After battling a string of small setbacks over the better part of the past two seasons, Tiana Coudray is finally back on track with her London Olympic partner Ringwood Magister. “Finn,” a 15-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by Jatial Inc., put in a strong performance this past weekend at Burgham, finishing in second place in the Owen Pugh CIC3* on a final score of 47.2.
“He’s been ready to be out competing for about nine months to a year now,” Tiana said. “He’s just had some really unlucky things happen that kept getting in the way of him coming out.”
It all started following Badminton in 2014, when Tiana decided to play it safe with Finn after an ultrasound revealed a weakened area on one of his legs. After giving him time off for the remainder of the 2014 season and the first half of 2015, Finn started competing again last summer in preparation for Blenheim in the fall.
“Then somehow he fractured a splint bone and went to surgery instead of Blenheim to have that taken out,” Tiana said. With Finn recovered from surgery, Tiana got an early start on the 2016 season by heading to Portugal in February, where they finished 20th in the CIC2* at Barroca d’Alva.
Finn was then meant to compete in the CIC3* at Barroca d’Alva two weeks later when bad luck struck again. “We got chased by some loose horses, and he managed to bang his leg and had to be withdrawn,” Tiana said. “It’s just been a long time coming, and it was wonderful to finally have him out competing again at Burgham.”
Finn scored a 47.2 in dressage at Burgham, jumped clear in show jumping, and then stormed around cross country as one of three clear rounds inside the time to finish in second place, just behind winners Oliver Townend and Dromgurrihy Blue.
“I was really proud of him. His dressage test was far off the mark of how good he can be, but he’s never as good at a one-day event as he is at a three-day when you have arena familiarization and a couple days to get him settled in,” Tiana said.
“His walk and trot work was probably some of the best he’s every done. It was extremely windy, and there is a lot of atmosphere in the main arena. He had a few ‘moments’ in the canter, which the score reflected. For his first big event of the season and being his first event, I was very happy.”
Now Tiana is anxiously awaiting the announcement of spring USEF High Performance Competition Grants, which are expected to come any day now. She applied for a grant to travel home to the U.S. to make their second appearance at Rolex, as well as gain their qualifier for a shot at representing Team USA on the Olympic stage once more.
Tiana and Finn are also entered at Badminton, which would be their third time competing at that event, but they are far down on the wait list due to the fact that the horse hasn’t been out competing much lately.
“Because he’s at the bottom of the wait list for Badminton and hasn’t been able to get his qualifier for the Olympics, it’s riding on going to Rolex or Badminton. I can understand (the selectors) thinking it’s too much of a risk because he hasn’t been able to do a lot and they haven’t seen consistent form, but I hope after Burgham they will say he’s back on form,” Tiana said.
“I am four years more experienced than I was last time around. If the stars line up and we manage to get to a four-star and have a good performance there, then I think we should have a shot at Rio, but he has fallen off the radar. I know we have a lot to prove, and I would like the chance to prove it.”
Finn is next entered to compete in the CIC3* at Belton, which is the same weekend as The Fork. If Tiana does get the grant to go to Rolex, Finn will be getting on a plane to the U.S. that week and will withdraw from Belton. “If I don’t get funding for Rolex, then he’ll go to Belton and maybe do dressage and show jumping in the hope that he manages to move up off the wait list at Badminton.”
Finn’s spring schedule will dictate much of where the rest of Tiana’s string competes in the next few months. Sambuca F, a 10-year-old Westphalian mare previously campaigned by Swiss team rider Felix Vogg, is finally ready to step up to the Advanced level and aim for a three-star after persevering through her own setbacks over the last two years.
“Sambuca is a stunning mare that has also been terribly unlucky. About six weeks after I got her in the spring of 2014, she struck into her tendon and ruptured it,” Tiana said. “I could have had her out at the end of last season, but I felt like there was no point to bring her back and do a few one-days. I decided to give her a few more months and bring her out over the spring.”
Sambuca also made the trip to Portugal in February, where she won the CCI2* at Barroca d’Alva, adding just 0.8 cross country time penalties to her dressage score to finish on a final score of 45.5.
“When we took her down to Portugal, I really had no expectations whatsoever,” Tiana said. “I didn’t have much time to get to know her before she got injured, and I wasn’t sure if we had her fitness level where it needed to be. She surpassed all my hopes and expectations.”
Tiana is tentatively planning to compete Sambuca in CIC3* events this year with an end goal of aiming for the CCI3* at Blenheim this fall, but she is waiting to know Finn’s schedule before she makes a final decision.
The third upper-level horse in Tiana’s current string is another striking grey. Aloha, an 11-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding owned by Jatial Ltd. and Diana Chappell, competed through the three-star level with Jonelle Price before Tiana took over the ride last year.
“Aloha is very much a work in progress, but he’s very talented. He’s quite a sensitive character that needs a good relationship and a bit of time still. When he turns the corner, he’ll be a very good horse. I don’t have any major competition plans for him right now; I’m seeing how long it will take him to come on.”
She also has a talented youngster in Rupert, a 5-year-old gelding owned by Jatial Ltd. and Diana Chappell that competed in the Four-Year-Old division of the Burghley Young Event Horse Final last fall. Rupert just completed his first BE event at Swalcliffe Park earlier in the month, and he’s another horse Tiana is excited about for the future.
Tiana has been based in England for nearly four years now following the 2012 London Olympic Games, with her current yard located at Soley Farm Stud in Hungerford, near Lambourn. She plans to stay in England for the foreseeable future.
“If I get the chance to come back to Rolex, I’m really looking forward to it since it’s been five years (since I competed there), and it would be so wonderful to get to come back home for a visit,” Tiana said. “For now, I’ll plan to stay based over here and keep working away.”