Keen xx, a Pioneer of American Dressage

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Eurodressage has begun a series on "the golden oldies" remembering some of the great horses in Dressage History. Here Astrid Appels focuses on the beginnings of American Dressage on the international scene, and Hilda Gurney's Keen, one of the first superstars of American Dressage.

Looking into the history books of dressage one can suppose at first glance that the USA had always been involved with this most refined of equestrian disciplines. In 1932 the US won team and individual bronze at the Olympics in Los Angeles, but one must see that it was in a very reduced field of only three teams because many European countries couldn't afford the long journey by ship. Sixteen years later the USA won a team silver meda lin a field of 5 teams after the victorious Swedish team was disqualified Best of their team was Robert Borg, who finished fourth on Klingsor, a former horse of the German Cavalry School at Hannover.

But for the next 28 years the United States were more or less only participants in the Olympic Games relying on single riders and their horses, often bought in Europe. In the 1960s there were about a handful of them able to perform at Grand Prix level and the most outstanding of them was an impressive huge Irish bred thoroughbred gelding called Rath Patrick xx, ridden by Patricia Galvin, who won at Aachen and placed 6th in the 1960 Olympic Games, 8th in Tokyo in 1964 and won the Pan American Games twice (1959 & 1963).

Though Rath Patrick xx showed encouring results as a thoroughbred, dressage was still the least favourite discipline in the USA. Similarly at the same time in Great Britain show jumping and eventing were much more popular also due to their consistent success.
As the country is big and trainers in dressage were rare it was very hard for young and interested riders to take up dressage and improve, especially if they hadn't the possibility to buy a ready-made dressage horse in Europe.

One of these riders was Californian Hilda Gurney. The story of her first horse Keen xx is remarkable in many aspects and it sounds like a fairytale by the Brothers Grimm: Becoming the American pioneer against all odds and enormously  helping American dressage to establish and grow. The tremendous development that dressage in the USA has made over the past 35 years would have been unthinkable without Keen xx. Reason enough to remember an outstanding horse.

Read More about Keen xx on eurodressage