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In a Class by Himself

Breeder, competitor and dedicated horseman who gives back to the equestrian world— Kenny Wheeler remembers his storied career.

old school. He’s also a phenomenally successful handler in hunter breeding classes, well known in the winner’s circle at every major east coast horse show. In December, the United States Equestrian


Federation selected Mr. Wheeler as a 2009 Equestrian of Honor for his many accomplishments breeding and showing hunters. (Seven Equestrians of Honor, each in a different discipline, are chosen each year. One of the seven is selected as the USEF’s Equestrian of the Year.) It’s just one of the accolades he has earned throughout a career that spans nearly 70 years. In 2009, for example, at the active age of 81, he was named the Handler of the Best Young Horse at Devon, the Upperville Colt and Horse Show and at the Warrenton Horse Show, where he also won the Sallie B. Wheeler/USEF Hunter Breeding Championship. In 2008, he took the Best Young Horse title at the

Kenneth Wheeler and Isgilde, the German mare he imported in the 1960s.

enneth Wheeler, Sr.—known to his friends around the horse world and beyond as “Kenny”—is a southern gentleman of the

By Pat Payne

He has, he continues, ridden—and lived in

Upperville Colt and Horse Show with the American Warmblood Capital Hill. Capital Hill was also named the best young horse at Devon in both 2007 and 2008 with Mr. Wheeler handling him both times. In 2008, he also won the American Hunter Jumper

Foundation’s Old Springhouse Lifetime Achievement Award. This is presented, the AHJF says, to “a person who exemplifies great support and lifetime commitment to the sport of hunter and jumper competition.”


Ask Mr. Wheeler about the high points of his career, however, and he’s modest. “Well, I’ve been champion at Devon quite a few times and that’s always a thrill,” he says with his rich southern accent. “I think the first time was back in the ’60s.”

Virginia—“all my life.” He grew up on an Old Dominion horse farm where his father was the manager. “The owners had ponies and they let me ride them. I was lucky to have the chance and really enjoyed showing them,” he explains. “I just started out riding as a kid when I had the chance and I loved it. I still love it.” Today—and for many years— his Cismont Manor Farm in Keswick, Virginia is famous as a producer of top hunters. Mr. Wheeler turned pro at the young age of 16 and

continued to ride competitively well into his ’40s. Today, in his eighties, he’s still active in the show ring even though he no longer rides. He has not, he explains, been in the saddle for ten years. He prefers to focus on handling young horses in the hunter breeding classes. Ask him about the low points of his career and he

is circumspect. “If you have horses, you have some low points,” he says. “That’s just the way it is. But I’ve been lucky and had many more good times than bad.” He is reluctant to say more than that. Much of his success, he continues, can be attributed to

the riders who have shown his horses. He names Charlie Weaver, Olin Armstrong and Tommy Serio as examples but notes there have been many others as well.

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