McLain Ward is scoring some big wins with a new little horse in his string, emphasis on little: Ward’s newest ride, Catoki, stands just 15.2 hands high.
“You kind of have to take a gulp when you get on him, because he’s barely a horse,” Ward said with a laugh. “He’s almost a pony, but he’s super fast and very careful.”
Ward rode Catoki to a pair of wins during Week 3 of the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, first in the $37,000 Douglas Elliman Real Estate 1.45m CSI3* and two days later in the $37,000 Bainbridge Companies 1.45m CSI3*.
“The minute the jumps get up to 1.40 meters another gear kicks in,” Ward said. “He’s a super hot horse, he’s an adrenaline junkie, which is funny because he’s dead quiet in the barn and when you first get on him. He’s almost kick along, but I think with the smaller horses when the jumps get up to a certain height they have to get that fire going, and he certainly does.”
Ward found the 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding (Catoki—Coca-Cola, Caretello B) through longtime friend and trainer Seth Vallhonrat.
“I’ve known the horse since he was 6,” Vallhonrat said. “Every time I went over to Europe to look at horses the rider who had him [Martin Rozynek] would show him to me. This went on for two years, and every single time I told him, ‘Look, the horse looks amazing but he is too small.’ ”
Polish rider Rozynek campaigned Catoki in Europe up to the four-star level, and the horse’s performance over the bigger tracks made Vallhonrat see the gelding in a new light.
“All of a sudden at the end of his 7-year-old year, his rider, who was like 6 feet tall, jumped a 1.45-meter with him, and he did it so easy,” Vallhonrat said. “It totally changed my mind.”
At the time Vallhonrat was looking for horses with Brian Feigus, a young professional searching for a horse he could ride in the bigger classes.
“I had gone to Europe with [Seth], and we didn’t really go for this horse, but I was standing there watching him go and just thought, ‘Wow, this horse looks amazing,’ ” Feigus said. “I just had a gut feeling about him, and I went with him, and it’s the best decision I’ve made so far in my career.”
Feigus competed Catoki at the national grand prix level from 2018 through the fall of 2019, with several top-three finishes and a couple of wins at the level. Catoki was a pipsqueak, but the feel he gave Feigus over a fence was anything but.
“When you’re cantering up to the big jumps with him he’s totally game; they don’t feel like big jumps,” Feigus said. “[His height] could be a bit offputting, but I wanted to jump bigger classes with a certain budget, so you kind of have to pick and choose what you’re OK with, and I decided I was OK with it.”
Ward had seen the horse compete with Feigus and had previously inquired about him for a client. The client didn’t end up purchasing him, but Vallhonrat called up Ward in the fall of 2019 and said it might be a horse for him.
Ward tried the horse for a couple days at his stable in Brewster, New York, and agreed.
“You had to step down off the mounting block to get on him,” Ward said with a laugh. “But he was a really talented jumper and fit a niche we were looking to fill after we retired HH Carlos.”
Ward purchased the horse with Bob Russell and Marilla van Beuren in November of last year. While Feigus was sad to see Catoki go, he’s thrilled the horse is doing so well with Ward already.
“It’s honestly mind-blowing,” Feigus said. “It makes me so happy, and it makes me miss the horse. You just knew when you walked in a class with him if you were going for the win, no one was going to catch you.
“I really felt like it was the right move for me and the horse,” Feigus continued. “He really is a super talent and to have everyone seeing him out there proving that with McLain is just amazing.”
So far Catoki has slotted into Ward’s string as a speed class specialist, but Ward suspects the horse has bigger classes in his future.
“I think he’ll jump some pretty big grand prix,” Ward said. “I’ve had some success with smaller horses. Rothchild wasn’t very big. Goldika was probably my smallest until this one, but I think [Catoki] can do it. He’s brave as a lion.”