Barney Ward, former show jumper and father of two-time show jumping Olympic team gold medalist McLain Ward, died on Oct. 27 after a battle with cancer. He was 71.
Barney grew up in Providence, R.I., and rode as a child but didn’t have formal lessons. After graduating from the University of Rhode Island, he spent a year playing football professionally, eventually playing for a farm team of the New England Patriots. He left football, however, to pursue life as a professional horseman.
Barney spent years working for various farms before branching out on his own in 1968. By the late ’70s, he’d converted an old cattle farm in Brewster, N.Y., into Castle Hill Farm, where McLain still lives and trains. Barney developed a thriving business importing and selling horses.
Barney was a top grand prix rider in the ’70s and ’80s, despite breaking his neck in 1978. He set an indoor puissance record in 1975, clearing 7’5″ at the National Horse Show (N.Y.). He then broke his own record in 1982, jumping 7’6¾” on Glandor Akai at the Washington International Horse Show (D.C.). Glandor Akai also picked up grand prix wins in the 1982 $25,000 Mercedes Grand Prix at the National and in the 1983 $15,000 Mercedes Benz Grand Prix of Devon (Pa.). Barney rode Sedac to take the $60,000 American Gold Cup (Pa.) in 1986 as well as the $50,000 Mercedes Grand Prix at the Palm Beach Open (Fla.). Sedac was the American Grand Prix Association’s Horse of the Year that year.
“My dad was an unbelievably talented guy in a lot of ways. He was a self-made rider but very good. He wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as some of the riders he competed against, but he was very competent,” McLain said.
But in 1996, Barney pled guilty to conspiring to kill four horses for insurance payouts. He spent 33 months in prison, followed by three years of probation, and was ordered to make restitution to the insurance companies. The American Horse Shows Association (now the U.S. Equestrian Federation) imposed a lifetime suspension on him, including prohibition from attendance on showgrounds.
“Unfortunately, there are some black marks on his history, and he had some flaws and regrets,” McLain said. “But in the end, when you weigh it all, my dad also did a lot of good in this world. The number of people who have contacted me and told me how he helped them has been amazing. I believe his contributions were far greater than the mistakes he made.”
Barney continued to support McLain from their Castle Hill Farm, training and selling horses. “I’m very sad to lose him, but I’m incredibly grateful to have shared my dreams and life with him, which is something that I don’t think many people get to have with a parent. I hope to carry on that for him and for me, but also for my brother, [Dylan, 10],” said McLain.
Barney’s ex-wife and McLain’s mother, Kris Ward, passed away in 2005.
In addition to McLain, Barney is survived by his wife, Relda; sons Jay and Dylan; and two grandchildren.
This obituary appeared in the November 19, 2012 issue of the Chronicle.