Wellington, Fla.—Feb. 9
You’d think McLain Ward might get immune to the excitement of big grand prix classes, considering how many he’s jumped in his career, but he still gets butterflies when he canters into rings like the international ring at the Winter Equestrian Festival.
Under the lights and with a packed crowd, Ward and Noche de Ronda blazed to a win in the $401,000 Fidelity Investments CSI5* Grand Prix during Week 5 at WEF.
“I think more than ever, maybe I’m getting to that point in my career—I was talking to [Irish rider] Darragh Kenny and was saying, it doesn’t get easier, the stress. It doesn’t get less. It’s a little bit like a drug. I love it, and it’s killing me at the same time!” he said with a laugh. “I have a couple of students who are doing this sport at an incredibly high level, and it’s very engaging to be with them and see them prosper and grow. I’m very excited for these nights, and I’m very nervous for these nights, and I really find great pleasure in the fight. The victories are nice and the things that come along with them, but the battle and the fight between people like [Kent Farrington] and I and several others, I think in the end that’s really what gets our blood up. I really love that.”
Forty riders started over Anthony D’Ambrosio’s track, and 12 made it to the jump-off. As some of the last to go, Ward, Farrington (Gazelle) and Canada’s Eric Lamaze [Chacco Kid] battled it out, with Lamaze stopping the timers at 39.69 seconds, then Farrington with 39.51, and finally Ward with 37.47.
“I knew we were in trouble when we had 12 clear tonight; it’s gonna be a fast round to win, no matter what,” said Farrington. “I stuck to my own plan for the most part. I got beat today by a rider on a horse with a giant stride, and he pulled out all the stops and did the big risk to win and pulled it off, so it was a great win tonight for McLain.”
“That’s about all I had and Ronda had to give,” said Ward. “Both Kent and Eric’s horses are super fast types, where I have an advantage sometimes with a bigger stride, but that course didn’t set up great for a bigger stride. I think if everything had gone perfect, Kent would have been able to get one less to the last.
“I think when you get to go after any of us at that level, the one that sets the time, you have a bit of an advantage. Normally you either come out by winning or crashing—one or the other! The horse really performed spectacularly,” he said of his own, Marilla Van Beuren and Bob Russell’s 11-year-old Oldenburg mare (Quintender—Ritschina Ratscione, Loves Corinth).
It was Van Beuren’s dream to own a grand prix horse, so Ward found the mare last year. “She’s been in this game and been an avid follower and equestrian. We found her with Maarten Huygens Huggins. It was produced by Manuel Lecuona. We thought it was something really interesting and exciting, and it’s been a really wonderful story for us and for her. It’s nice sometimes when the good guys win,” said Ward.
While she was only jumping 1.35 meters with Ward in March 2019, a run of injuries in his string meant “Ronda” had to step up.
“She ended up having to step up and do the Aachen Nations Cup [Germany]. We kind of made up six months in a night, and she jumped double clear and went on to have a great season and some big wins,” he said. “She’s a big horse, but she’s very rideable. She’s a beautiful jumper. Funny enough, when you look at her she looks like a heavier, colder horse, but she’s the most mareish mare I’ve had in years. I’m obviously very fond of the mares, but this one’s a little bit of a handful!”