It's that time of year again: spring flowers, warm weather and, most importantly, Rolex Kentucky. This year, we will be highlighting riders who are making their first appearance in North America's only CCI4* event. This edition features Dr. Kevin Keane and Fernhill Flutter, who train with Phillip Dutton and are looking forward to their Rolex debut. Thank you, Kevin, for your time, and thank you for reading.
Kevin Keane is a well known name in eventing. While maintaining a thriving veterinary practice serving some of the top names in the sport, he’s also been training with Phillip Dutton and quietly climbing the levels, and now he’s preparing to tackle his first CCI4* next week at Rolex. Considering he never had any plans to compete at this level, he still looks back and wonders how exactly he got here. It all began on a horse shopping trip in Europe to find a horse to take him to the upper levels.
Kevin remembers a conversation he had with Phillip before going to Europe. “I asked Phillip what I should be looking for, and he said, ‘At your age, you’d better find something that already knows how to jump!'”After trying several horses, Carol Gee of the Fernhill empire contacted Kevin and suggested that he come and try Fernhill Flutter, a 2002 Irish Sport Horse gelding otherwise known as “Butterfly.” “I watched him compete at a lower level horse trial, and he didn’t even go clean on cross country, but there was something about him,” Kevin recalled. “His gallop was wonderful: ground covering and uphill, so I decided to give it a shot.” Kevin purchased Butterfly shortly thereafter, and the horse came to begin his new partnership with Kevin in the U.S.
Kevin was training with Phillip at the time, and he began competing Butterfly at Training with a goal set of doing Preliminary in the future. “I would have been content to stay at Prelim for quite awhile,” Kevin laughed. “But Phillip had this way of convincing me to keep going.” Kevin and Butterfly moved up to Intermediate in 2010, taking third place at the Maryland HT at Loch Moy Farm. The pair continued to campaign at the Intermediate and CIC2* level and eventually moved up to Advanced in 2011.
“He really kind of came into his own in 2012, and he placed third in the Fair Hill CIC3* and the Bromont CCI3*,” Kevin said. Unfortunately, much of the 2013 season for Kevin was spent sidelined, as he sustained an injury after being kicked in the head by a stallion. “I had a bit of a light competition year, but I came back this winter and have competed every two weeks this year. I realize that’s a bit unusual, but I thought I would go out and get the experience I needed after having such a light year. We made sure to run slow so that we weren’t too hard on his body while still obtaining the mileage we needed.”
Kevin had Rolex in the back of his mind for this year, but he wasn’t fully sure whether or not Phillip thought they were ready for the event. In fact, Kevin told the story of how he found out he and Butterfly were heading to Kentucky as competitors. “One of the things about Phillip that some people may not know is that he has a very planned and methodical program for you. I think what happened, even months ago, was that he started introducing new dressage movements in our lessons, and I think he knew that he was pointing us for Rolex even then. I actually called his secretary the day Rolex entries closed and asked if Phillip had mentioned anything about me competing, and she responded by letting me know that she had already sent off our entry!”
Kevin feels that his previous experience at the Kentucky Horse Park as a vet helps him feel less intimidated. “I think I’m a bit less intimidated with the venue since I’ve been there as a vet about 20 times. Now, when I am headed down to the start box, my stomach will still be doing flip-flops, but I think that previous experience will still be helpful. I’m just trying to look at it knowing that I’ve had the best possible preparation, I’ve got a good horse, and the best I can do is practice my absolute best horsemanship and hope for the best result.”
Kevin is very grateful for the support system he has had in his lead up to Rolex. “The eventing community is very fraternal, and even though we are all competitive, we still want each other to succeed. I’ve had tremendous support from the True Prospect Farm family, the secretaries, technicians and Dr. Finn at the office who keep things running when I have to be away, and everyone else who has been encouraging along the way. You have to have people around you to help you through a journey such as this.”