When iconic pop star Madonna gave her acceptance speech for Billboard magazine’s 2016 “Woman of the Year” award, she thanked the people rooting against her for fueling her decades long success.
“To the doubters and naysayers,” said the Queen of Pop in that tearful speech. “And everyone who gave me hell and said I could not, that I would not, or I must not—your resistance made me stronger, made me push harder, and made me the fighter that I am today. It made me the woman that I am today. So, thank you.”
American show jumper Lillie Keenan (USA) gave an acceptance speech of her own on Sunday. The 26-year old topped a nine-horse jump off to claim the CSI5* 1.55m RBC Grand Prix of Ottawa at Wesley Clover Parks, the fourth stop on the Major League Show Jumping Tour. The drive for her success: to prove her supporters right.
“I probably should believe in myself more,” confessed Keenan.
“And I’m very lucky that every single person that’s in my circle tells me that I’m a winner and that I can do it. And I definitely need that. So to be able to not get in the way of my horse today and prove them right, really it means a lot. And I’m just very, very thankful.”
Just two of the nine pairs to advance to Michel Vaillancourt’s short track left all the poles in place. USA’s Chloe Reid was first to manage the feat, stopping the clock at 46.71 seconds aboard Crossover 4. It was their second ever 5* Grand Prix appearance.
Keenan and Argan de Beliard were quicker still, rolling the dice with a risky leave out into the combination to take over the lead in 45.17.
“You’re going to lose more than you win and if you don’t take a risk, you’re not going to win much. So I did one extra stride, [fence] one to two, and then I thought I’ve got to give it everything. My horse is very brave. He is a bigger horse with a bigger stride, so I left out to the combination,” said Keenan.
The heavy rub on the back rail of the b-element oxer made the pole jump in the cups, but it stayed up.
“Obviously, jumping a combination fast is not riding it really correctly, but in a jump off, you have to take risk. Once I hit that pole and I knew it stayed in the cups, I thought, this my Grand Prix to win and I’m not going to back into second place. I’ve got to go for it. So my horse gave me everything and luck was on my side today.”
To say luck has been on her side lately would be a disservice to Keenan’s considerable skill.
It was less than a year ago that the young American captured her first 5* Grand Prix title with Queensland E in Monterrey, Mexico. She’s since gone on to capture 5* wins with every horse in her string jumping at the level, among them Fasther, Agana van het Gerendal Z, and Argan de Beliard.
“I am very lucky, obviously, to have three horses that are capable of winning a five star Grand Prix. Not many riders can say that within the year,” said Keenan.
Not many riders can say they’ve won a five star with three horses in a year, either.
Argan de Beliard is a horse she typically reserves for the U.S. Team. The 13 year-old Selle Francais gelding was part of the winning Nations Cup team in San Juan Capistrano, CA in May. The pair has a 67% clear round average at 1.55m, according to Jumpr App.
“My horse are Argan and I jumped in the World Equestrian Games (in Herning, DEN) last year. He has jumped multiple Nations Cups, a lot of clear rounds for Team USA, but I haven’t really given him a chance to shine in the Grand Prix yet. So to give him that moment today was incredibly special.”
Keenan went on to thank her grooms, flat riders, mom, mentor (McLain Ward) and boyfriend (Darragh Kenny) for their support, which is lovely but makes for a long-winded sound bite, so you’ll just have to take our paraphrased word for it.
While most people strive to prove their haters wrong, it seems there’s only one doubter Keenan needs to convert—herself.