The Young Horse Specialist

Kenneth McGrath - Dressage Rider, Trainer, Clinician

Ken also enjoys working with young horses, including starting them.  He happily takes on three-year-olds and is happy to break them to ride and teach them to lunge.  He really enjoys long-lining young horses and believes it sets up a good base for them.  “I did a lot of long-lining when I worked with the Lipizzans,” he says.  “Now I do it with most of my horses.  I believe it’s a good start for young horses and teaches them how to steer and be handled.  Then as the horse progresses it is a great way for them to learn to piaffe without anyone on their back.”  Ken strongly believes this is much easier for the horse when they are learning the advanced move.
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Leoluigi, the Hanoverian gelding by Landor S out of a Calypso II dam, is one of many of Ken’s success stories.  One of the family’s many customized buying trips to Germany was with friend and client Lezlie Rehagen.  “We typically travel to Germany at least once a year to buy horses for clients,” says Ken.  They usually hit the Theodorescu’s barn, Michael Klimke’s barn and PSI.  Lezlie started out riding Saddlebreds and after taking time off to have children, she picked up dressage three years ago.  When it was time to purchase her first dressage horse she came to Ken.

"He was not the fanciest horse,” said Lezlie.  “He was not the biggest horse.  He was not at a fancy show/sale barn.  We looked at Olympic rider barns and a lot of good breeding.  His sire (Landor S actually makes more show jumpers than he does dressage horses.  It sounds corny, but when I saw him I knew.  This was before Ken or I got on him while the German trainer rode him.  It was just his attitude, his expression, his willingness.  It’s hard to find a young horse that a new rider can handle and still has something more.  He’s very much a gentleman and a babysitter.  He takes care of me.  He’s really been a two-in-one horse.”

Leo was purchased in Warendorf, Germany and landed in the states in January of 2008, and he and Ken already have a solid working relationship.  For example, they qualified for the Markel/USEF Young Horse Championship for six-year-olds.  They came into the championship ranked tenth, placed seventh on the first day, and tenth overall against the top six-year-olds in the United States.  “He did great,” says Ken.  “Hopefully he’ll back next year as a developing horse.  We’ve got a few other clients with young horses that have gotten excited about the program as well and would like to be here next year.  We’re going to try and make a push for that.”

Lezlie also rides Leo and does a lot of trail riding in the Lakewood Horse Preserve, right across the street from McGrath Stables.  Leo enjoys at least two trail rides a week on the gorgeous property.  Lezlie’s got the horse bug now, and from the sounds of things she and Ken may be looking for another great, competent mount (or two) for Lezlie in the near future—this time from the states.

"Ken really respects where the horse is in its process,” says Lezlie.  “He’s got a nice balance between pushing but not too far.  I wanted my horse to be well trained, and I want to own this horse when he’s 20, and I want to be riding him when he’s 20.  I wanted a trainer that was going to respect this and not just try and make a great six-year-old for these sorts of events [six-year-old Young Horse Championship], and I think that Ken does a good job of that.  He knows where the edge is.  He doesn’t go over the edge and that’s why Leo’s attitude is never sour, and he’s happy to do his work.  To me that is very much more important than whether or not we win this competition.  I’d like to see him go all the way to Grand Prix, and that’s not going to happen if we burn him out at six.  I really knew that Ken would take care of him that way.”

The weekend after the Young Horse Championships Leo and Ken competed at the Region 2 Championships and ended up champions at third level and came in third at second level.  “What a great win,” says Ken.  “We were all feeling great after that.”

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