Sapphire, the magnificent mare McLain Ward rode to two Olympic team gold medals and World Games team silver, died on June 22 due to complications of colic. She was 19.
Sapphire was born in Belgium and didn’t start her show jumping career until she was 6. The Belgian Warmblood mare (Darco—Idjaz C, Hedjaz) had two foals before beginning her competition career with Sofie van Bunder, the daughter of her breeder, Walter van Bunder.
Horse dealer Francois Mathy spotted her as a 7-year-old and called Ward. Their partnership became one of the most legendary in American show jumping.
During their long career together, Ward rode Sapphire on two Olympic teams, winning team gold in Athens in 2004 and again in Hong Kong in 2008. Sapphire also contributed to a team silver medal at the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games (Germany). Ward owned her in partnership with Harry Gill, Double H Farm and Blue Chip Bloodstock and Tom Grossman at different times in her career.
In addition to their team accolades, “Sara” and Ward earned many big grand prix wins. Some of the highlights include winning the $928,501 CN International at Spruce Meadows (Alberta) in 2009 and the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix (N.Y.) in 2010, as well as placing second to Shutterfly at the 2009 Rolex FEI World Cup Final (Nev.).
She also won the $100,000 President’s Cup at the Washington International (D.C.) in 2008 and 2010, the Longines Grand Prix of La Baule (France) and the Grand Prix of Rome in 2010, the $200,000 American Invitational in 2008, and both the $50,000 Grand Prix qualifier and the $250,000 FTI Grand Prix at the 2009 Hampton Classic (N.Y.).
“We’ve always prided ourselves that we did right by the horse, and the horse rewarded us greatly,” said Ward at the time. “I always believed and made a commitment to the horse that I’d let her go out on top, and I’d never squeeze the last bit out of her. I wanted to honor that.”
Sapphire had two foals in 2013 via embryo transfer the year after her retirement, one by Presley Boy and the other by Heartbreaker. This year, embryo transfer foals by Cumano, Baloubet du Rouet and Nabab were born at Blue Chip Farms Sport Horse Incubator in Walkill, N.Y. She also has two clones: Kara BC and Kidjaz BC, who are 4 this year.
“Our entire Castle Hill family and every person she has touched has lost a great friend,” wrote Ward on his Facebook page. “Thank you Sara not just for all the dreams you made come true but simply for being who you were. You always will be my champion in every way. God speed good friend.”