Plenty of event riders have chosen to cross oceans and base themselves thousands of miles away from “home” in pursuit of their career dreams - look at the likes of New Zealanders Sir Mark Todd and Andrew Nicholson, and now Tim and Jonelle Price, while Andrew Hoy, Clayton Fredericks and of course Boyd Martin and Phillip Dutton have set sail from Australian shores. Not many American riders do it, though, probably because the sport is big enough and competitive enough in the U.S. not to make it necessary.
Tiana Coudray is something of a rarity, then - a U.S. Olympian who now calls Britain home. The 32-year-old runs a yard near Swindon in Wiltshire in the southwest of England, where she has 14 horses in work at the moment.
“A permanent move was very much not planned - it just sort of presented itself,” she says. “The initial plan was for three months in 2011 leading up to Blenheim in September. Things didn’t go that well to start with; there were general teething problems, but I’m a bit stubborn. I came over here to become a better rider, and I wasn’t going home with nothing to show for it. It was a big, life-changing decision to fund the trip, and I sold everything to do so. I wasn’t going home with my tail between my legs!”
Tiana’s goal was the 2012 London Olympics, and she felt that there was “no better place to prepare” than the UK. She made arrangements to extend her trip - and when her season concluded with an excellent second place at the highly competitive Blenheim CCI4*-L, it cemented her decision and made her even more determined to make it work.
“I had no business to rush back to in the U.S., so I thought I might as well stay and take any opportunities I could; I had received great support and so much help in the UK, and as I was going to have to start from scratch wherever I was, it seemed like a good idea to capitalize on that,” Tiana says.
At age 23, she achieved what the vast majority of professional eventers never will - she competed for her country at an Olympics. She and Ringwood Magister finished 40th in London and were 17th at Badminton the following spring. Ten years after she first arrived on British shores, she is a well-established part of the eventing scene and has made a real name for herself as a good producer of young horses.
“The biggest part of why I am still here is that the standard of top-level competition in the UK is just so high,” explains Tiana. “Of course, there are fantastic riders, horses, and events back home - but there are just so many more top riders here. There is no breathing room here; you have to hold yourself to that ultra-competitive standard all the time, and the sheer numbers of them mean that to be anywhere in the mix, you have to be so good.”
She doesn’t currently have a whole string of top-level horses and feels that it is easier to produce the young horses well in the UK - the far smaller size of the country and the abundance of facilities means that she only has to travel a few miles to be able to compete in good conditions in whatever discipline she chooses.
“And young horses is really where my business is - I’m very grateful when I have a higher-level horse to ride, and I hope in the future I can keep more of them [rather than sell to fund the business],” she says.
“I always loved the fact that I produced Ringwood Magister from a baby, and I’ve never been in a position to go out and fill a yard with top horses, so I’ve always taken a ground-up approach. It’s very satisfying, and I do love working with young horses. We have a system that works,” she says.
Tiana’s accent is now more English than American - “it’s a bit muddled, some people think I’m Irish,” she says with a laugh. Her fondness for her adopted country is evident.
“I was immediately so well looked after here. So many people did something to help me settle in in lots of ways. It’s a cut-throat sport here, but also a very supportive one - it’s like everyone is in the trenches together,” Tiana says. “The eventing community in the U.S. is amazing, too, but it is so concentrated here because we’re all so geographically close together.
“And I do think there’s a real humbleness about the sport here, which I find refreshing and welcoming. No one, no matter how successful they are, is too big and too special to chat to you in a warm-up.”
She has been based at Craig and Jo Horton’s Day House Farm for five years.
“It is the absolute best place for how I want to do things, especially the youngsters - we have fantastic turnout all year round and everything we need,” she says.
Tiana gives great credit to her head girl/manager Annabelle James, who has been working for her “in one way or another” since 2014.
“I couldn’t do it without her,” she states.
She enjoys training with Captain Mark Phillips - “an absolute genius” - Caroline Moore, Yogi Breisner, Ian Woodhead, and Tina Fletcher.
“I like being able to use such a wide range of coaches - there are so many people you can pick up the phone to and ask for help with a specific horse or a specific issue,” she says.
Tiana has a nice team of horses, mostly ranging from four-year-olds to the smart seven-year-old Cabaret, with whom she finished fourth in the six-year-old world championships at Le Lion D’Angers in the autumn of 2020. Cabaret belongs to Jules Cournane (Stiller), who sent her to Tiana to produce when she returned to the U.S., and Tiana has another six-year-old out of Jules’s CCI4* mare Salsa as well, called Headleys Chatterbox. Also six is the “very exciting” Coeur De L’ESpirit Z.
However, the desire to compete at the highest level still burns, and another mare, Cancara’s Girl, is helping fulfill that.
“For the first time in a long time, she’s actually one that’s mine, so there is no pressure to sell her or move her on,” says Tiana. “She’s quietly climbed up the grades and is at CCI4* now, which is really quite exciting. She’s the most unassuming little mare, 16hh at best, whom I bought from the far north of Scotland via a video on Facebook, and she’s getting me out there and letting me do what I came here to do!”
They recently completed their first CCI4*-L at Bicton, going clear round a very tough, imposing cross-country track. Would Tiana like another shot at representing Team USA at a championship? Of course.
“But I am very realistic. There is no reason for the U.S. team set-up to take me seriously over here until I have a horse that I can be taken seriously on,” she says.
The United States Eventing Association (USEA) is pleased to announce the addition of the Modified Rider division beginning at the 2023 USEA American Eventing Championships (AEC), presented by Nutrena Feeds. The USEA AEC will move back to the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky August 29–September 3, 2023.
Are you interested in competing in the sport of eventing but aren’t quite sure how to get started? Do you have a horse that is looking for a new career? Consider participating in a USEA New Event Horse (NEH) competition in 2023! The USEA NEH Program was created to be an introduction to the sport of eventing for both horse and rider, and the 2023 NEH Calendar is now available here.
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