Friday, Mar. 1, 2024

HH Azur And Paradigm Win 2023 Titles At SmartPak USEF Horse Of The Year Awards

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The U.S. Equestrian Federation has announced that HH Azur, Double H Farm and McLain Ward’s 18-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare, was voted the 2023 International Horse of the Year, and Paradigm, Meredith Lipke’s 12-year-old warmblood gelding, was voted the 2023 National Horse of the Year by the USEF membership. 

HH Azur and Paradigm were honored during the SmartPak USEF Horse of the Year Awards Dinner at the USEF Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky, on Jan. 13.

International Horse of the Year: HH Azur

HH Azur has been one of the most successful horses in recent history, amassing a resume of accomplishments too long to list throughout her historic partnership with McLain Ward. In a resurgence of dominance later in her career, HH Azur stole the spotlight in Geneva, Switzerland, at the 2022 CHI Geneva, winning the prestigious Rolex Grand Prix of Geneva.

As leaders of the Rolex Grand Slam standings, HH Azur and Ward traveled to the Dutch Masters in March 2023 to contest the second leg of the slam. Showing the strength of their partnership, they secured victory in the Rolex Grand Prix of ‘s-Hertogenbosch (the Netherlands), which saw 16 of the world’s best combinations return for the jump-off. Their victory marked only the second time in history two Grand Slam events have been won consecutively since the inception of the Rolex Show Jumping Grand Slam in 2013.

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The pair finished sixth in the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida) just a few weeks later before making a moving final appearance in front of thousands of fans at the Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen (Germany), which marked the pair’s last start together to close the chapter on HH Azur’s incredible competitive career. In total, Ward and HH Azur finished inside the top 10 more than 75 times at the CSI5* level, which includes a victory at the FEI Jumping World Cup Final (Nebraska) in 2017, alongside their team silver from the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games.

“I am very honored to be able to accept International Horse of the Year for HH Azur. Her story is well documented, and it is something truly remarkable,” said co-owner and rider McLain Ward via an acceptance video. “When I think back to 2023 for this incredible mare, this incredible partner, and a friend of ours to receive this honor, when I think she only jumped five or six FEI classes, it just shows what an impact she had on the sport—obviously in my life and my career, as well as all of us who are involved with her. We always joke that she is truly the queen. At 16 and 17 years of age, after a hiatus from the sport, to come back and compete at that level is a testament to what an incredible, brilliant horse she has been.”

McLain Ward and Double H Farm’s HH Azur earned the USEF International Horse of the Year award for 2023. Shannon Brinkman/USEF Photo

“It is a real honor and privilege to look after such a good mare and for her to get this recognition of Horse of the Year,” said Lee McKeever, longtime groom for Ward and HH Azur. “It is a very special award for her, and she has well deserved it.”

Double H Farm and McLain Ward were the recipients of the Horse of the Year trophy and a premium gift pack of critically acclaimed wines from Horsepower Vineyards.

National Horse of the Year: Paradigm

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A 12-year-old warmblood gelding nicknamed “Mikey,” Paradigm stood on the pinnacle of the hunter sport in 2023 when he won the Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby Championship (Kentucky) with rider John French.

SmartPak’s Amanda Bodkin (far right) and USEF President Tom O’Mara (second right) presented Paradigm’s owner, Meredith Lipke, and rider, John French, with the award for USEF National Horse of the Year. Lisa Slade Photo

Paradigm, who was imported from Europe by Mike and Tracy McCormick as a breeding stallion before being bought by current owner Meredith Lipke, bested 83 competitors in that notable win. An observer was quoted as saying that, “French and Paradigm’s exceptional trip embodied everything a derby win should be—grace, scope, style, pace, handiness, and overall brilliance. What a class, what a horse, what a ride.”

Paradigm competed throughout 2023 as a mount for both Lipke in the amateur ranks and French in the open classes. He was crowned a champion multiple times in some of the most competitive shows on the hunter schedule, including the $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Saratoga Classic I (New York), the High Performance Hunter Championship at the Middleburg Classic (Virginia), and the High Performance Hunter Championship at Lake Placid (New York).

This culmination of success led to him being named 2023’s leading international derby horse and the USEF Horse of the Year in the high performance working hunter division.

“I would like to thank the US Equestrian for honoring us with this award and to congratulate the other nominees as they have had amazing years as well,” said Paradigm’s rider John French. “I want to thank my owner, Meredith [Lipke], who supported me through a broken leg and over the last 12 years. She said, ‘Let’s see how far you can get with Paradigm. Let’s see if we can go to the Derby Finals.’ And that’s what we did. I never thought that he would win all that he won last year. It is because of Meredith, and I want to thank everyone behind the scenes who has contributed to this horse’s success.”

Meredith Lipke was the recipient of the Horse of the Year trophy and a premium gift pack of critically acclaimed wines from Horsepower Vineyards.

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