By Jona Lane
Scott Keller has been very successful in both the business and equestrian world. Before opening his own training business, he spent many years on Wall St. handling accounts and trading amounts of money that only few have seen and many dream of having. Working on a trade desk is not for the faint of heart—it takes a lot of time researching and thinking things through; Wall St. is all about the dollar. Showing in the jumper ring also takes time, research, and dollar signs, but we all know that in the horse business, instead of accumulating dollars, we are spending them.
Keller attended Duke where he graduated with a Bachelor Associates degree and received a JD/MBA from Columbia University. His education led him to Wall St. where he would work his way to becoming Sr. Managing Director of risk arbitrage at Deutsche Bank in NYC. He would also open a hedge fund consulting/research business, Guard Hill Capital/Analytics Research. While Keller was climbing the Wall St. ladder he never lost focus of his true passion and main priority, riding.
For Keller, the money was far less important than why he rides horses; striving every day for that feeling you get when you are truly in tune with a horse; the feeling of being one. This led Keller to leave the get-rich-quick business to follow his lifelong dream, starting a training and sales barn.
“You have to make choices and focus on one thing completely or you will never reach real fulfillment in anything. Some people will view this as an egotistical and just plain selfish move but if you are not willing to commit fully to something you probably aren’t truly passionate about it,” said Keller.
Scott Keller LLC is in Lexington, Ky. His goal was to bring a world class level of training to the Lexington area. During the winter Scott Keller alternates between Ocala and Wellington. He has developed a lot of young jumpers over the years—mainly warmbloods from Europe. Recently, he has changed his focus to U.S. bred horses both warmbloods and off-the-track Thoroughbreds. Now that Scott is bringing along primarily young horses, he has been spending more time in Ocala for the HITS circuit, and is there this winter.
”It is a quieter atmosphere and a better venue for the less seasoned horses,” he said.
Keller grew up in Middleburg, Va., and began riding at the age of 6. His first pony would prove to be difficult, spending his days finding new creative ways to throw his rider off. One time, the pony even managed to buck Scott off into the bed of a parked pickup truck. This pony would teach Keller a valuable lesson on how to stay on through pure determination. By the age of 12, Keller started to compete on the AA circuit in the junior division. He spent a lot of his time showing in Virginia and would even be awarded the VHSA Junior Hunter Year End Award three years in a row.
As a young boy, Keller watched and learned from the likes of Rodney Jenkins, Joe Fargis, and Barney Ward. When he was not showing he would spend his extra time standing at schooling rings watching the great riders prep their horses and compete, trying to learn how they made it look so simple and effortless. Scott believes talent helps but when it comes to riding, practice and determination are the key. When he competed in his first Grand Prix that was held on a grass derby field, he asked Rodney what advice he would give. Rodney advised him to “Kick going uphill, and pull going downhill.”
“As riders we over think and over analyze how a course should go and this comes from being under prepared,” Keller said. “Trust builds confidence, but preparation is the antidote to nerves.”
Over the years Keller has had the opportunity to ride many talented horses. The two horses that have impacted his career the most were Napolitano and Shine of Light. Both of these horses took him though the grand prix ring and to two different Olympic trials. In the late 90’s Keller had won several large grand prix classes on Napolitano. This was also the horse that took him to his first Olympic trails in 2000. Shine the Light was a horse he rode in the 2008 Olympic trials. These horses taught Scott how to manage his nerves and how to focus when riding at 1.60 meter course. At the highest level where there is a lot at stake, Keller learned to develop his humility, even to maintain trust and confidence in his horse and himself. Most of all as a rider he learned how to accept disappointments, which are inevitable, and how to learn from them. There are three things that Keller believes a rider needs in order to be successful: talent, determination, and patience.
“With riding we learn how to manage our own strengths and weaknesses while working our horse’s strengths and weaknesses, which becomes a beautiful collaboration of grace, power, trust, and commitment,” he said. “Riding horses provides a daily reminder of how hard it can be to see things as they really are.”
When Keller is looking for a jumper prospect, he looks for three main characteristics—a willing and brave attitude, sound legs and feet, and large well sloping shoulders and haunches. These attributes allow for freedom of movement in front and power from behind. One of the differences he has noticed different between the U.S. bred horses and the European horses is their upbringing during their younger years.
“A horse from the States is farther behind the level of what you would find in Europe, particularly in ground work, manners and basic flatting skills,” Keller said. “This doesn’t change the skill of the horses, it just lengthens the horse training and time spent on the basics.”
He doesn’t believe in short-cuts, cutting corners or doing anything half way, something that was instilled in him by his first instructor J. Arthur Reynolds. Reynolds would tell Scott to “always do the hard things first, get them right, and then move onto the next thing.”
He will spend the HITS Ocala circuit bringing along some young horses for clients and his LLC, as well as coaching some clients in the ring.
“Even when my days are long and can be trying at times, I love what I do,” Keller said. “So for me it is never truly a job, but a lifelong passion.”