Road to Le Lion: Keynote Dassett Takes on France

Lucia and Keynote Dassett. Photo by Erin Gilmore Photography.

Last fall, Lucia Strini was just getting back in the saddle after the birth of her second child, and certainly wasn’t planning her first trip competing abroad. However, a fated trip to Dassett Eventing in England for her sister, Benita, resulted in the purchase of Keynote Dassett, and their journey progressed all the way to FEI WBFSH Eventing World Breeding Championships at Mondial du Lion in France this week.

“Wilson”, as he is known around the barn, is a 7-year-old KWPN gelding sired by Vigo D’arsouilles, out of a Cardento mare named Bubble Gum. His young horse career was slightly stymied by event cancellations due to COVID, so by the time the Strini sisters found him as a 6-year-old, he was relatively green, having only completed a handful of preliminaries.

“Benita went over to Dassett Eventing to try him specifically for me, and called me within five minutes to tell me that he was perfect,” says Lucia, with a smile on her face. “He’s been everything Kate Rocher-Smith said he was, maybe just a little sassier.”

Wilson settled in at Ecurie Livio. Photo courtesy of Lucia Strini.

Jumping talent is surely not something that Wilson lacks, and despite his relative lack of experience, he has taken to the upper levels of the sport with ease and gusto. However, sometimes tamping down the enthusiasm is a challenge, as it often is with big-time horses.

Lucia spent last winter getting to know her new mount, and came out in January to cruise around a Training level at Grand Oaks in Florida. They quickly popped up to Preliminary, ending the spring season with an FOD at the Virginia Horse Trials CCI2*-L.

As she found herself with three spectacular 7-year-olds in her barn, (Kevin G and FE Caspian right alongside Wilson) the thought of tackling Le Lion slowly entered her mind.

“I’ve been trying to produce upper-level eventing horses for my whole life, and how often do you have this kind of chance?” Not many riders can boast that kind of choice, and so the dream of competing abroad became a real plan.

When it came down to choosing which young horse would be most suited, Wilson won out because of his incredible ground-covering gallop, and her confidence in his jumping ability. He isn’t actually the biggest of horses, however when he goes cross country, you can see him grow and expand with each jump.

Lucia and Dassett Keynote had moved up to Intermediate this summer. Photo by Erin Gilmore Photography.

“He’s a funny horse, and very sensitive, so I’ve had to learn a lot to ride him the way that suits him,” says Lucia. “He has a big ego, and expresses his opinions on a lot of things. He gets quite wild in the warm-up, and I’ve had to experiment with some alternative routines like warming up far away from everybody to keep the lid on.”

Even though the opportunity for a CCI3*-L at Fair Hill is much more convenient — and does feature its own Young Horse Championship within the 3* division — the chance to go to Le Lion is a once in a lifetime opportunity for Lucia. Thanks to the support of her family, many supporters, and loyal sponsors, she was able to make this dream a reality. The entire Plain Dealing Farm family will be joining in on the experience, with her parents, husband, and two kids arriving in time for dressage today (October 21).

This will be the first competition abroad for Lucia, and she’s spent months analyzing old courses and rounds from previous years at the championship, and has decided this is the perfect opportunity to experience a big European competition for herself.

“I’m not going there to win,” she says, “Obviously an FOD would be amazing, but it’s really more for the experience, and delivering a performance that is positive for both of us.”

Photo by Erin Gilmore Photography.

The pair flew over to France last week, accompanied by her sister/stand-in coach/emotional support human Benita, and #supergroom Sarah Choate, who has been working for Plain Dealing Farm for seven years. Ahead of the competition, they based out of Ecurie Livio alongside Liz Halliday-Smith’s mount, Shanroe Cooley, who is also headed to the same competition.

With four American riders on the list for the 7-year-old 3*-L this week, Lucia and Wilson might fly under the radar a bit, but this exciting pair is certainly one to watch for the future.