What It Feels Like to Move to Europe to Further my Career: Hallie Coon

What It Feels Like to Move to Europe to Further my Career: Hallie Coon

After a phenomenal first summer abroad, courtesy of the Karen Stives Endowment Fund Grant, I’m hopping the pond permanently and taking up residence in Marlborough, Wiltshire, England. Though I’m only 23, I refuse to stay stagnant in my career. The months I spent in England in 2018 were just a taste of what’s to come, but it was an amazing way to get my feet wet. To put it simply, it was a huge jump forward in my career, from training and competing to being surrounded by so much talent all the time.

Competing at the Houghton Hall CICO3* was a definite high point because the USA came second in the Nations Cup and it was my first time under pressure in a team situation. It showed me that I have the ability to be cool under pressure, which honestly, is a huge relief.

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Then we trekked on to Bramham Horse Trials for the Under 25 CCI3*, and I had two really good first phases. I was absolutely thrilled with my longtime partner Celien, a Dutch mare who is 12 this year. Unfortunately, she had an abscess brewing, and the pounding on cross-country brought it out just enough that we didn’t make it through the final day. Onwards and upwards, as I say, and after about three weeks of patience, the abscess blew. It was quite impressive, I’ll just say that.

“Cece” had a little bit of time off and then we headed to Millstreet International Horse Trials in Ireland for the Nations Cup. It was another great team experience even though we didn’t finish with a team score. To have the 20 faults on cross country was a real disappointment also because she has had such a good cross-country record her whole life. She’s never seen an Irish bank (it was definitely the bogie fence of the day), so just pure surprise, I think, got to her there.

From Millstreet, we regrouped and headed to Little Downham Horse Trials for the Advanced and had a super run there before Pau in France, which was to be our first career attempt at a CCI4* (now known as a CCI5*-L under new FEI designations). We ended the season on a high note at Pau, jumping clear on cross-country and finishing in 22nd place. As if the competition experience wasn’t enough in and of itself, Cece and I spent some time at the one and only Cooley Farm in Wicklow, Ireland with Richard Sheane and his wife, Georgina, who are amazing horse people. He was a huge part of my success with Cece this year and he was so wonderful about it. She’s the one horse that I have that’s not a Cooley, so it was really amazing on his part to help me so much. I knew I would have to go back and forth between the U.K. and the United States and leave my horse with someone. Richard was the one person I knew and really trusted. So I called him up and I said, “Hey, can I come and stay and bring my horse?” and he said, “Of course, just come straight over.” So we hopped in the truck and crossed over into Ireland.

It’s been a lot to handle because I’ve had to keep Cece going in Europe while also having the FEI horses still going in the U.S., so I’ve racked up a lot of air miles. If I'm being honest, while being able to do this is wonderful, it's also pretty hard because both Cece in Ireland and the other horses in Ocala have suffered a bit because they haven’t gotten the attention that they need. I think we saw that in the fitness at Pau (we had some time penalties cross-country and rails down in show jumping on the final day), and we saw the weakness in my horses in dressage at the Ocala Jockey Club International Three-Day last November. I just haven’t had the time for all of it. As good of a year as it has been, there are so many holes in it that need to be plugged, and it's been a huge learning experience.

Being named to the 2019 USEF Developing Potential Training List is another huge step in my career – it’s the first time I’ve been on a high-performance list. But, at the same time, I’m not jumping up and down and celebrating. So far, what it’s done for me is put the pressure on. It’s that much more incentive to go back over to England and put in a really competitive score at Badminton CCI5*-L in May and come out with my guns blazing. I have the horses to do it, and making this move is going to be a game changer.

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I’m really excited to join the British culture of competition and be able to compete on a world stage every time I go out. It will help normalize the concept of constantly competing in stacked divisions because that’s such a foreign idea in the States. I think that exposure and level of experience is really going to up my game and my horses’ game and hopefully bring some real results to this country. That’s the goal. I’m sure I’ll get tired of the rain in Britain, but I know what I’m in for and I think it’s worth it. It's a small price to pay to move forward in the sport that I love.

I feel that I need to make this move for my career because the pattern that I see in many of the competitors in the U.S. is that they stay stateside and they get comfortable, and then they stagnate. Yeah, we may get some results at home, but we rarely get good results across the pond when we're just hopping over on occasion.

I want to be the breakthrough.

Photos by Tilly Berendt.

Thanks to Kate Kosnoff for working with Hallie on this piece.

Written by Hallie Coon

Hallie Coon is a 24-year-old American eventer, currently making the move to the U.K. to further her riding career. She is on the Eventing Emerging Athlete 25 list this year.