Story and portraits by Lindsay McCall
Becoming obsessed with the equestrian sport while he was young was easy for Alex Granato. He loved animals, enjoyed the competition and he was talented. He began by taking opportunities and making sacrifices so he could live a dream equestrian life. There were setbacks, triumphs and one chance in front of the world that he will never forget.
Alex began riding at a young age in Salt Lake City, Utah. By 13 he was the youngest person to win the Utah Hunter Jumper Association Medal Finals. He was accomplished, a horseman, and had the equitation and technique that got him noticed.
Alex spent his teen years competing on his own horses and gaining catch rides, and by the time he was 16, he knew this sport was his future. “With the greatest support of my parents, I spent the summer before my senior year in Colorado showing and riding,” Alex said. “I gained so much experience in the competitive circuit world, but what really validated my interest was doing the first-ever Young Rider team there. After a summer that really set my dreams in motion, I went back to Utah and left my horses in Colorado. I tried the long commute and dual-tasking, which included going to school, but doing it that way wasn’t going to effectively work.”
Alex put his education and riding at the forefront. He enrolled in a newly established online school and returned to Colorado to ride. This would be his first experience balancing two important parts of his life, which would benefit him for years down the road.
“Once I graduated, I put my focus toward the horses,” he said. “Once again, my parents were incredibly supportive of the aspiring rider I wanted to be. However, they also wanted the best for me and said, ‘If you’re going to do this life you dreamed of, you need to find a way to do it well and a way to make a living at it.’ With that goal in mind, when I turned 18, I became a professional. I started getting more catch rides, and found some less-expensive horses to purchase and made them up to sell to make my first income in the equestrian sport.”
Alex was getting noticed for his proper riding and his ability to create nice horses that were happy and willing to do their jobs. His easygoing nature brought him business, and it also gave him lifelong friendships in the equestrian world. He also had his own horse, Mad Season, that he was putting his time into, and in 2004, Alex and Mad Season competed successfully in their first FEI competition.
“Mad Season was my first Grand Prix horse ever,” he said. “I got him inexpensively because he was difficult, and through advice from other trainers, he and I developed an understanding and bond. We really learned to jump bigger classes together and to be competitive together. He put such a stamp on my career.”
From Colorado, Arizona and California, Alex logged a lot of miles in the saddle, the car and in the big leagues. He spent almost 10 years putting in his time, learning and growing. Many of the horses he was making up he would compete in the Midwest at the Grand Prix and national levels. As he made his way east, his goal was to get to Florida for the winter circuits. “Riding in Florida felt like a dream, and it was nice to get that winter training opportunity each year and keep my horses in great shape. Ocala was such an eye-opener for me, and being in Florida was a huge step and milestone in my life.”
Ocala was a start to Alex’s winter showing regimen, but in 2013, a client from Colorado led Alex further south to Wellington, Florida. That winter, Alex started his company, Mad Season LLC, named after his horse that helped get him started on the international stage. Alex went on to spend winters in Wellington and base his business in Lexington, Kentucky, outside of the winter season.
With everything going very well for Alex and competing in many five-star events, he and equine partner Carlchen W, owned by Page Tredennick, made their FEI debut in Wellington in 2017, winning their first Grand Prix that season along with other top placings.
In 2018, Alex headed to Barcelona, the former Olympic stadium, to compete in the Grand Prix. With some team changes, he was selected to compete at the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup Final. Alex and Carlchen W had a flawless round, coming in clean and fast helping the U.S. team secure the runner-up position.
“Those were the moments I wanted to remember forever,” Alex recalled. “As a kid growing up, it was always a dream to ride in those events, but I never felt like it would be within my grasp. My favorite two memories of my riding career include helping the team in Barcelona with clear rounds and bringing home the bronze medal at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima, Peru. Carlchen W was such a superstar. I feel lucky to have had him as a partner all of these years.”
After the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic season, Alex re-examined his goal of staying at the top of the sport. During the week, he takes dressage lessons, gallops in the fields, and gives his horses the pasture time and top fitness they deserve. He has also taken on clients and additional horses.
“I’m very honest with my clients. I want them to succeed and reach their goals, and I want them to know that I’m focused on my goals as well,” he said. “I love my clients and the horses I get to work with every day.”
In 2021, Alex found success around the country, but it was his first five-star Grand Prix win in July that defined that summer, capturing the Major League Show Jumping (MLSJ) $230,000 Grand Prix CSI5* at Traverse City in Michigan. He and Carlchen W were selected for the U.S. Jumping Team at the BMO Nations Cup during the 2021 Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tournament CSIO5*. Unfortunately, Carlchen W had lost shoes during the week and it was not the outcome Alex hoped for. The team went on to win second place in the Nations Cup, and Alex understands that with horses, you have setbacks, lost shoes and some tears even at the big shows.
On Top in Two Disciplines
In addition to show jumping, Alex has developed and ridden some of the top hunter horses in the country. “I really do enjoy the hunters,” Alex said with a smile. “Most of my younger riding years, I had a couple of horses of my own to earn some prize money, and the other side of my income was catch rides and developing and selling hunter horses. I enjoy it, and it’s a different aspect of the industry than the jumpers with a political avenue, technique and riding for different judges. It’s not black and white like the jumper ring, and there’s something really intriguing and fun about having a spectacular hunter, especially a derby horse, and campaigning it that way. Having the international derby division the last decade has made the hunters more special in the industry.”
Alex is thrilled to be living the dream of any equestrian and a life beyond what he expected at 16 in Colorado, now working with his clients, showing in Wellington, competing at five-star show-jumping competitions in Europe, working with exceptional people and owning a farm of minis, dogs, goats and more. “I want to make an impact and give back to the industry so other people can have the same experience I have had,” he said.
For more information, visit www.alexgranato.com
Photos by Lindsay McCall