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That Special Bond – with Lee McKeever: “Rothchild was his own person”

Tuesday, 06 September 2022
That Special Bond

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ Lee McKeever – who has worked with Mclain Ward for over thirty years – tells WoSJ about the very special horses he has had the pleasure to share his career with. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

 

Text © World of Showjumping

 


 

In World of Showjumping’s series ‘That Special Bond’, we talk with some of the top names in the sport, to discuss the horses that have shaped their careers, fulfilled their dreams – and sometimes even broken hearts. This time, Lee McKeever – who has worked with Mclain Ward for over thirty years – tells WoSJ about the very special horses he has had the pleasure to share his career with.

The special one

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ "Rothchild, he did more than he was ever supposed to do," Lee tells. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“Probably Rothchild, but there have been many – it has been so many years,” Lee begins. “But Rothchild, he did more than he was ever supposed to do. When he made it to the World Equestrian Games in 2014, that was pretty special.”

“Mclain tried Rothchild in Belgium, and he did not like him – he was wild,” Lee tells. “However, Francois Mathy spoke to Mclain’s father on the phone and told him the horse was unbelievable and that he should buy it. Meanwhile, Mclain was on the plane and once he had arrived he told his dad not to buy the horse. But his dad answered ‘too late, I bought it.’ So that is how we ended up with Rothchild. It was rough at the start, but once they bonded, it was just unbelievable.”

If he didn’t want to do something, he was not going to do it, you were not going to make him

“Rothchild’s personality was the biggest challenge: If he didn’t want to do something, he was not going to do it, you were not going to make him,” Lee smiles. “We just had to do whatever he wanted, it was always his way or nobody’s way – Rothchild was his own person. In the end, we knew what he preferred and what he didn’t like, so we only went along with him. The best memory with him would for sure be the 2014 World Cup Final in Lyon: The last round was huge, and for him to go in there and jump clear… the atmosphere was unbelievable, it was very special.”

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ “She was always very special, she had a great personality,” Lee says of Mclain Ward's Sapphire. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“However, there have been so many special horses that it is hard to pick one. Way back there was a horse called Omnibus, he was a very careful horse and had the biggest heart. Also he ended up doing more than he was ever supposed to. He would always try for you. There are certain horses who always want to be winners; they might not have all the ability, but they try harder for you. Those are very special. It is very enjoyable to have horses like that, with good character, who want to win – it makes for a good career,” Lee says. 

There are certain horses who always want to be winners; they might not have all the ability, but they try harder for you

Many amazing horses have shaped the more than thirty years Lee has worked with Mclain, and Sapphire has been one of them. “She was always very special, she had a great personality,” Lee says. “She tried hard, she was an unbelievable mare. She came to New York and jumped incredible. She was so powerful, so careful – you just knew right there and then that she was going to be a good horse. There were so many great moments with her, she won so many classes that it is hard to name one – she was really good. And with Annie [HH Azur], when she won the World Cup Final in Omaha, that was the most special moment with her. That final in Omaha was special in so many ways; being at home, she jumped every round clear, the home crowd was unbelievable. Annie always wants to be number one, she always tries really hard. At the moment she is doing good, she won a Grand Prix in Florida in the beginning of the year, another one at Old Salem Farm in May and finished 5th in the Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen. She looks better than ever.”

Hardest to get to know

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ. "Antares was more sensitive than people thought he was, and he was difficult to ride," Lee tells about the gelding that was Ward's partner at the London Olympics. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“They are all pretty easy, you just need to treat them like people and get to know their personalities,” Lee says when asked which horse has been the hardest to get to know. “There is no set routine, we kind of figure out their preferences; what they like and what they don’t like, and go from there. Realistically, you got to go with them, for them to help you. A horse we disagreed about was Antares; I always made excuses for him. Antares was more sensitive than people thought he was, and he was difficult to ride.”

There is no set routine, we kind of figure out their preferences; what they like and what they don’t like, and go from there

“In every case, I like seeing the horses grow, as horses and athletes, and for them to be happy and get the respect they deserve,” Lee continues. “I always want it to go well, and I always want the best for the horses. There are good times and there are bad times, but it’s the struggles that make the good times good.”

The one that got away

Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for WoSJ “Clinta is in foal now, and she is very happy – maybe the happiest she’s ever been, it’s like she became a different horse,” Lee tells about the mare that won team gold with Mclain Ward at the World Championships in Tryon. Photo © Jenny Abrahamsson for World of Showjumping.

“This would for sure be Clinta,” Lee says. “Due to an injury, her career got ended quicker than we ever thought. She had unbelievable talent, scope, she was a winner. When she came to Florida, we started in the 1.45m classes. She was very special, but she kept growing. She was so talented, she just wanted to win and she had a huge heart.”

“Clinta is in foal now, and she is very happy – maybe the happiest she’s ever been, it’s like she became a different horse,” Lee smiles. “When she was competing, she never used to go in the field too long because she would always start to run and get stressed, but now at the end it felt like she kind of knew and was just happy to be out. It was always hard to keep weight on her, but now she has put on so much and she looks great. She is carrying her own baby, which I think is nice for her. I think she will make a great mother. “

When you have that special one, everyone else builds off that horse

“It is always hard to find the next one, but you just have to plan ahead,” Lee continues. “You are always looking for the next superstar. Usually, you have three or four main horses that are up there and you rotate them, so you always know who is going to step into the number one, second or third spot. I think when you have a number one, the others rise to the occasion as well. Through time, you figure out who will be the next one and go from there. However, it is very hard to stay levelled. For sure everyone has times in their careers where you don’t have the horse, like Sapphire, Azur or Clinta – and so many others –  have been for us. When you have that special one, everyone else builds off that horse.” 

 

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