Gina Miles’ Olympic individual silver-medal winning mount McKinlaigh died on Jan. 18. He was 26.
Owners Thom Schulz and Laura Coats first saw McKinlaigh (Highland King — Kilcumney Hostess, Stretchworth Lad) at the young event horse class at the 1998 Punchestown Three-Day Event in Ireland. Schulz had flown to Ireland in search of a preliminary-level horse, but he couldn’t get the liver chestnut Irish Sport Horse out of his head. He bought McKinlaigh and arranged for him to stay in training with breeder Chris Ryan of Scarteen Event Horses.
Miles was no international eventing star when she took the position of barn manager at Schulz and Coats’ Rainbow Ranch in Creston, California, but she soon showed her new employers she was on her way up, and they shipped McKinlaigh home for her.
“Gina had all these aspirations, but her horses were never going to make it,” Schulz told the Chronicle in 2009. “So I said, ‘Well, why don’t we bring that Irish horse home and put them together and see how they do?’ We said we’d just keep them together as long as we could, and they just never hit a spot where they could stop.”
In their first two years together, McKinlaigh and Miles won nine of 10 events. The gelding’s amiable nature and typical Irish appetite for cross-country helped him move quickly up the levels, and by the age of 7, he had completed his first CCI4*-L and made the U.S. Equestrian Federation Winter Training List.
They went on to the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event in April 2002. An 11th-placed finish earned them an individual spot that summer at the FEI World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain, where they placed 25th. When Miles rode in Spain she’d been competing at the advanced level for a year, and McKinlaigh was 8.
McKinlaigh completed Kentucky again in 2003 and 2004, placing 11th and ninth respectively, and he won the 2006 Fair Hill International CCI4*-L (Maryland). He and Miles both dealt with medical issues for several years, but they returned to the international stage in 2007 at the Badminton Horse Trials CCI5*-L (England) and then as part of the gold medal team at the Pan American Games (Brazil) that year, where they also won individual bronze.
In 2008, Miles and McKinlaigh were the highest-placed U.S. pair at the Barbury Castle CCI4*-S (England), finishing 22nd, to secure their ticket to the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong. McKinlaigh and Miles won individual silver and had the fastest cross-country time of the U.S. riders.
McKinlaigh was named the Chronicle’s 2008 Overall and Eventing Horse of the Year and was inducted into the U.S. Eventing Association Hall of Fame in 2015.
“McKinlaigh could tackle any cross-country course. In his entire career he never had a cross-country penalty, even with an inexperienced rider like me. He would make play of a [five-star] track,” Miles said during McKinlaigh’s induction speech.
McKinlaigh retired following the Olympics and spent his remaining years with Schulz and Coats in California.