Born in Dublin, Lee McKeever, 51, had a foundation in riding and grooming when he moved to the States at 18. He met McLain Ward while working for Ward’s father, Barney Ward, and he’s worked with McLain for over 30 years. He lives at Castle Hill with his wife, Erica McKeever, and children Bradlee, 18, and Baylee, 15. Lee walks us through his day at McLain’s Castle Hill Farm in Brewster, New York.
5:30 a.m. I wake up, get out of bed, have coffee and a protein shake.
6 a.m. I go to the gym. [I work out] for an hour and a half. I come straight back to the farm, have a shower and head to the barn. There are probably 12 people here on the farm including Owen Rogers, Olga Kruglova, Virginie Casterman, Corey Gallais, Alex Jungkvistm, Marco Carrara, Edvin Soto and Diego Perez Bilbao.
7:50 a.m. I get to the barn. We start by feeding, giving hay, checking the horses, mucking out.
9 a.m. We all sit down and eat breakfast together in the office kitchen. We get Kingsley’s Deli. They have muffins and bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches. I normally have a protein shake when I get back from the gym.
9:30 a.m. McLain will start riding. Depending on the day, he can do from five to eight horses. If we’re schooling horses, I go down to the ring and help him do gymnastics, set the jumps, give him advice. From there, either everybody else starts riding, or depending on the time we’ll sit down, have lunch, and go from there.
Noon It depends on the day, but sometimes [lunch] is quicker if we’ve got a lot going on. If it’s a rainy day, it’ll be a little longer. It’s very family-oriented. We make a lunch list and send out for it, and then we all sit down and have lunch together. We get Kingsley’s, from sandwiches to salads to pizza. They always have a deli special like pasta and soups. We like to be a team, and it’s great if everybody eats together. You get a good atmosphere, and people bond well together.
1 p.m. Everyone else rides in the afternoon. I ride in the afternoon, or if [McLain’s] just flatting in the morning, I’ll ride in the morning also. It depends on what the routine for that day is.
Sometimes I ride two. Sometimes I ride four or five. If McLain’s not here, I’ll ride more. On average, I’d say three to four a day. I like [HH] Azur; I like Contagious. Clinta’s nice to ride. They’re all totally different. Azur’s got a lot of blood. Mainly you have to sit quiet and do a lot of slow work because she’s naturally built to go fast. Contagious is a little quieter, so you’ve got to work at making him go forward and coming a lot more from behind. Clinta’s just a big powerhouse.
2:45 p.m. When my daughter comes home from school—when school’s going on—I like to help her in the afternoon. Sometimes if she goes to Heritage [Farm], I’ll go there and watch her have lessons. She rides with [Patricia Griffith and Andre Dignelli].
4:30 p.m. We feed. Normally we go over the plan for tomorrow, so we have a rough idea of how the next day is going to go. A list is done of what the horses are doing, if we’re having clients, and so on. It’ll all be laid out on a board in the office, so everyone can check in on that before they leave and see what’s going on the next day. We’ve got great people, and it’s a real team atmosphere. Everybody really gets along well, and everybody knows what they’re doing, so you don’t really have to manage. You just have to supervise. Everyone has their separate four or five horses, and everyone plays a huge role. We’re all even here. That’s the good thing that makes it work. From mucking out to dragging the ring at night, everyone does everything.
6:30-10 p.m. I like to come home, maybe sit down and have a cup of tea. Talk to the kids, see how their day was. Then I normally like to do something, either go to the movies or watch a movie at home. I watched “The Gentlemen” recently, “Fracture” and “In The Tall Grass,” but that was a terrible movie. I like comedies as well.
I always like to watch the news first thing in the morning and last thing at night just to see what’s going on in the world. Then we normally like to do something as a family. Either we go to McLain’s house, or McLain comes to our house. Two or three times a week, we have dinner there. We either have pasta or steak or we BBQ. It depends on whose house we go to, but either Erica, my wife, or Lauren [Ward] will cook. Depending on the night, sometimes it’s just our two families, and then other nights it’s everybody.