Dressage Horse of the Year: Kingston

Mar 29, 2006 - 10:00 PM

You can’t help but look at Kingston when he enters the arena at A. Immense and powerful, yet with a surprising grace, this Dutch Warmblood stallion has always been a crowd pleaser.

Kingston was a U.S. Dressage Federation winner from day 1, and he and rider Leslie Morse were the second alternates for the 2004 Olympics. But 2005 marked a breakthrough year for horse and rider as they settled in at Grand Prix and left an impression on the international dressage scene.

Morse finished sixth in her second FEI World Cup Final, and Kingston ended up ranked eighth in the world on the FEI World Breeding For Sport Horses Ranking List. They also won or placed second at numerous CDIs. For relative Grand Prix newbies, this kind of achievement is nearly unprecedented.
Morse found Kingston as an 8-year-old in Europe. “I’d been looking for something I could take up to Grand Prix,” she explained. “People had seen him, but he was too big, too gawky, etc.”

Her ability to see his potential turned out to be a pivotal point for the career of horse and rider. Although Morse had achieved many FEI accolades, she still hadn’t found the right horse to compete at Grand Prix. And Kingston, enormous and resoundingly masculine, hadn’t found the right partner to tap into his abilities. But the pair bonded, almost from the minute he stepped off the plane.

“Every morning, when he heard my car or my voice, his ears would come up and he’d walk up to the gate,” said Morse.

Their journey together moved forward surprisingly quickly. Kingston was the USDF Horse of the Year at fourth level in 2000, the same year that Morse imported him. “Riding him every day was a complete joy,” said Morse. “He started exactly where we left off the day before. He just learned so fast.”

Their progress continued as Morse and Kingston won national titles at Intermediaire I in 2001 and then at Grand Prix in 2003 after spending a year in England with Kyra Kyrklund. “He’s got such a will to learn and will to work,” said Morse. “I’ve never seen a horse that comes out every single day, no matter where he is, with a smile on his face, his ears pricked, and just marches around ready to work.”

His positive attitude goes hand-in-hand with his high opinion of himself. No matter whether he’s competing, or just standing in the pasture, Kingston believes he’s the big kahuna. “He makes me laugh because his personality is so huge,” said former groom Lou Johnston. “When you walk up the aisle, you can’t help but notice him because he’s right there. He’s not shy.”

His confidence and bond with Morse have been crucial components in propelling Morse to the top of a sport where name recognition and experience count. “When she’d get nervous, he’d really help her,” said Johnston. “He’d be strong for her and come through with his energy. He gives her so much confidence.”

Kingston’s high self-esteem was never more obvious than in their warm-up for the World Cup in Las Vegas. “Kingston was completely showing off,” said Johnston. “And it’s scary because there were tons of people watching, even for the warm-up. But his eyes just lit up. He’s a total performer, and he loves the limelight. Leslie was always worried about the one-tempis, and he came across the diagonal and they were perfect. The crowd went crazy for her.”

But that attitude can also get him into trouble. “Handling him on the ground has been a challenge,” admitted Morse. “He is the man. And he likes to let everyone know that he’s the head stallion and everybody is part of his herd. He can grow to 19 hands. He’s sweet about it, he doesn’t do anything bad, but he just blows up like a balloon, and he can lift you off the ground and take you somewhere.”

He can also be impatient, demanding that it’s time to get off the trailer or refusing to stand still while Morse chats with coach Klaus Balkenhol. “You have to understand who he is on the inside and allow that to come through and not stifle it too much,” reflected Morse. “There’s no need to dominate him. The key is to get that power to work with you.”

But there’s a flip side to Kingston’s brash, impatient side. He’s easily distracted and unsettled by the world around him. “The biggest challenge we have is to keep him eating,” said Morse. “He loses interest in food. He gets busy looking, watching. He forgets to eat.”

Traveling upsets his routine. At times Johnston resorted to hand-feeding Kingston to keep him eating. She also tried to put him in a secluded stall, because, as a stallion, he can’t relax when he smells or sees other horses.

At that level, a minor upset can become a major problem. After a lackluster performance at the Aachen CDIO, Morse learned that dehydration was to blame. “He was ready to shine, so it was disappointing,” said Morse. “I don’t think the world has gotten to see Kingston be who he can be yet. It was a learning journey.”

And learning is what the whole Kingston experience is about. “Because of his wonderful character and natural talent, Kingston has allowed me the opportunity to learn how to become a Grand Prix rider,” said Morse. “I’m so thankful to have Kingston to share my journey.”

Personal Profile
Description: Dark bay stallion, 14, 17.2 hands, Dutch Warmblood, by Voltaire–Gisnette, Burggraaf.
Owner: Leslie Morse.
Home: Beverly Hills, Calif.
Personality: “He’s definitely the leader of the herd,” said Morse. “He wants everyone to know that he is the one. He and Tip Top are very competitive against each other. When I’m riding Tip Top and Kingston is turned out, he starts trotting up and down the fence with his ears back. His basic personality is very strong in his own self-confidence.”
Routine: “He has his breakfast, and then I usually ride him first,” said Morse. “Then he goes out in his turn-out so he can roll. We take him out on a longe line and let him roll outside his stall because he loves to roll, and I don’t like him to do it in his stall. He hangs out for the afternoon outside and has his lunch on the terrace. Then he goes for an afternoon walk of an hour to get him fit. I try to walk him outside the arena. He works three to four days a week, one to two trail rides a week, and a day off.”

2005 competitive highlights
6th–FEI Dressage World Cup Final (Nev.)
USDF Grand Prix Horse of the Year
USDF Grand Prix Freestyle Horse of the Year (tie)
Team bronze, Aachen CHIO (Germany)
2nd–Grand Prix, Hagen CDI (Germany)
1st–Grand Prix freestyle, Hagen CDI (Germany)
2nd–U.S. Freestyle League Final (Calif.)
1st–Grand Prix freestyle, Palm Beach Dressage Derby CDI (Fla.)
2nd–Grand Prix, Palm Beach Dressage Derby CDI (Fla.)
1st–Grand Prix Special, Wellington CDI (Fla.)
2nd–Grand Prix, Wellington CDI (Fla.)

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