McLain Ward chuckled as he recalled that when he took over the ride on Goldika 559 in 2003, “she was supposed to be a little bit past the prime of her career then, so it’s remarkable that she’s still chugging away,” he said.
Goldika, now 17, isn’t the headliner of Ward’s string—that title belongs to double Olympic team gold medalist Sapphire, who just won the world’s richest grand prix (see “Sapphire Finds Her Just Reward In The CN At The Spruce Meadows Masters“).
But Goldika has won her place in the hearts of Ward and those who care for her. In fact, she’s the favorite of groom Lee McKeever, Ward’s right-hand man.
Ward is mindful of Goldika’s advancing age and mileage. “Obviously, it’s a great pleasure to have her and be able to compete with her. Every time before a horse show, I always really think hard and make sure she seems healthy and enthusiastic about the job,” he said. “We’re careful about when we use her. As long as she seems so enthusiastic about doing it and seems to be doing it with ease, we’ll keep going, and when she’s had enough, we’ll give her a pat her on the neck. She doesn’t owe us a thing.”
When Ward first started riding Goldika in 2003, she had a stellar record at the grand prix level with German rider Toni Hassmann. She and Ward won a lot of classes but also suffered disappointment, including a crashing fall at the 2004 FEI World Cup Final (Italy).
“We for sure were hoping she’d be a championship horse. She jumped a lot of big grand prix, but there was always a little bit of a question about whether she had the last bit of scope for a big championship. At first, I was slightly disappointed that she didn’t quite have enough scope for what I’d hoped, but as it ended up, I wouldn’t change a thing,” Ward said.
“Last summer, I was talking to Toni Hassmann, who rode her until she was 11. We estimated that she’s won probably 400 classes in her life because as a 5-year-old, they didn’t think she’d jump very big, so she went in the ring a lot, and the same as a 6-year-old, and the same every year. She just kept jumping higher! She wasn’t ever thinking about the future, it was always about today. And six years later, she’s still doing the same.”
In 2007, Goldika suffered an injury, and Ward and his support team thought her showing days were done. Since Ward’s partner in ownership of her, Tom Grossman of Blue Chip Bloodstock, is a successful breeder of harness racing horses, breeding Goldika was the next logical step.
But she didn’t take, by embryo transfer or in live breeding.
“She doesn’t have great ovaries, unfortunately,” Ward said. “And she looked very sound, and she was kicking the walls down, so we made the decision to bring her back and see if she wanted to do the sport for another year or so. That was the beginning of 2008, and I think she’s won eight grand prix classes since then.”
Even though Goldika didn’t win the international accolades Ward had dreamed for her, he has a sincere appreciation for her character. “She’s just a horse who really gives so much of herself. You come across horses with more natural ability, and you wish they’d give half as much as she gives. She’s such a competitive horse, and she always finds a way to get it done. If any of us could have that attitude, we’d be a lot more successful,” he said.
“I often say I’d like a two-horse trailer with Sapphire and Goldika and I’d be set. I wouldn’t need anything else.”