“Honestly, when I tried him, I didn’t want him,” said Lillie Keenan of first time she sat on the then six-year-old stallion, Agana Van Het Gerendal Z.

“I knew that he was very talented. He has been winning since he was four years old with his previous riders, always a winner. But I felt that I didn’t necessarily suit him very well.” 

Keenan’s mom, Pam, saw only potential.

“My mom was the one that picked him and was like, ‘You are learning to ride this horse, and we are buying him,’” shared Lillie.

These days, the mother-daughter duo share riding responsibilities on the now 10-year-old Zangersheide stallion.

“My mom rides him every single day for me,” said Lillie. “She was a very successful junior [rider], and then stopped riding for a long time. She’s actually a really tiny lady and awesome rider, and he’s the one horse in the barn I can always trust to put her on even if he’s had some easy days. She does an unbelievable job keeping him happy and keeping him fit, so my job in the ring is really easy.”

That harmonious partnership was on full display in Thursday’s $37,000 Adequan® WEF Challenge Cup Round 1 CSI3* in Wellington, FL. Keenan and Agana Van Het Gerendal Z bested a field of 73 to take the win.

Fourteen combinations posted clear rounds to qualify for the jump off in the Anthony D’Ambrosio (USA) and Andy Christiansen Jr. (ECU) designed course. McLain Ward (USA), winner of Sunday’s national Grand Prix, opted not to return with Kasper van het Hellehof. Nataly Leibovitz (ISR) and Verveine, Eduardo Menezes (BRA) and H5 Quintol, and Paul O’Shea (IRL) and Skara Gen’s Machu Picchu also sat out the tie breaking round.

Of the ten pairs to return, Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam (IRL) and Indra Van De Oude Heihoef were first to execute the jump-off without fault, crossing the timers in 40.51 seconds.

Keenan and Agana Van Het Gerendal Z were last to take to the field.

“I had a different plan if no one had been clear,” said Lillie. “I knew I could do six down to the combination where a lot of people opted to do seven. In the first round I did seven; my horse is ridiculously talented so really my job is to stay out of his way. So, in that kind of situation with the speed I would be going in a jump-off, the six was simpler, because I was going to do less.

“Obviously, Shane [Sweetnam] was not only fast but also clear, so what changed was that I not only had to go fast, I had to try to be faster than him and clear.”

The efficient pair shaved half a second off the leading time with a smooth double clear effort in 39.95 seconds. Sweetnam was forced to settle for second. Cassio Rivetti (BRA) and Genesis took third with a clear effort in 43.15 seconds.