It’s not often a rider has the opportunity to take a horse from conception to Grand Prix, but Kelly Coyne is on the brink of doing so, and winning the $25,000 Carol Lavell Advanced Dressage Prize may provide her with exactly the assistance she needs to get there.
Coyne, 35, grew up in Naples, Maine, and started out doing a little bit of everything with horses. She got a part-time job at dressage center Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, Maine, where they have a small Dutch Warmblood breeding program.
Coyne worked her way up from stall cleaner to teaching, riding and competing alongside trainer Gwyneth McPherson. She also met her trainers Michael and Sharon Poulin at Pineland.
Now Coyne is aiming for the top with Brilliance, a 7-year-old Dutch Warmblood-Lipizzaner mare (Brilliant—Darinka II) whom she bred and started.
Tell me about your business.
I moved to Virginia Beach in 2016 to work for a private farm. One thing led to another, and I ended up branching out about a year ago, just doing my own thing. As of January, I started to lease a 20-stall barn here in Virginia Beach. I just bought a house here with my boyfriend [Brett Curtis], so I should be here for the foreseeable future. He’s super supportive. He had a wonderful career in Maine and pretty much left that and started over to move down here with me. He’s a sports-based massage therapist for people. I do want him to start transitioning to the horses! He doesn’t have a horse background, but it’s great for me at the end of the day after riding eight or nine horses.
I’m teaching and training. I have a lot of horses in full or partial training and lots of lessons.
There are a lot of people doing dressage here, but Virginia Beach is pretty isolated. Pretty much everybody who comes here is like, “Wow, this is a dressage desert!” It’s actually worked out well for me because I’ve found a niche here that needed to be filled. There are not a lot of good resources or instruction or training here, so I found a great spot for me as a professional to develop everybody in the area that’s really eager to learn and have some help.
I work with Michael Poulin still. He comes about once a month to teach, and hopefully we’ll be able to get down to Florida to fulfill our training program with the grant. With COVID, nobody really knows what’s going on day to day, but we’re going to try to make that work.
What’s the story of breeding Brilliance?
I was in Florida with the Poulins, and they had always been into the Lipizzaner breed. Michael has always trained horses for Gary Lashinsky, who breeds them for one of the traveling famous Lipizzaner shows.
Gary had reached out to Michael and said, “I know of this Lipizzaner that is for sale. Go look at her.” I believe it was a horse Gary had bred, but he didn’t own her anymore.
It was in the summer. I had taken a few weeks of vacation from Pineland to go help the Poulins and be a working student and get more experience. Michael said, “Hey, let’s go look at this horse.” We drove a few hours and found this horse. It was Brilliance’s mother. Her name is Darinka.
She was in pretty bad shape. She was underweight, and it was clear she wasn’t being cared for the way that she should have been. Mike found a broken pitchfork and used the end of it almost like an in-hand stick, and he had her in a halter and started to tap her hind legs, and she just offered to do piaffe. He was like, “OK, we’re going to get the truck and trailer and come back and get her.” We did that day. He purchased her, and a few months later I bought her from him.
I kept her for a couple of years and was training her and riding her. I never did get to compete her because she had some soundness issues.
I didn’t have the money to do an MRI, but the vet said it was probably something down in her deep digital flexor tendon that we couldn’t see with an ultrasound. I could either spend the money on the MRI or give her some time off. I decided to give her some time off, and Michael suggested I breed her.
Sharon very generously donated a breeding to her Dutch Warmblood stallion Brilliant. He competed Grand Prix and is also the sire of Kate Poulin’s Brilliant Too, whom she competed in the 2007 Pan Ams [Brazil].
Mike has helped me bring [Brilliance] along. I’ve seen him about once a month for clinics, and I’ve been doing the work, and here we are.
What’s Brilliance like?
When I was just starting to get my feet wet in dressage, I actually got to ride Brilliant, long before Brilliance was ever a sparkle in my eye. I did my first four-tempis and my first pirouette and my first piaffe on Brilliant, so it’s super cool now to have a part of that legacy.
She definitely has a lot of both of her parents. Her head and her face look exactly like her mother, but she’s got a little of his hotness and his spookiness. It’s been fun and interesting to know both the parents and have that perspective.
She’s super good at the collected work and has a super piaffe and a really good passage, and she can sit in the pirouettes. She doesn’t have the greatest extended trot—she didn’t get that super elasticity that her dad had, so she’s a little bit more like her mother I’d say.
We just started the Intermediaire II and did a few shows. Hopefully next year we’ll be able to do the Grand Prix.
Brilliance will be the first horse I’ve done start to finish to Grand Prix, knock on wood. I’ve done a lot of horses up to fourth level and small tour and spent the time training but never got to compete because of the owners, or they were sales horses. I’ve had a lot of experience putting changes on them or teaching them piaffe, but to have one that I’ve been able to campaign and bring along is really special, and she’s very special.
I think it’s a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing. I would never call myself a breeder. A fabulous vet in Maine, Charmaine Brown, bred her, and she’s a friend of mine and the Poulins. She’s a great breeder. I haven’t bred a horse since! But I would definitely do it again because it is very special.
The more special part is her history and where she came from. Everybody was instrumental in making it happen. I’ve spent so much time with her. She’s traveled with me everywhere I go. She’s a part of my family, and I don’t know what I’d do without her.
Do you have any other horses coming up?
There are a lot of Friesians here and a pretty special palomino mare named Ishin Maru owned by Jan Mullis. She’s a Dutch Warmblood-Saddlebred cross. She’s doing second and third level now. Hopefully next year we’ll be able to get her out to more shows and get her some more exposure.
[The unusual breeds] just sort of end up here! Typically the Dutch horses tend to catch my eye because that’s what Pineland bred. I started a lot of those horses when they were young, so I definitely like the warmbloods, but I like Andalusians and Lusitanos. They’re super fun horses.
How do you feel about winning the grant?
I sent in my application at the last minute. I imagined the pool of candidates would be some seriously fabulous horses and riders, so I was very surprised but thrilled.
I’m going to spend some time with Michael and hopefully get to some shows down there. Michael is trying to put together a clinic with Jo Hinnemann, and that might be in Virginia or in Florida.
I feel very fortunate to be where I am in my career and my riding life and to have a horse like her and this opportunity. It seems like the stars and moon have aligned to get me to where I am today, and it’s not been without a lot of sacrifices and hardships and struggles. But it’s all worth it when you get an opportunity like this or have a bond with a horse like that.
What goals do you have in the sport?
I definitely have my eye and my goals set on [riding for the team]. Up until really this year I didn’t know if Brilliance was the horse for that because she doesn’t have a 9 for a trot or canter, but she has some really special moments in her collected work. Maybe she’s not the best Prix St. Georges horse, but the collected stuff is going to be her forte.
You just never know, and maybe she will be the horse for that. Since starting out on my own down here, I’ve had a lot of support. I have high hopes for that. I know it’s hard to achieve without a lot of help, and opportunities like this from The Dressage Foundation will hopefully springboard me towards that. It’s always been a goal of mine to reach the highest levels and be a top competitor.