While it’s not unheard of to see a junior rider make an appearance in France at the FEI WBFSH Eventing World Breeding Championships at Mondial du Lion (perhaps one of the most memorable being a then-18-year-old Cathal Daniels with his future pint-size supermare, Rioghan Ria in 2014), it’s certainly unusual to see an American junior rider on the entry list. Has there ever been one? I’m honestly not sure; my eyes started to cross after leafing through decades of past entries and Googling everyone’s age.
This year, though, America is represented by 17-year-old Quidley Kellerman of Wimberley, Texas — the youngest competitor entered this year at Le Lion and the lone US representative in the 6-year-old CCI2*-L division. While a young horse competition in France might seem like an unlikely goal for many young riders, Quidley has had her eye on Le Lion for the better part of a year, thanks, perhaps – at least in part – to a heavy dose of serendipity.
After competing through the Modified level with her previous horse, an OTTB named Stillwater King, in March of 2022 Quidley and her mother Samantha Kellerman went on the search for Quidley’s next mount. Preferring a young horse – the Kellermans had gotten Stillwater King off the track and Quidley brought him up the levels herself – and working within a budget, they found a promising five-year-old gray Irish Sport Horse in the barn of Hillary Irwin. Recently imported from Ireland, Blakeneys Cruise (FSS Correlli Bravo – Caoimhes Cruising, by Cruising), known in the barn as Poncho, was everything they’d been looking for, and the pair was an instant match.
After purchasing Poncho, Quidley spent time in Virginia training and competing him at the Novice level under the tutelage of Kelty O’Donoghue. They won several events, propelling them up the USEA leaderboard and securing enough points to clinch the 2022 USEA Junior Novice Champion title. In the fall of 2022, back home in Texas, Quidley rode with Avery Klunick and the pair moved up to Training level, quickly finding the same success.
It was while riding and training with Avery that the idea of trying to aim for Le Lion first took root. Avery had recently returned to the US after spending two years in the UK riding with Kevin McNab, during which time she competed her own young horse at the Seven Year Old CCI3*-L World Championship at Le Lion. That winter Quidley learned that she had the opportunity to graduate high school a year early, and Avery suggested that Quidley might find it valuable to spend some time in Europe training and competing during her gap year.
They made the trip across the pond to meet Kevin and have some trial rides, and came home thinking that Kevin’s program would potentially be a good fit for both Quidley and Poncho. Meanwhile, stateside, Quidley and Poncho moved up to Modified over the winter season, and then to Preliminary in the spring of 2023, where they placed 3rd and 5th in their two runs at the level at Texas Rose Horse Park.
Quidley graduated from high school in May, and within a week both she and Poncho were on their way to Europe, with the specific goal of qualifying and competing at Le Lion. Poncho acclimated quite well to being back over on the other side of the Atlantic, and by June they were back out competing, working their way up to British Novice and then to the CCI2* level. On UK soil they’ve continued with the same success, finishing with clear jumping rounds at all three of their FEI events and stamping their ticket to Le Lion.
Her belief in the horse and their partnership is evident when talking to Quidley, who says, “Poncho is a super talented horse, and I feel very privileged to partner with him. I know him inside and out, which I think will give us confidence this weekend.”. And confidence can definitely be the name of the game here at Le Lion, which presents a true Championship track — and a true Championship atmosphere, too.
Known for its beautiful and elaborate cross country fences, Le Lion also has a reputation for molding future superstars. For many of these young horses, it will be their first taste of the electric atmosphere that comes with a big international event, and their first time seeing crowds of this size. It’s almost guaranteed that among this field there will be several future CCI5* horses. Just to name a few: Vassily de Lassos, La Biosthetique Sam, Vendredi Biats, Corouet, As Is, Swallow Springs, Quimbo, and Cooley Quicksilver all once contested the 6-year-old class at this prestigious event. As you would expect for a World Championship, Le Lion competitors are some of the best and most promising young event horses and riders in the world, and now Blakeneys Cruise and Quidley Kellerman have earned their place on that list.
“The main goal for the weekend is to give Poncho and myself a positive experience in each phase to carry forward to the future.” Quidley says.
While the original intent was to spend just her gap year abroad, Quidley has fallen in love with the European experience. Seeing the sport from a different perspective and being immersed in top-quality riding and competition in and week out has left her craving more. She’s already planning to try to obtain a two-year visa to continue her overseas adventure, with her sights set on a return to Le Lion next year for the CCI3* 7-year-old division.
“The whole experience has been a dream, honestly,” says Quidley’s mom, Samantha. “We are incredibly proud of the hard work and dedication that Quidley has shown to produce this talented young horse. Poncho is the most honest horse and has surpassed all our expectations. We have had the most amazing group of trainers who have supported them to get to this point and we are extremely grateful. It’s really a dream come true and I am so excited to support them in France and be a part of the experience!”
Quidley’s week has begun already: she and Poncho had a bright and early dressage time this morning, and they (mostly!) managed to avoid the rein en route to a very respectable 34.9, which has them provisionally in the top 30 as things stand.
You can follow along with Le Lion this week via a free live-stream on the FEI YouTube channel – plus, we’ll be bringing you a round-up of the week’s competition right here on EN, with plenty of sights and sounds over on our Instagram, too!
Go Quidley! Go USA! Go Eventing!