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6 Florida Sporthorse Magazine

Dinner theater to dressage arena Central Florida trainer Matt McLaughlin has a knack for reprogramming difficult horses and transforming them into top-notch performers Christie Gold

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n auto mechanic fixes problems and finetunes engines so that they return to their owners as high-performance machines that can tackle the demands of the road. It seems only fitting that one of dressage trainer Matt McLaughlin’s hobbies includes restoring classic cars, because many of the horses that work their way to him are in need of repair. In McLaughlin’s skilled hands, they find their way to successful careers in the show ring or under the lights at Orlando’s Arabian Nights dinner theater where he is the head trainer. As a kid, his next door neighbor was dressage icon Gunnar Ostergaard, though at the time, young McLaughlin was not particularly interested in dressage. “All I wanted to do was jump, but I watched him train, and I took lessons and learned from many of the people who came to work with him.” Some of those riders included accomplished equestrians Beth Tate, Heidi Erickson and Nancy Polozker. At 18, McLaughlin went to work for Chuck Grant. Considered one of the “Founding Fathers” of dressage in America, Grant had a background in classical dressage from US Army Colonels Isaac Kitts and Hiram Tuttle, but he was also influenced by Arthur Konyot, the head of a famous circus family. “Chuck taught me how to do all the tricks. He’s the one who really got me interested,” McLaughlin said. McLaughlin says that although dressage has evolved and changed since Grant was riding and training, he still appreciates that his mentor’s horses went in the ring and willingly performed every time. In his early 20s, the Lippizan Stallion Show hired McLaughlin as principal rider and high school trainer for their Las Vegas-based show. There, and later on the road with the traveling show, McLaughlin refined his training techniques. He also met Lori Beggs, his training partner for the past 20 years. “We did lots of training on the road. We had lots of horses and lots of free rein, but we tried to make everything as correct as possible. We learned what worked and what didn’t. I am proud of the work we did. During the ’96-’97 tour, the show had the most airs [airs above the ground] horses and the most Grand Prix horses, yet I still look back on that time with a critical eye.” The friends and colleagues banter like an old married couple, but the level of respect between them is evident. Although the business bears his name, McLaughlin is quick to acknowledge Beggs’

Photos courtesy of Matt McLaughlin

Above: Central Florida trainer Matt McLaughlin on Cooper V. After months of retraining, the gelding placed 5th in Intermediare I at the USDF Regional Championships. Right: McLaughlin on his longtime partner, Coral. The horse once known as a “pit viper” has traveled a half million miles performing in shows and exhibitions.

talent. “I have a talent for teaching piaffe. People say I can teach a cow to piaffe. Lori is an expert at passage—that is her gift--so we really complement each other.” Today, along with Heather Black, Beggs and McLaughlin run Matt McLaughlin dressage from their home base in St. Cloud. McLaughlin rides and trains in the mornings, commutes to Orlando to work at Arabian Nights in the afternoons and evenings, and manages a busy clinic schedule on the weekends. In the open, airy barn (which McLaughlin designed and built) stallions live harmoniously next to other stallions. All the horses hang their heads contentedly over their stall doors or munch

quietly on hay. Step one in McLaughlin’s program: return horses, who may have been pushed too hard, too fast, to a balanced state. “We are all about bringing horses to a sane and stable state of mind before they go into the show ring.” A prime example is Cooper V, a 16.2 Danish Warmblood gelding. The horse had shown through Intermediate before coming to McLaughlin with lackluster results. McLaughlin says the gelding would enter the ring and go through the motions of the test without much enthusiasm. ‘Everything we get had a problem at some point. We like to think we have a unique way of fixing things. It’s a combination of strategies, but

Florida Sporthorse Winter 2012  

A quarterly publication dedicated to Florida's dressage, hunter/jumper, eventing, combined driving, and sport horse breeding communities.

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