has completed is Badminton, that’s a pretty big deal, and the consensus was that this was a pretty tough Badminton, if there’s ever such a thing as an easy one. I’m full of confidence in terms of how good she is. The big question I suppose we’ve always had with her is maybe the dressage, and potentially it was a one-off fluke, but I’d like to think she’s really shown us that she can be competitive in that phase as well.

I definitely left a lot on the table cross-country with going a bit slowly, but she finished so full of running and with so much in the tank. She also proved that I’d underestimated actually how much ability she’s got there, so moving forward I will be a lot braver with how much I can actually ask of her and setting out a bit quicker because so many horses were finishing tank fairly empty, and she was faster in her last four minutes than she was anywhere else on the course, which is just ridiculous to say. So next time round, there’s a lot more to ask for there.

I’m incredibly excited and full of confidence that we can really push things in the future, and I feel that she had a really good trip around. She didn’t have a bad fence out there, and she didn’t feel like she even have to dig in and try too hard anywhere, so that, in my mind, hopefully has really set her up for the future.

Do you have other horses in your barn you’re excited about?

I have another horse, D’artagan, [a 10-year-old Holsteiner] that I also found on Facebook that went from novice to advanced in less than a year and then stepped up to four-star brilliantly. I jumped him at Blenheim and then went to Boekelo (the Netherlands) and had a superb performance out at Boekelo. He’s shown to be just really special, so we’re in the process right now of trying to put a little syndicate together so that I can keep him, and if that’s not possible then he will have to be sold. … The dream is starting to look a little more real that he’s a really proper top-level horse.

And then I bought another horse, Coeur De L’Esprit Z, [a 9-year-old Zangersheide] that I actually own in partnership with some good friends Grant and Sarah Hancox, and he’s been a very successful horse through the grades up to three-star, looking to make the step up to advanced soon, so for the first time in 13 years, I’m actually sitting on some really special upper-level horses.

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