Lee McKeever and McLain Ward: A Winning Combination

Saturday, April 8, 2017
Posted by Kathleen Landwehr, US Equestrian Communications Department


Lee McKeever walks to the warm-up ring with McLain Ward and HH Azur (Shannon Brinkman Photo)

Lee McKeever walks to the warm-up ring with McLain Ward and HH Azur (Photo: Shannon Brinkman Photography)

Lee McKeever started riding at the age of eight at a local riding school in Ireland and fell in love with it. He came to the U.S. at 18, and a short time later, began working for McLain Ward’s father. Ward began hanging out with McKeever at horse shows growing up, and the rest is history. McKeever has overseen Ward’s support team from the time that Ward began his professional career through four Olympic Games and much more.

“It has been exciting. There have been ups and downs, a very special journey,” McKeever said. “The experiences traveling the world, the amazing horses, and the great competitions have made it special.”

Numerous wonderful horses have made up Ward’s string over the years, but Omnibus, one of Ward’s horses back in the ’90s, is one of McKeever’s favorites – though he is quick to add, “They are all special, all individuals, which is nice.”

McKeever has had a long career working as a professional groom and barn manager. Speaking of his longevity in his path in life, he said, “I think you have got to love the horses and love the job. It’s not really a job, it’s more of a pleasure to work with the horses.”

McKeever and Ward’s working partnership will soon reach its 30th anniversary, an impressive feat that has seen much success. McKeever travels to most major competitions with Ward and oversees the work of seven grooms that make up the team. “I think we are more of a partnership; we both bring different things to the table and it works well,” McKeever said. “I think you have to build a rapport up. You build awareness of little things that people might not think are important, but in the big picture are.”

Ward has high praise for McKeever and how important he is to his team. McKeever helps Ward everywhere from the barn back at home to competitions, such as the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final. Just like Ward, McKeever is hungry to have his team be at the top of the sport.

“You know, Lee works harder than I do; sometimes when we are at each other, I say that is the saving grace, because I know he still wants to win,” Ward said. “He wants it. It is hard because it is a little out of his control; when I go in the ring, it is on me. I wouldn’t be halfway where I am in my career without him, so it is a very special relationship.”

Despite the fact that Ward is a serious technician on horseback and an incredible horseman in his own right, he stated, “[McKeever] is a phenomenal horseman; he is a far better horseman than I can ever wish to be. It has been a long journey, but I am proud of where we are at.”