Wellington, Fla.—Feb. 22
The 2017 FEI World Cup Finals winner McLain Ward notched another big win during the Winter Equestrian Festival on Thursday by riding Hija Van Strokapelleken to victory in the $132,000 Equinimity WEF Challenge Cup Round 7 at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center.
It was Ward’s second five-star Equinimity WEF Challenge Cup win of the season, after taking the top spot in Week 5 class with HH Azur, his 2016 Olympic team silver medal mount.
Riding Hija Van Strokapelleken, an 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare by Calido I owned by Evergate Stable LLC, Ward topped a class of 52 entries and 19 in the jump-off over an Anthony D’Ambrosio-designed course. They finished the short course in 35.20 seconds for the win.
Coming in second place was Cita, a 12-year-old Holsteiner mare ridden by Daniel Coyle of Ireland and owned by Ariel Grange and Lothlorien. They stopped the timers in 36.01 seconds. Jessica Springsteen and RMF Swinny du Park, a 12-year-old Selle Francais mare owned by Rushy Marsh Farm, were third in 36.11 seconds.
Hija Van Strokapelleken joined Ward’s string of international horses at the beginning of 2018 and already won a FEI ranking class on the opening day of WEF. She is now one of five grey mares that Ward competes with, in addition to HH Gigi’s Girl, Bellefleur PS Z, Cerise, and a new to-be-announced mount, and joins additional mares HH Azur, HH Callas, Elize La Elsmos, and Handy Van HD.
“I get along with them really well,” Ward said of mares. “When you have success with a particular type of horse, you’re probably subconsciously drawn to that. I can’t say that when I look at a horse, I let all of those types of stereotypes factor in. Boy, girl, color, white eye, I think it’s a little bit nonsense; you just look for a nice horse.
“Probably in our program, it’s good for the mares,” he continued. “We’re quite sensitive and we try to reward them when they’re performing well and give them a bit of an easy lifestyle. That probably doesn’t work so well with stallions, who need a little bit more discipline. I think it allows the mares to flourish a little, because they’re normally quite happy with that.”
“Hija” was purchased by top Under-25 rider Jennifer Gates, who briefly competed with her before Nayel Nassar took over the ride. She returned to Ward to be sold and the large mare has proven to be a valuable asset.
“She’s a really big mare,” Ward confirmed. “Probably that’s why Jenn let Nayel and myself ride her, because we’re taller. But it’s funny, once you get on her, other than her stride being massive—which I use to my advantage—she doesn’t feel so big. She’s really rideable, has a lot of blood, and she’s slab-sided, so she doesn’t take up so much of your leg. When you first walk up to get on her, she looks massive, but when you ride her, you don’t notice her size so much. She doesn’t ride like a big horse.”
Ward and Hija will compete next in Sunday’s $70,000 Hollow Creek Farm 1.50-meter Classic, while Ward will aim for Saturday night’s $384,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI 5* with his top mount HH Azur.