The Emerging Athlete Eventing 25 winter training session wrapped up earlier this month in Ocala, Florida, January 8-11. We are excited to introduce you to some of the riders making their debut on the E25 list, which can be viewed here. Today: Hallie Coon!
When you think of eventing microcosms, Maine is about as far from the opulence and opportunity of the Ocala scene as it gets. But for industrious Hallie Coon, location has always been a mere detail in her quest to build a career as one of the country’s most promising talents.
“I had two older sisters who evented, and my grandmother and aunts evented too, so it definitely ran in the family,” she explains. “We got to ride at Ledyard Farm, which was so influential in the sport in Area I, so it was a great taste of what international eventing was really like. You don’t get to experience that a lot up north.”
The family influence offered valuable connections and education as Hallie became more entrenched in the sport. Her older sister worked for Mark Donovan, now showjumping course designer at the Carolina International, and when she was 16 Hallie got her first taste of wintering in Ocala.
“I trained with someone different every year, and took different things from everyone. I started to spend my summers wherever I could base myself and my horses — Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts — and then I’d come down to Ocala and use all of those resources and further my career.”
Now, she splits her year between Hollis, New Hampshire, and Ocala, basing herself with Shannon Baker and training with E25 coach Leslie Law and the O’Connors, who are next door neighbours to Shannon’s Ocala base.
“They’ve been really helpful, and I’m looking forward to learning more from them this year,” says Hallie. The 2018 season is set to be her biggest one yet: With her top horse Celien, she has her sights set on accomplishing some huge career goals.
“I’ve applied for the Karen Stives Emerging Athlete Grant, which, if I’m successful, I’ll use to go to Bramham in the United Kingdom,” she says. “It would be my first time abroad and to do the two competitions would be a great experience.”
Bramham’s Under-25 CCI3* is one of the most prestigious competitions at the level, and a good result at the Yorkshire venue can be the catalyst for a very successful senior career. Hallie hopes to pair the trip with an entry to the CICO3* at Norfolk’s Houghton Hall — the UK’s Nations Cup competition.
Despite a stop-and-start 2017, Celien relishes a challenge and Hallie has high hopes for her this year.
“I’ve had her since she was a coming-six-year-old,” she says. “I bought her sight unseen off of a very blurry video from Belgium, and I never even saw her trot before she hit the ground here. It was all just a gut feeling that I had about her.”
The gut feeling paid off as Celien climbed the levels at an astronomical pace, completing her first Advanced just a year and a half after her Novice debut.
“Nothing could hold her back and she just wanted to be challenged. I’d never normally do that with a horse, but nothing was hard for her — I kept moving her up and she kept answering the questions. 2017 wasn’t our best year to date, I’d say — our season started a bit late as Celien had a minor injury in the spring. I got her back for the three-star at Bromont and she ended up choking on her hay on the morning of cross country. She was cleared to go but in hindsight, I shouldn’t have run her. I ended up retiring her early on course as she just wasn’t quite herself.”
An easy spin in the Intermediate at Jersey Fresh saw her back on form, finishing second on her dressage score, and another strong performance at Great Meadow — “a fantastic venue, which we both love” — put the pair on track to finish their season on a high, until a minor tweak while galloping downhill at Millbrook knocked them out of contention for Fair Hill. But Hallie isn’t one to feel sorry for herself — instead, she has focused on her plans for 2018, and on her talented string of up-and-comers, too.
Both Lansdowne, owned by Shannon, and Hallie’s own Azrael finished the season with strong two-star results — Lansdowne placed third in the CCI2* at Virginia and Azrael finished well at the Ocala CCI2* in November. The two OTTBs — half-brothers, out of the same dam — will contest their first three-star at Jersey Fresh in the spring.
No matter which way her season goes with Celien, Hallie is optimistic and excited about the opportunities that the year ahead will bring. She is also planning to do an embryo transfer out of Celien this year and is currently researching stallions to make the the right match.
“I think it’s going to be an absolutely fantastic year, between the E25 and all my young horses — I don’t get much more excited about anything than that!”
Go eventing, and go Hallie!