Thursday, Jun. 20, 2024

5 Questions With: McLain Ward



This article appears in our annual Readers’ Choice issue, out now. As we do every year, we are offering the digital version free of charge to our online readers and followers. Click here to read the full issue.

With the Paris Olympic Games on the horizon, McLain Ward is looking ahead to what would be his sixth Olympics, if he’s selected for the team. Ward, 48, earned Olympic gold with the U.S. team at the 2004 Athens and 2008 Hong Kong Games, and team silver at the 2016 Rio and 2020 Tokyo Games. He has four horses on the U.S. Jumping Team Short List for Paris 2024 Olympic Games: Callas, Contagious, Ilex and Quimi Del Maset. 

This year, fans voted Ward their Favorite Competing Rider in the Chronicle’s Readers’ Choice survey for the second year. Previously Beezie Madden earned the title six years in a row. 

“It took Beezie retiring for me to beat her, but I’m fine with that,” Ward joked. “If she’d still beat me now, when she’s stepped back a bit, and I’m still out there, that might be a problem.

“But seriously, I’m very appreciative of all the support that all of the fans and horse people give to us. It motivates us. It’s very appreciated, and we’ll trying to keep doing the best job we possibly can,” Ward said. 

McLain Ward, pictured on Olympic Games hopeful Ilex, was voted Favorite Competing Rider in the Chronicle’s Readers’ Choice survey for the second year in a row. Kimberly Loushin Photo

Ward started the summer off on the right foot in May with a win in the $200,000 Empire State Grand Prix CSI4* at Old Salem Farm (New York) with Quimi Del Maset, a 10-year-old Spanish Sport Horse (Quasimodo Z—Increta Del Maset, Indret Del Masset) gelding owned by Sport Four USA LLC. 

Ward will compete his short-listed horses in Europe in U.S. Equestrian Federation-designated CSIO/CSI observation events in an effort to earn a place on the Olympic team, which will be named July 7. 

“I think we have a huge chance to win this Olympics, the strongest chance since 2008,” he said. “We need a lot of good fortune; we need everybody to stay focused on their job; and we need to continue supporting everybody to make that happen.” 

1. What does the win at Old Salem tell you about Quimi Del Maset?

I got him last year, and we had an incredible beginning of our relationship, moving up the levels, and he ended up winning the [$226,000 Upperville Jumper Classic CSI4* (Virginia)]. The partnership was really on a great course, and he was a horse that we had in mind for this year’s Olympic Games. 

Unfortunately, we had a fall at Saugerties (New York) a few weeks later, and I broke my collarbone, and he sustained a small injury. I think it took the horse a while to recover fully, so we went through some ups and downs. During the second half of [the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida)] this year, I actually asked a colleague of mine to join in the conversation about the horse to get a different set of eyes. They had some good ideas, so we changed a little bit the way that we train the horse, and things started to go in a better direction again. 

It’s nice to see this horse stepping back up to that level of confidence and feeling himself again. It was nice to get the win. 


Unfortunately, with the time that was lost, I think the Olympics has come too soon for him. But I think the horse does have a great future. And it’s a great group of people that are associated with this horse. We have high hopes that he’s going to be a very top horse for the sport. 

2. Which horse do you think would be the best choice for the team if you’re selected?

We can list as many horses as we want for the list, and you want to give yourself options. You have to pick them quite early, and you don’t know what level each one will be at when selection time comes. So those were the four that seemed good options. 

Unfortunately, I think this Olympic Games comes a bit too early for “Quimi.” And Contagious is on the other end of that spectrum. He’s 14, but he’s given a lot. I spoke to his owners, and we just felt that it was unfair to ask him to do another championship run. He was always a horse that was to some degree giving more than maybe his athletic ability should have allowed. There are a lot of other great competitions he can do, but I thought to ask him to do another Olympic run would be disrespectful to the horse. We’re lucky that we have two other horses that I feel have more gas in the tank for this. 

Callas [a Holsteiner (Casall—Noblesse I, Coriano) mare owned by Beechwood Stables LLC] is definitely in contention. She’s been a wonderful partner of mine for the last several years. She is incredibly solid. She’s an incredibly easy horse to ride, to be honest, and she’s been a great contributor for a lot of the big team events. But she is 16, so you have to be mindful of her age. She’s a fresh 16, but still 16. 

Ilex [an 11-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Baltic VDL—Calendula, Chin Chin) owned by Bonne Chance Farm, Gilberto Sayão da Silva, and Ward] is a very exciting horse. He finished Florida by placing second in the [$500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI5*] in Wellington. We haven’t had a lot of time together, but things really came together quickly. 

We’ll see what the shows in Europe hold for these horses. 

3. I don’t mean to date you, but it’s been 20 years since your first Olympics, and Paris would be your sixth Olympic Games. What has changed for you between now and then? 

I haven’t gotten there yet! That’s the job now. Obviously, for me, getting on the team is one step: I’d be going to the Games to try to be competitive, not to be a tourist. But amazingly enough, nothing’s changed. 

For me, I feel the same way. I’m incredibly motivated. I’m very proud of my Olympic record and to be part of that history. I think it’s one of the few things left in the world that seems so genuine and real and inspiring. I think the American show jumping Olympic record over the last 20 years has been incredibly successful. But I am still just as excited and giddy and motivated to perform at the highest level for my country. 

I believe we’re going into this Olympics with a very strong chance, actually. I think we have some really good horse-rider combinations in contention. The team members around me have changed to some degree. I was just thinking about this lately, that competing on teams has helped me keep myself surrounded by young people. 

I don’t feel any different feelings than the ones I see in them. I feel like I actually gain as much from them as they’re gaining from having the interaction with me. I think that’s very important, not only to stay at the top of the sport for as long as I can, but also for me to stay sharp and ready for what’s to come. 

4. How do you balance competing yourself with training younger riders?


Right now I actually officially only coach and mentor Lillie Keenan. She has a great program, so my role there is actually the role that I enjoy the most, more of a mentorship.

Over the years Katie Dinan and Adrienne Sternlicht are two others that I’ve really been able to work with at this level, and also Lucy Deslauriers, though her father is her main inspiration. But also, informally, I’ve gotten to encourage and give advice to and mentor to some degree, a lot of the riders coming up and being part of these teams in large and small ways.

I get a tremendous amount out of that. I enjoy seeing these young riders not only reaching that top level but applying themselves and working at it toward that goal. I find that very fulfilling. 

5. What are the dynamics of the team with Beezie stepping back from international competition? 

Obviously, having Beezie step back from team competitions was a huge loss to the team. But that’s the natural course of a career. We’re very lucky that we have long careers as far as sports go. 

I am not a fan of somebody going forever. I think that’s something that makes the window to the top sport a bit smaller for others. I think it’s a positive thing when the most successful riders in the sport can move on to contributing in other ways to our sport. I think in the past, there have been some that we’ve lost because they had too long a career and then passing the point of being able to contribute in other ways to the growth of our sport. 

“I hope that I have a little bit of time left in me. But I won’t go forever.”

Beezie and I were a cornerstone for this team for 20 years. What we were able to accomplish together with the contributions of a number of different people is something that I think was very special. It was an incredible run. But we still have great, great riders. 

Kent [Farrington] now is coming into his prime. Laura [Kraut] obviously has been at the top for quite a long time now. And I hope that I have a little bit of time left in me. But I won’t go forever. Young people have to come up. 

We don’t need a lot to break through. There’s always this conversation of, “Where’s the next generation of riders coming from?” But we don’t need a lot of them, we just need a couple of really good ones. And we need a couple of really good ones that prioritize the important things for the sport, like representing your country at the highest levels. If we can have that, and they can have the right education, the right outlook, and the right team around them, we’ll continue to stay successful in these championships. 

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse. You can subscribe and get online access to a digital version and then enjoy a year of The Chronicle of the Horse. If you’re just following COTH online, you’re missing so much great unique content. Each print issue of the Chronicle is full of in-depth competition news, fascinating features, probing looks at issues within the sports of hunter/jumper, eventing and dressage, and stunning photography.



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