If someone told Corentin (“Cory”) Tual four years ago that he would be managing Lillie Keenan’s top grand prix horses today, he wouldn’t have believed it. Tual has spent the past four years as Keenan’s head groom but recently was promoted to oversee the barn staff.
“Managing is a new adventure for me for the [Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida)] 2023 season,” he said, “but I’m very excited for it.”
Tual, 28, is originally from Langon, a small town in western France. He was drawn to horses around age 12, when a friend asked him to come ride ponies with her. “I remember coming home that afternoon and telling my parents I loved it,” Tual said. “After that, I went to the barn every chance I could; I was never home anymore.”
Over the years, Tual spent extra time working at the barn, which earned him the opportunity to ride more horses. Throughout high school and two years of college, Tual groomed and rode with Langon-based show jumper Sébastien Delaporte of Sébastien Delaporte Stable. There, Tual had the opportunity to show a bit in the jumpers.
In July 2014, he took a sabbatical from his job with Delaporte for a six-month internship as a veterinary assistant at a clinic in Le Mans, France, that taught him valuable skills.
“The most important thing I learned at the clinic was staying calm in an emergency situation,” he said. “It’s hard to learn to keep your head clear when it’s stressful.”
After finishing his internship, Tual reassessed his path and realized he no longer enjoyed riding as much. Having decided it was time for a career change, he enrolled in a year-long online business school through a university in France.
Even then, he didn’t leave horses entirely. He needed a job to earn money while he studied and found one with a tack shop that traveled to horse shows. There, an experience in what was supposed to be his side job—something he could easily balance with his schoolwork—changed the course of his career and inspired him to move overseas: When Tual accidentally lost a client due to a French/English language barrier, he recalled, “I was angry at myself for not knowing English well. The main reason I came to America was to learn proper English.”
His knowledge of the horse show world drew Tual to Wellington, Florida, where he got a grooming job at Torrey Pines Stable, home of Canadian Olympic show jumper Eric Lamaze, in December 2017.
“I knew I could brush horses, and I wanted to learn English as fast as I could,” Tual said with a laugh. “In Europe, we have so many horses at once that sometimes we have to forfeit attention to detail. But I discovered this work environment was what I had been searching for in Europe all along: North American programs believe in tidiness and taking care of details. I thrive in that.”
Tual spent about nine months traveling with Lamaze in Florida and Europe before deciding he wanted to find a smaller program with even more of the work environment he wanted. He went first to U.S. Olympian Lucy Davis, and then on to Lillie Keenan’s Chansonette Farm in Katonah, New York, and Wellington.
“I still wanted to groom, but I wanted to be at a smaller barn,” he said. “Smaller numbers of horses allow you to pay more attention to details, which are very important to me.”
Keenan has been training with McLain Ward for the previous four years and keeps anywhere from 10-16 horses at a time, between her own and client-owned horses.
“When I first started with Lillie, we had three grooms, [fewer] horses than we do now, and we rotated who stayed home and who went to the shows,” Tual said. “That first year, we traveled all over the East Coast and to Canada for the Calgary and Spruce Meadows shows.”
They stayed stateside during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, then returned to Europe in summer 2021, competing at horse shows in Aachen, Germany; Rome; and Dublin.
“Going into WEF 2023 will be my fifth season with Cory, and he has really become the person I depend on,” Keenan said. “When Cory is there, I know I don’t need to worry about my horses. He loves all of them, and he pays attention to everything.”
One of Tual’s main charges over the years has been Chansonette Farm’s Agana Van Het Gerendal Z, an 11-year-old Zangersheide stallion (Aganix Du Seigneur—Naminka, Topas).
“I’ve cared for him and helped Lillie bring him up through the two-star, three-star and four-star grand prix levels, and now to the five-star level,” Tual said. “He’s a funny horse—sometimes people are scared of him because he can rear up—but I’m tall and not scared of him, so it works.”
Another of Tual’s favorite horses was Chansonette Farm’s Skyhorse, a 15-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding (Calvaro F.C.—Quinette Ter Putte, Quidam De Revel) who was sold last year.
“I had such a strong relationship with him; he was unreal. He knows and trusts his person, and you can ask him to do whatever,” Tual said. “Honestly, I love all of Lillie’s horses; they’re all different. I never feel like I’m alone at the barn because I’m always with the horses.”
For the 2022 show year, Keenan’s main focus was to earn a spot on the NetJets U.S. Show Jumping Team for the 2022 Agria FEI Jumping World Championship, held in August in Herning, Denmark. Tual was right beside her, supporting her every move.
“I knew we were going to need solid results all last winter to make the [world championship] team,” he said. “There was a lot of pressure there, but I stayed focused on our end goal.”
At WEF this year, Keenan and her very new mount—she had just purchased him in January—Argan De Beliard, a 12-year-old Selle Français gelding (Mylord Carthago*HN—La Belle Normande, Ahorn), were named to the NetJets U.S. Show Jumping Team for the $150,000 Nations Cup CSIO4* during WEF 9. The pair was the only combination to contribute two clear rounds toward the U.S. team total, helping the team earn third place.
After WEF, the Chansonette team learned that Keenan had made the short list of 10 horse/rider combinations for Herning, and they were ecstatic. Keenan had qualified with “Argan,” while “Agana” was listed as her reserve horse. The Chansonette team planned its summer schedule around the world championship, giving the horses a month off after WEF before traveling to the Netherlands to compete over the summer. Keenan and Argan were invited to compete at the FEI Nations Cup of Rome CSIO5* at Piazza di Siena, Italy, and the Mercedes-Benz Jumping Nations Cup of Aachen CSIO5* in Germany.
“Argan and Lillie were super at both events,” Tual said. “Argan did both Nations Cup rounds in Rome, and then we did the grand prix on Sunday with one rail down. When we went to Aachen, I knew I really needed to have Argan ready for that event. I don’t like to fail, and I focused really hard on preparing him.” During the FEI Nations Cup at Aachen, Argan and Keenan had a rail in the first round and went clear in the second round, helping the U.S. team claim sixth place overall.
When Keenan and Argan made the world championship team in mid-July, everyone was thrilled. It would be the first world championship experience for Keenan, Argan and Tual alike, and they were determined to set themselves up for success.
“I surround myself with mentors, like [Ward’s] longtime manager Lee McKeever, and I always ask him questions if I need advice,” Tual said. “I have a huge respect for him; Lee has done this a long time. I always want to learn how to be better at my job.”
Tual emphasizes that peaking a horse for a specific event is a carefully thought-out process. “At a normal show, you have a string of horses to choose from, and you can choose the best horse to do a specific class with on a specific day,” Tual said. “But when you do a team championship, you’re only allowed to use the horse that’s picked, so there’s more pressure and a lot more planning to peak the horse. That’s one of the biggest things I’ve learned on this journey: how to peak a horse for one event.”
Tual and Keenan worked hard to get Argan ready for Herning. Although Keenan and Argan were clear on the first day of team competition, they notched 11 faults on the second day, part of a lackluster U.S. performance that saw the country finish 11th, missing the cut for the team finals and failing to earn a 2024 Olympic berth during the world championship. Nonetheless, for a first-time world championship rider and a horse who had never jumped such a big course, as Keenan said at the time, the Chansonette team were proud of their effort.
“We went last in the order on the second day, and the last score on the team is a lot of pressure. If you have one rail down, you go down on the list, and then you are out. But overall, the whole journey was still a great experience for all of us,” Tual said.
“Our team had a rough go overall, and you don’t get a second chance at the same event,” he added. “But I think Lillie and I learned a lot from this journey, and we can apply that to future events.”
Keenan was thrilled that Tual was there to support her at her first world championship. “The thing I love about Cory is that he understands my program, and his goals are the same as mine,” Keenan said. “You can’t replace that. Cory is truly a student of the sport, and he loves to win. He is a tireless worker, and the most important thing to him is the horses. Cory is so disciplined, and he has given me so much confidence as an athlete.”
The duo celebrated another milestone together when Keenan won the $150,000 Longines FEI Las Vegas CSI4*-W, and Tual was honored by The Grooms Award.
Going into WEF 2023, Tual will be managing Keenan’s barn instead of being head groom. “I used to just take care of my three horses, but now I will oversee more,” Tual explained. “I can help the other grooms with FEI, national level, and client horses. Honestly, I don’t see myself with anyone else other than Lillie. I will support her at all of the events. She and her whole family appreciate me. We’ve been through so much together, and I really believe in her system. Whatever she wants to do, I will do it.”
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