Friday, May. 24, 2024

Keenan Didn’t Quit For The Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals



Harrisburg, Pa. – Oct. 13  

Lillie Keenan seems perfect. She’s talented. She’s got a string of phenomenal horses. She wins all the time.

But horses are the greatest levelers, and on Oct. 6 at the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals-East (N.J.), where she was leading the competition after two rounds, Keenan experienced just the kind of thing every rider has sometime in their career—a horse that simply didn’t want to perform as expected. Clearway stopped twice at a simple stone wall oxer, eliminating her.

It was devastating to Keenan, 17, and her confidence took a hit. She might seem super-human, but Keenan is human.

That’s why winning the Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals just a week later was such an emotional accomplishment for her. 

“To be honest, after [the Show Jumping Talent Search], I thought about not doing equitation anymore,” Keenan said. “It’s exciting to win this, but it’s even more exciting that I was able to rebound from last week, which was one of the most difficult weekends of my life. I think that it means the most that I was able to step away from the horse show, think about it, and realize that this is what I want more than anything and come back and do it.”

Keenan, of New York City, is a gracious, eloquent and classy teenager. Her voice quavered as she talked about regaining her confidence and putting the blip behind her. Her face had crumpled into tears when the announcer revealed that she’d won.

She admitted that in the first round of the Medal Finals, she wasn’t riding her best. “I think I was a little bit too conservative and too careful. I wasn’t trusting my horse as much as I should have, and I wasn’t confident in myself. But my horse didn’t put a foot wrong all week, so I gradually began to trust him again and ride him like his old self.”

Keenan did acknowledge that the thought of riding another horse had crossed her mind. She even brought a back-up to Harrisburg. “The whole time Andre [Dignelli] and Patricia [Griffith] and everyone at Heritage were telling me the horse was ready, and I needed to erase last week from my mind,” she said. “It’s easier said than done, but I think that in the final two rounds I was able to do that.

“Clearway is still Clearway, and he wants to win every class. Horses are horses. I think it was a wake-up call that they’re not robots; they’re animals. He tries 99.9 percent of the time to win the class, so it was a freak thing, and I have to move on,” Keenan said.

Keenan clinched the win in a final test that trainers Dignelli and Missy Clark both admitted they were glad they didn’t have to ride. Ridden all without stirrups and on their own mounts, it involved a halt in the middle of a four-stride line, a spooky wall trot jump off a tight rollback, and a long loop of counter-canter. The crucible of the test, however, was in a six-stride bending line distance from a Swedish oxer to a one-stride in-and-out. Judges Leo Conroy and Ralph Caristo wanted the riders to complete two changes of lead in that line.

Keenan’s test proved her mastery of using the arena. Not only did she angle the jump into the halt line, giving herself more room in the line and acting as a brake for Clearway, but she also rode a track from the Swedish to the combination that gave her room for the two changes. She halted within a few strides, got the opposite lead, then did another simple change back to the original lead.

“She slammed the door on it with her changes at the end,” Conroy said.


Watch her test here:


Michael Hughes moved up from sixth after the first round to fourth after Round 2. He then put in a great test on Curtis to move up to second.

Watch his test here:

Charlotte Jacobs was winning after Round 2 with two lovely rounds on Patrick. Her halt and trot jump in the test were lovely, but she didn’t give herself enough room to get the two changes done on the way to the combination. She got a simple change done, then put in a flying change in the last stride. The crowd chuckled a bit at that.

Watch her test here:

To read round-by-round analysis of Round 1, Round 2 and the final test, check out the Chronicle’s blog of the action

1st Lillie Keenan
            André Dignelli and Heritage Farm

2nd Michael Hughes
            Eamonn Hughes, Missy Clark, John Brennan and North Run

3rd Charlotte Jacobs
            Missy Clark, John Brennan and North Run

4th Alexandra Maracic
            Kayln Healey Fogarty, Ross Reisner, Scott Stewart, Ken Berkeley

5th Lauren Tyree
           Missy Clark, John Brennan and North Run

6th Allison Toffolon
            Andre Dignelli and Heritage Farm


7th Abby Bertelson
           Cookie DeSimone and Greg Prince

8th Sydney Shulman
           Stacia Madden, Max Amaya, Krista Freundlich

9th Alexandria Desiderio
            Andre Dignelli and Heritage Farm

10th Kelli Cruciotti
            Don Stewart Stables & Cindy Cruciotti

11th Caitlin Boyle

Lillie Keenan was quite emotional about her
Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals victory.
Photo by Mollie Bailey
Lillie Keenan and trainer Andre Dignelli celebrated.
Photo by Mollie Bailey


Carch up on all the Pessoa/USEF Medal Finals action with a round-by-round commentary with associate editor Molly Sorge. You can also check out the course description and photos of the track and catch up with Medal Finals first-timer Grace Powers who blogged about what it’s like to head to Harrisburg. All your Chronicle Medal Finals coverage is right here

Want more Harrisburg? Stop by The Chronicle of the Horse’s official Pennsylvania National page, and catch up on all the junior hunter news here. 

There will be a full report from the Pennsylvania National in the Oct. 28 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse. Check out the Pennsylvania National’s website for results. There’s also a live feed at



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