World-Class Rider McLain Ward
BY JEFFREY SLONIM
McLain Ward at the 2011 Old Salem Farm Horse Show
The Hampton Classic Horse Show is known for jumps built from hedgerow or topped with hydrangeas. It is also known for drawing a roster of world-class riders, including McLain Ward, who has nabbed the Grand Prix purse two years in a row and is an international superstar in his sport. “We’re on the road 10 or 11 months a year,” he explains. “Calgary, Europe, Dubai, Qatar, Abu Dhabi. There is a big show in São Paulo, Brazil, and Hickstead, Great Britain. Both the queen and Prince Charles are really into horses.”
|Ward is seen here being driven in a carriage by Gary Johnson, a participant in the Driving for Surviving program|
A second-generation rider from Brewster, New York, Ward has won the Hampton Classic Grand Prix an unprecedented five times (1998, 1999, 2004, 2009 and 2010). No other rider has won more than three times. He is a two-time Olympic gold medalist (2004 and 2008), and his wife, Lauren, also competes.
In a video from Geneva last year, Antares F, Ward’s now 11-year-old gray gelding, resembles a mythical creature in flight. He has been training the horse with next summer’s London Olympics in mind. What makes Antares F a great jumper? “Physically he’s the most talented horse I’ve sat on,” says Ward. “He has a very competitive character. This horse rises to the occasion.”
Ward’s 16-year-old Belgian Warmblood chestnut mare, Sapphire, won Olympic gold medals in Athens in 2004 and in Beijing. The jet-set schedule is taxing, but the equine athletes adapt. “These top horses fly back and forth across the ocean, five, six times a year,” says Ward. “Even with all the travel, they get wonderful treatment. There is always an astonishing degree of energy.” (Even though horses are Ward's top priority, he does have a soft spot for another mode of transportation. “In Kentucky Range Rover had cars for all of us to use and got my heart set on owning one,” he says of the brand, which is the offical SUV sponsor of The Hampton Classic Horse Show.)
At the time of our interview Ward had just returned from a successful trip to Spruce Meadows in Calgary. His team traveled with nine horses to the event. In Aachen, Germany, the week after, he brought only two. “Then I have the Pan-Am Games in Guadalajara, Mexico,” he says. “And [then] Falsterbo, Sweden.” How many of his horses will travel to the Classic? “Twelve to 14 for the team,” he says.
“McLain Ward is a true horseman,” offers Marty Bauman, a representative for the Classic. “He was talented from day one, and he’s considered a top rider.” The key to Ward’s success? “He finds young horses with talent and develops them,” explains Bauman. “He doesn’t overwork them so they get burnt out. He puts his horses first.”