McKays calls it a career
It’s time for Wilf and Karen McKay to hang up the reins and say goodbye to breeding and training horses.
But they’re not saying goodbye to the riding community they helped build.
The McKays announced their retirement after decades of building equestrian bloodlines earlier this year, selling the last of their horses and putting their Alexander farm, WKM Stables, up for sale.
They were honored for their work breeding and training champion horses, as well as for their work with the Brandon Light Horse and Pony Society, Inc., at the Wheat City Horse Show May 28. They received the Club President’s Trophy for the Year Outstanding Members Competition as a parting gift.
It was a bittersweet time for the two, they said. They are sad to leave their farm and their horses. Both are in their 60s, Wilf said, and are eager to start a new phase in their lives.
They had planned to officially retire once the last of their horses from the farm had been sold, which happened faster than the couple expected.
“We really thought it would be a little longer, but they went fast,” Karen said. “We never bought or sold, only raised and sold. Now we are looking for a buyer for the farm and will eventually move to Brandon.”
They still board four horses in Ontario.
Their legacy in the equine world includes their horses and their children. Their son, Scott, runs Green Haven Stables in Limehouse, Ontario. He had participated in the Angelstone tournaments on Thursday on WKM Co-Pilot against Ian Miller, an Olympic silver medalist and two-time World Cup winner in show jumping, and beat him.
Karen said she got the call and braced herself when there was silence after he said he wanted to check in on her.
“I honestly thought it was bad because I could tell he was pulling himself together because he was so excited,” she laughed. “I think he had tears too. There was another time he was out east at a concert, he called and he was crying. I was worried, but he said, ‘It’s okay. Alright, mom!”
With their farm sold and they head to Brandon, Karen says they’re looking for somewhere not too big, but she still needs space to pursue her other passion: gardening.
Even now, their hard work can be seen in many stables in Manitoba and the Westman area. If you see a horse with a WKM in front of its name, it bred it.
Wilf said all he asks of people who buy his horses, besides taking good care of them, is to keep the WKM in their registry name. Over time, he said it had become a mark of pride and quality for riders to have one of their horses, which Wilf said was humbling to know that his passion had become a benchmark for high performance horses.
The sprawling farm is now empty of horses. The inner arena is empty and quiet, with the walls of the viewing room and upstairs lounge still adorned with numerous ribbons their horses won. The only activity now is in the couple’s home as they go about their quieter business.
Until recently, the sprawling property was home to a breeding and training program that produced warm-blooded hunter-jumpers, as well as Thoroughbred/Percheron hybrids. All were sold across North America, and many became champion competitors.
One of them is Xenia, a warm-blooded show jumping mare who was named the 2018 Canadian Breeding Horse of the Year. She is just one of many who have won provincial accolades and national.
Wilf has always been around horses, starting out as a western rider, competing in barrel racing and an active member of the pony club. Karen said she liked to joke that she married a cowboy and looked forward to being a farmer’s wife and raising a family on her own ranch.
Then one day Scott convinced him to try English riding, and Wilf said it changed his life and his future.
Their journey began 57 years ago when they purchased the property. Back then, they raised cattle, grew grain, and bred purebred cows. The farm began its horse breeding program with neighborhood horses and crosses of Thoroughbreds and Percherons to produce what Wilf said were more reliable and safer horses for people to enjoy.
Karen said Wilf has always had the ability to judge a good horse, looking for confirmation, movement and intelligence. Horses have always been a part of her husband’s life, she added, joking that she was just following.
In 2000 they began breeding warm blooded horses, a type of horse that is physically large, strong and built for high performance and endurance. Their base stud was a stallion from the Netherlands named Nickelson B, who had a rough start, Wilf said, but within a few years was producing top quality horses.
“People weren’t sure about him, but he came from a superior pedigree, and I felt he was the stallion for us,” he said. “Quality goes both ways. We selected the mares he would breed with and worked to make them good horses.”
He also chose trainers to work the horses. All of them, says Wilf, had as much to do with excellent horses as with breeding.
At one time they had about 200 horses, most of which, except for the stallions, were also part of a pregnant mare urine (PMU) program they became involved with in 1985. This involved collecting urine from mares to extract hormones for use in pharmaceuticals that helped bring more money to the farm.
Over time, they scaled back the operation, ending PMU in 2003 and slowly reducing their herd.
They will stay in touch with the local equestrian circuit and the Brandon Light Horse and Pony Society, Inc.
However, it will be for joy, not for investment.
“I can watch these horses jump now and know I won’t pay anything for them,” he joked.
“It has been our life, though, and it always will be. We won’t be moving away from it any time soon.”
» Twitter: @karenleighmcki1