Keenan Calls on Argan as She Eyes Paris

U.S. Olympic Jumping Team short-listed rider Lillie Keenan changed up her gelding's training program and care routine to discover a happier horse.

Lillie Keenan grew up riding in programs with top horse care as a Junior rider. After going professional and starting her own program, she learned more about managing a string of top show-jumping horses. But when Selle Français Argan de Beliard arrived at her barn two years ago, Keenan realized there was even more to discover.

“We went through a period where we weren’t necessarily at our peak. That’s when I decided to work with an internal medicine vet,” she said. “I learned a lot about the horse and what kind of care and diet he needed. We changed his feed and the way we fed him, as well as his exercise program. It made such a difference, it’s like he’s a new horse.”

U.S. Olympic Jumping Team short-listed rider Lillie Keenan and her Selle Français Argan de Beliard competed at the Nations Cup Rome CSIO5* in May, where the team finished in fourth. | Sportfot

Now the pair are in contention for the Paris Olympics this summer, and Keenan regards “Argan,” a 14-year-old gelding (Mylord Carthago x La Belle Normande) owned by Chansonette Farm LLC, as her top mount. She’s also shortlisted for the U.S. Jumping Team with Kick On, a 2014 Warmblood (Warrior x Sussex Caretino) stallion, also owned by Chansonette Farm LLC.

Developing a Bond

“Argan has always been wonderful and kindhearted and has done a lot for me. But over the last year, he really doubled down,” Keenan said. “Some of my other top horses got injured, and I really had to call on him. But he did more than rise to the occasion.”

The gelding came to her barn in 2022 from Portuguese rider Luis Sabino Gonçalves, who’d competed with him in five-star events in the U.S.

Keenan’s trainer and mentor, McLain Ward, saw Argan jump and thought he’d be a good fit for her, but the 27-year-old horsewoman dragged her feet on partnering with the horse.

“At first, I didn’t realize how special he was. But McLain was persistent,” she admitted. “Three months after he first mentioned the horse as a potential match, I tried him. I owned Argan two weeks before I jumped my first four-star grand prix with him, and we very quickly meshed.”

Necessary Adjustments

When their partnership hit some bumps later that year, Keenan consulted the experts on her team, including internal medicine specialist Emmanuelle van Erck, DVM; U.S. Jumping Team veterinarian Heather Sherman, DVM; equine chiropractor Steve Engle; sport-horse specialist Frederik Bruyninx, DVM; acupuncturist Holly Schmitt Fox, DVM; and farrier Peirre Renault.

“We have an army of specialists that have come together to help give this horse a new lease on life,” Keenan said. “We learned that the best medicine for him is flatwork, as well as changing the way we do our flatwork. To keep him interested in what he’s doing and provide him with different types of exercise, I incorporated a variety of flatwork into his training program. Sometimes that might include riding out on trails or doing trot and canter sets along the canals when we’re in Florida. Anything so that we’re not just riding in a circle, which I think is important for any animal. But the transformation I saw in Argan from that alone was quite stunning.”

Keenan and “Argan” competed at the Nations Cup La Baule CSIO5* in June, where the team took sixth place. | Sportfot

At home in Greenwich, Connecticut, Keenan rarely jumps the gelding because he knows his job so well. If she does jump him, however, she typically sets three verticals one stride apart (23 feet) with a ground pole in between each.

“This exercise is good for his agility and since it’s a triple combination, it also helps build muscle tone. When a horse jumps a combination, it’s like they’re doing squats,” Keenan noted. “I also incorporate one-stride vertical-oxer combinations using small fences to keep him in a shape and using his back. I rarely jump courses on him at home.”

Argan’s Daily Care

Argan can lose weight just by looking at a truck, she joked, so he gets three meals a day along with plenty of forage. Keenan keeps him slightly heavier knowing he’ll get leaner by the time they get to a major competition.

When Keenan first bought Argan, Sabino Gonçalves told her he was the smartest horse he’d ever worked with and that he was like a crocodile. At first, she didn’t understand the comparison.

“Luis meant that he was deceivingly shy. Argan pretends to be quite quiet until he’s not. He has a huge personality. He knows he’s a champion horse. And he expects to be treated as such,” Keenan laughed. “If I’m in the stable and ride another horse before him, he’s pawing to get out of his stall. He gives you absolutely 100 percent of himself every day. When he goes to an important show, he knows what to do.”

Argan’s groom Cory Tual makes sure the gelding has his therapeutic Activo-Med blanket, an Uncle Jimmy’s Hangin Ball in his stall and, of course, his favorite treats—oranges.

Looking Ahead

Keenan and Argan had strong results at the recent Rome CSIO5* and La Baule CSIO5* observation events, and she noted that her goal was peak at those events.

“He jumped unbelievably well at both. At the Nations Cup in Rome, he was clear and 4, and he had one down in the [Rolex] Grand Prix. In La Baule, he jumped clear in the Nations Cup, and he had one down in the last line of the [Rolex] Grand Prix,” Keenan said. “It was my fault, but I really couldn’t ask for him to be in better shape. He’s very reliable. Cory calls him ‘Mr. Consistency.’ Every single day when you ask him to be at his best, he is, and he’s always the same, which is pretty incredible for any animal, but especially at the level we’re aiming for.”

Keenan is realistic about selection considering the quality of riders on the shortlist, but she’s ready for the callup if it comes.

“It would be amazing if he was selected, but I also have to be realistic. I’m just incredibly grateful for the amount ,” she said. “If we get a chance to do anything else for the U.S. team, we’ll make sure we’re at our best.”

To read more about Lillie Keenan and her show jumping career, click here.

Thanks to Cosequin for our coverage of the 2024 Paris Olympics. It includes rider interviews, competition reports, horse spotlights, photos, videos and more.

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