Photo: Cealy Tetley 2023

Kendal Lehari is passionate about all things horses, with an unwavering drive to succeed and the tenacity to make things happen. From raising and training promising foals, to re-training racehorses into top-level Eventing athletes, Kendal has the patience to embrace all phases of horse development while relentlessly chasing her ambitions.

Kendal is a dynamic equestrian with expertise in breeding, a love of training horses at all levels, and a clear focus on her biggest goal: “To ride in the Olympics has been my dream for as long as I can remember.”

Along with her two horses, Audacious and Mitchell, Lehari is a member of the Canadian Eventing National Team’s B-Squad. She has proven herself a formidable athlete in North America, and if she has her way, will soon show the world what she can do.

This year marks another step on Kendal’s journey to the Olympics. With the additional support of the Canadian Eventing National Team and its High Performance Advisory Group, Lehari has never been closer to achieving her goal of competing at the world’s most prestigious competition.

Passion and Drive

Kendal Lehari Mars Bromont CCI 3 day 2023 | Mad Barn USAPhoto: Cealy Tetley 2023

Kendal’s years of dedication and hard work on her road to the Olympics brought her to the Canadian Eventing Team in 2022, where she and Audacious (her eleven-year-old Thoroughbred/Oldenburg), competed at the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) Eventing Nations Cup™ at the Bromont Olympic Equestrian Park.

Her first foray as a Canadian Eventing Team member, Kendal, along with fellow riders, Colleen Loach, Jessica Phoenix, and Jamie Kellock, earned a solid second-place standing. This honour was one of many in her continued and notable success, and another step towards her Olympic dream.

Kendal continued building tremendous momentum with a highly successful competition year in 2023 under the tutelage of Rebecca Howard, Canadian Eventing Team’s Technical Advisor and Chef D’Équipe; the support of Dr. Emily Gilbert, High Performance Chair; and thanks to ongoing collaboration with Mad Barn and their team of nutrition experts and veterinarians.

For her first-ever European experience, Kendal, Audacious, and Mitchell (a nine-year-old Thoroughbred), made the trip overseas to attend training camp to prepare the team for the 2023 Nation’s Cup in Arville, Belgium. “The training camp was intense but invaluable. It allowed us to fine-tune our skills, adapt to the European terrain, and build a sense of camaraderie as a team,” Kendal reflects.

Moreover, Mitchell, then only eight years old, made quite an impression during his debut at the 4* event in Arville. As Kendal puts it, “He tackled the challenging course with confidence and poise, proving that he was more than ready to take on the best in the world.”

Team Support for Individual Wins

As Kendal commits to her Eventing goals, she recognizes that competing on the world stage requires not only an immense amount of talent, commitment, and acumen — it also requires the support of a team of experts. In the equine world, this is true for both the rider and their horse — both need to be at the top of their game, in prime condition, and ready to excel in competition.

Kendal remains calm and surprisingly unfazed by the pressure of competing at the highest levels of the sport. It also helps having support from experienced teammates and the valuable strategies and resources the High Performance (HP) Program provides.

This team environment is so key to improving Canadian Eventing's results on the world stage, and they’ve done a really great job of instilling that back into the the athletes and the Eventing community.
- Kendal Lehari, Team Canada Eventing Athlete

The newly designed team structure and the focus on Performance Science have produced a synergistic mindset for team competition. “Even though I’m on the B Squad, I still feel like I’m a big part of the group and that they want to bridge that gap to get me onto the A Squad. The whole team, under the guidance of Emily and Rebecca, is working really well together. They make sure everyone feels included. This team environment is so key to improving Canadian Eventing’s results on the world stage, and they’ve done a really great job of instilling that back into the the athletes and the Eventing community.”

Train Smarter, Not Harder

kendal-lehari-jumping | Mad Barn USAPhoto: Shannon Brinkman 2023

An invaluable component of Kendal’s training program has been the sports science insights delivered by Mad Barn to the HP team. Among the many improvements, using heart rate monitors (HRM) and lactate testing results to tailor her training regimen has given her a competitive edge. “With the data I feel so much more confident making changes to the fitness program and understand when things are working well,” Kendal explains.

HRM data has also provided Kendal new insight into how to best build strength and endurance in her horses. “I grew up conditioning my horses one way: double the training. So if it’s a ten-minute course, I would train at twenty-minute gallops, split into three sets. With the HRM data I can adjust the training to be a little less intense but still have the same fitness outcomes,” she says.

Kendal highlights how valuable it has been to integrate HRM metrics into Mitchell’s training in particular. After an injury in 2023 set him back, Kendal used data from the HRMs to understand Mitchell’s recovery needs and quantify his heart rate recovery patterns after a training session.

Data-Driven Decision Making

Moreover, using data from the HRM during competitions helps to compare from one show to the next and assess, “how well the horses are progressing in their fitness and endurance journey.”

It’s a “train smarter, not harder” way of thinking. As Kendal puts it: “With the HR data, I know I’m hitting those targets and when I need to push or pull back the training to reduce the risk of injury or overtraining. Long term, we will have a stronger, sounder, more sustainable [Canadian Eventing] team because the horses are receiving all the right tools and expertise necessary.”

Working in collaboration with the Mad Barn team and their nutrition program has also given Kendal and her horses a competitive advantage.

“Previously, you go by what you think — the horse looks good, seems good, but now, the experts at MB can substantiate what you think. They provide tailored, ongoing dietary recommendations and adjustments which all help with fine-tuning the performance and health of the horse. As well, while collaborating with the MB nutritionists, I have adopted a slightly different nutritional strategy during the Eventing season,” Kendal explains.

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For the Love of Thoroughbreds

Growing up immersed in the horse life, Kendal had the seeds of knowledge and wisdom planted from a young age to develop and train both young and high-performance horses. This long personal history has helped her develop an acumen for recognizing the potential in young horses.

Kendal lights up speaking about the passion she feels when she spots that special quality in a young horse, then dedicates the time, energy, and her deep knowledge into training them to reach their fullest potential.

“You become so aligned with them, you know how they’re going to react and feel. The connection between my horses and me becomes instinctive, and we build so much trust together. My horses are like my best friends. Through the years, we share a lot of exposure and experiences, learning how to work together and get through the events. It’s such a beautiful and unique experience when you get to work with them from an early age.”

Interesting fact about Kendal’s herd of competitive horses: half of them are Thoroughbreds (which is somewhat unique in the Eventing sphere these days). “I have a soft spot for them. I perform so well with them because I grew up working mostly with this breed; I really understand their brains.”

Along with her mother, Gwen Lehari, who is an impressive rider in her own right (she competed at the 3* level and was long-listed for the Canadian Eventing Team) and a staunch supporter of her daughter’s riding goals as an unofficial coach — Kendal seeks out the potential in Thoroughbred track horses. “We look for the horses that just don’t want to race, but they have a mellow, relaxed, wise temperament—a kind of wisdom in their youth.”

Kendal is passionate about working alongside her mother to give these horses a new purpose in life and develop a connection with them. Mitchell, for example, is “a Thoroughbred, but no one knows he’s one. He is truly an amazing horse.”

The connection between my horses and me becomes instinctive, and we build so much trust together. My horses are like my best friends. Through the years, we share a lot of exposure and experiences, learning how to work together and get through the events.
- Kendal Lehari, Team Canada Eventing Athlete

Gwen is not the only one rooting for Kendal at home. Her father and brother (Rein and Tristan Lehari) are also former Eventers who understand the commitment it takes to compete at the highest level of the sport. Meanwhile her husband Andrew Butler cheers enthusiastically, his horse-hair allergies not stopping him from being Kendal’s biggest supporter, fan, and advocate.

Passion, Drive, Tenacity… and Perhaps Patience too

Kendal is certainly forging her own path in the world of elite equestrian sport, and it isn’t always easy. “It’s a different journey buying a young horse [two or three years old] off the track and spending the time training and developing them compared to buying a horse that is already at the top level [of high performance]. It takes a lot of patience, time, and tenacity, to develop horses so young. But it’s most definitely worth it. I truly love working with horses and developing that special bond with them.”

Audacious, for example, is one of those horses that Kendal wasn’t expecting to be one of her Olympic hopefuls. He came to her as a 3-year-old, but Kendal, with her talent for seeing potential, recognized his abilities, his kind eyes—and his, well, audacious temperament — Kendal knew from the start he would be a wonderful equine partner.

Kendal, without losing sight of the magnitude of her Olympic goals, sees the fullness of her life with horses. She and her mother have recently produced two horses — No Time To Chill (a.k.a. Lilly), a 4-year-old mare, and License To Chill (a.k.a. Marshall), a 6-year-old gelding, who are both 70 per cent Thoroughbred and the rest warmblood. This is Kendal and her mother’s first experience breeding their own horses and they are thrilled so far with the progress of their new equines’ abilities.

The dam for these foals evented up to 3* and the sire competed at the Olympic level in Eventing, so Kendal is confident the two offspring are excellent competition prospects. The Leharis plan to develop and train both as contenders for the Los Angeles Olympics in 2028.

A World of Possibilities for a Global Talent

kendal-lehari | Mad Barn USAPhoto: Theresa Finnerty 2023

Kendal lives by her strong conviction that you never give up, no matter how challenging the road may be. This belief has propelled Kendal to remarkable success—both in her career as an Eventer and as well as in business (coaching, training young horses, and developing high-level horses).

Lehari is quite active in the equine sphere, beyond her own competitive goals. Kendal was a member of the Board of the Ontario Eventing Association, co-chair of the Under-25 Program, and was the Chef D’Équipe for the Ontario Eventing Young Riders Team in 2019, 2021, 2022, and will be again in 2024.

Given her diverse skills, it’s unsurprising Kendal’s career in the equine industry almost took a different trajectory. Early in her riding career, the Olympics seemed like a distant goal. And so, for Kendal, the next logical step at the time was to attend university and become an equine veterinarian.

But, during a post-graduation year to take time and consider her future, Kendal’s true calling as an Eventer became clear. Her determination and natural inclination for greatness proved strong enough to change her path to become a professional Eventer. That was fourteen years ago.

After all, Kendal’s courage to strive with all her heart for a chance to ride in the Olympics has certainly proved worthwhile. Though the Olympic Games in Paris may be out of reach this year, her drive and talent assure us that she will be a leading competitor in international Eventing for many years ahead.