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The American Interview | Tiana Coudray
The successful American rider and trainer based in Britain tells us about her exciting life in the sport of eventing ... and how you can get involved
My main horse is called Ringwood Magister, but we call him Finian. He’s 17 this year, I got him out of Ireland and he came to California as a three-year-old. We’ve very much grown up together. I was 16 and we came up through the levels together. He’s not competing at top level in eventing any more, our last hope was that he’d go to the Rio Olympics but he picked up an injury. Since then we’ve taken it a little bit easier but he’s still competing at a high level in dressage, and he’s jumping and in full work. It’s tempting to see what Finian can still do, but he doesn’t owe me a thing – he’s given me my career, brought me to England, he’s done the London Olympics, Badminton twice, The World Equestrian Festival at Aachen and I don’t know how many Nations Cup teams. He’s pretty special - and he’s quite sure that he’s the main man! We’re looking after him and hopefully he’ll have many years of a slightly easier life.
Event horses are typically at their peak, competing at advanced level internationally, from ten to fourteen or fifteen. I now have fifteen here at the moment, developing some for their owners, some are liveries, and I train other riders so I have students’ horses staying here too.
STARTING MY CAREER
I was an Irish dancer at quite a high level when I was young. That was my life, except when I was at school or sleeping. We weren’t an Irish family, not in the slightest! It was just something I saw when I was four and wanted to do it. I’m quite a competitive, driven person so there was no doing it part way, I was all in. There’s a big Irish dancing scene in the United States, and not just in Boston and New York. I dove straight in and was National Champion then did three World Championships. I got eighth at the Worlds, but then injuries got in the way and my results started to decline. It wasn’t fun anymore, so I gave up dancing.
I turned to eventing, and it was like a match hitting gasoline, it just took off. My parents were incredibly supportive, but not horsey at all. I was incredibly fortunate that my first horse, before Finian, which we just thought was a nice enough first horse, took me to the Junior Olympics the next year and four years later had me at 4 star, the top level, and won a World Cup qualifier for me. How many three-year-olds can you pick up that get you to the Olympics?
MOVING TO ENGLAND
When I came to England I was based in Cirencester, staying with the family of a good friend who himself then went to live in California. I arrived with a horse, a suitcase and a tack trunk, and they completely looked after me. I was meant to be here for three months originally and opportunities came along so I stayed, then I stayed a bit longer, and I stayed a bit longer - I’ve been here seven years now. I was 22 years old at the time and had nothing I had to rush back home to. And I was in England, the Mecca of the sport of eventing. Why would I go home when I could continue to grow and improve here. We’d achieved all the benchmarks we wanted to in America and it was time to dive into a bigger pool. From being a big fish in a small pond, it was a case of being a small fish in a much bigger pond.
RIDER SEEKS OWNER(S)
I worked at a yard in Bristol for a couple of years then set up on my own in 2014. I had no contacts, and a lot of Brit owners want to have a British rider, so they can get onto the British teams, so as an American I have that extra struggle.
The biggest thing I’m lacking is horsepower. I came here with one special horse, and sold a couple of young ones back home to pay to do that. Now I want to build up a team of horses. A lot of my business is finding young horses and producing them, but then I have to sell them. That’s fine, and I love producing young horses, but the dream is to keep one as it goes up the levels so I can keep competing at the top level as they get into their prime career. The perfect world would be having owners who want to enjoy having horses out doing that.
I like finding good youngsters, it’s a much smaller investment but you’re gambling on what they’ll turn into. I find them all over the place, I have one very good four-year-old that came from France, a lot come from Ireland and some from the Continent – Holland and Germany, and there are some very good horses coming out of England. I often have several young horses out competing, just me riding them. The dream is to go to the Olympics again, and do Badminton where I’ve had two top 20 completions which is a big one, and it would be fantastic to have an American owner involved.
There are huge opportunities for anyone wanting to own a horse that can get onto an American team. There are only three or four slots on a team in international competitions, and if you have a horse with a British rider you have one chance in hundreds that you’ll get onto a team. Whereas with the American team there are about 20 riders at that level – that’s in the world, not just in the UK. For example at the Young Horse World Championships, of all the six-year-olds in the UK, only three will get in the British team. With an American rider you stand a much better chance of getting into the big international competitions.
You can start a syndicate, like in horse racing, where a group of people get together to buy a horse. It divides the cost, of course, but equally they have a lot of fun and it becomes a social thing where they enjoy going to events together. Other people prefer to be the sole owner.
An intermediate or advanced level horse costs a few grand to buy and a couple of grand to run it each year. A smart three or four-year-old-would be anything from £10,000 to £20,000 to buy, plus the running costs. The better they are and the more international competition you do, the pricier it gets. If you want a horse to go to the Olympics in two years time, you’re talking a couple hundred thousand. And it’s flexible, you can do it long term, or be in and out in a few years, for business reasons or if you move on from the UK. Luckily I enjoy the process both ways.
The owners enjoy being part of it all. It sounds obvious, but you have to like the sport of eventing. It is an outdoor sport, and we are in England, so it’s not always glamorous weather and there’s an investment in a Barbour and tweeds! The prize money isn’t the same as in racing, so people have to want to be involved in our sport. But you get to see the horse as it progresses. You can come to the yard and see the horse, it’s very informal and some come every couple of weeks. Depending on the level of the horse there could be traveling round the world following it in competition. Being based here it’s so easy to get to Holland, France, Germany and so on. Britain is the best place to be. And in 2016 we flew back home with Finian to compete in the Rolex Kentucky, the biggest event in America, which was very cool. And you can get access into the owners enclosures, the stables and so on.
There are huge opportunities for Companies to have their branding and logos seen, and some have corporate days out, taking everybody to Badminton or wherever. Whatever their budget, and whatever level of involvement they’d want, I would be very happy to hear from your readers!
If you are interested in ownership or sponsorship opportunities with a top level American equestrian, take a look at tianacoudrayeventing.com or contact Tiana directly at firstname.lastname@example.org