The most famous mare in American show jumping has suffered an injury. Sapphire, the big chestnut mare who McLain Ward has ridden to two Olympic Games team gold medals in 2004 and 2008 and a team silver at the 2006 World Equestrian Games, is going to be sitting out the remainder of the 2011 season.
Sapphire was slated to compete in the $500,000 FTI Finale Grand Prix on March 26 in Wellington, Fla., but a few days before the class she suffered a strained check ligament in her right front.
“It was basically a bad step injury—it was nothing traumatic. It’s unfortunate, but this kind of thing happens,” Ward said. “It’s an injury that normally has a four to six-month recovery, but we’re going to give her a year off. I’m lucky to have a lot of depth, and we’d obviously like to take one last shot with her next year. We’re going to take a year off, try and heal it properly, and hopefully have a fresh, sound horse for next season.”
Sapphire, now 16, burst onto the scene in the Olympic trials as a 9-year-old in 2004 and has steadfastly proven herself to be one of the most consistent and generous horses competing. Together, she and Ward have won just about every big class in the United States, including the 2010 Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix (N.Y.), and many abroad. In 2009, Sapphire claimed victory in the $921,560 CN International Grand Prix at Spruce Meadows (Alta.). Most recently, Sapphire jumped two clean rounds to help the U.S. team win the $75,000 Nations Cup in Wellington on March 10.
“As I’ve said before, if she never jumps another fence, she doesn’t owe anyone anything,” said Ward. “But I don’t think she’s quite ready to be done with the sport yet. We’ve been incredibly lucky with her soundness over the years. That has a lot to do with the people who take care of her.
“I’m lucky to have other horses coming along who can possibly fill her shoes in different ways. But hopefully, her last chapter hasn’t been written,” he continued.
At the end of April, Ward is headed to Leipzig, Germany, for the FEI World Cup Final with Rothchild and Antares. Ward and Sapphire had been poised to win the FEI World Cup Final last year before a controversial decision by FEI officials disqualified them from the final competition.