Road To The Olympics: McLain Ward Is Riding An Amazing Streak

Jun 6, 2016 - 11:00 AM
HH Azur took a break to nap during her European tour.

McLain Ward kicked off his spring at the Old Salem Farm Spring Horse Shows in North Salem, N.Y., where he won the $50,000 Old Salem Farm Grand Prix with HH Carlos Z, the $35,000 Grand Prix of North Salem with Rothchild and the $130,000 Empire State Grand Prix with the up-and-coming 9-year-old mare, Tina la Boheme.

Immediately following that class, Ward boarded a plane for Europe and extended his winning streak at the Piazza di Siena CSIO***** in Rome (Italy), one of the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s four designated observation events for the U.S. Olympic Show Jumping Team. There, Ward won two 1.50-meter classes with HH Carlos Z before clinching a victory in the $224,792 Loro Piana Grand Prix City of Rome with his potential Olympic mount HH Azur.

About McLain Ward and HH Azur

Home base: Castle Hill, Brewster, N.Y.

Azur’s stats: 10-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare (Thunder van de Zuuthoeve—SIon van de Zuuthoeve, Sir Lui)

Azur’s owners: Double H Farm and Francois Mathy

Big Performances in 2016:

1st$380,000 Suncast Grand Prix (Fla.), Feb. (HH Azur)

2nd—$500,000 Rolex Grand Prix (Fla.), April (HH Azur)

2nd—$500,000 LGCT Grand Prix of Miami Beach (Fla.), April (HH Azur)

1st—$224,792 Loro Piana Grand Prix City of Rome, May (HH Azur)

2 clean rounds—Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup of Romw, May (HH Azur)

Ward and “Annie” were also one of just four pairs to put forth a double-clear performance in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup, in which the U.S. team finished as the runners-up to Great Britain. The American riders on the Short List were split into two groups, and each group will compete in two observation events; Ward, along with Beezie Madden, Laura Kraut, Kent Farrington and Callen Solem, will also contest CSIO***** Rotterdam (the Netherlands), June 22-26.

After his week in Rome concluded, Ward flew home for Devon Horse Show (Pa.), where he and Tina la Boheme won the $50,000 Welcome Stake, the $50,000 Idle Dice Stake and the $40,000 Speed Stake. With Rothchild, he was third in the $225,000 Sapphire Grand Prix of Devon. At the end of May, Ward was named No. 1 in the Longines World Rankings.

[In Rome], we went on the plan. The horses I thought were well prepared and fresh. I’m lucky to have the horses that I have, and everything came off ideally. Azur was fantastic in the Nations Cup and also in the grand prix, and Carlos has always been a big winner. He’s normally either the horse with the fastest time with one down or the winner, and it went our way. 

I thought the Nations Cup was large but very straightforward. It was a pretty easy course to ride I thought, and Azur handled it well. She didn’t have a rub in either round; she jumped it pretty easily.

The grand prix was definitely significantly larger. There were very few clear, and they were some of the best horses in the world, with people trying to make their Olympic teams, so it was an intense year. She jumped beautifully in the first round. In the jump-off, I don’t think it was my finest riding ever, but the horse is so good, she makes up for it.


McLain Ward and HH Azur at the Rome CSIO. Photo by Tiffany van Halle

Obviously with Azur, there’s always a little bit of pressure from the point of view that she is so good that if you make a mistake, it’s normally yours and not hers. But you can’t think about that. I also think you can’t get fixated on a [winning] streak. Then you limit yourself. If the expectation is that you can win “x” amount of classes, you set that as a number, and you don’t go beyond it.

I try to look at doing the best we can every day at every competition, and we go into every week with a game plan, working from Sunday backwards and same thing on a larger scale, by the month or by the year.

I think Azur is coming into a really good place. What she’s doing now or what she did in Florida or what she did last year is a bit her status quo. I don’t think it’s a case of whether she’s peaking or not; this is just the horse that she is. She’s able to perform at that high of a level at a pretty nice, routine pace.

HH Azur takes some time out in Europe to meet a new friend.

Team Camaraderie 

The atmosphere [within the U.S. team] is very good. I think [the team at Rome] in particular had a group of people that get along very well.

Everybody is in a different position. Some people are either more experienced at that level with their horse or themselves and are trying to basically hold their position, and others are fighting for a position. Everybody knows where they stand; if they don’t, at this point, that’s a problem, but they’ve done the jobs that they need to do.


McLain Ward (left) and Kent Farrington discussing a course during a course walk at the Rome CSIO. Photo by Tiffany van Halle

I think with this particular group of people, there’s a real realistic outlook, and I think that creates a good atmosphere. People know what the job at hand is. 

We stable together, and sometimes we eat together. People have their own individuals, and it’s a group of professionals, so it’s not necessarily a big social atmosphere, but there’s definitely a natural social scene to it. 

Frequent Flyer Miles

Rothchild has had a great year. I think he’s actually the leading money-earner in the world right now, and he’s been in top form.

For me, Devon is one of the great events in our country. I’m thrilled to see it have a large new sponsor and to be able to become a four-star and increase its prize money to stay amongst the best events, because it is one of the classics. I’ve been a big fan and supporter of the show over the years, and that ring has traditionally been very good to me.

[After Devon], Rothchild will travel to Europe. His first show there will be in Belgium, in Knokke, which will be after Rotterdam, and then he’ll join Carlos and Azur in Aachen [Germany].

Like anything, [all the travel] can be a little bit of a hassle. I’m certainly tired. You have to find time to rest and recharge. Typically, when I’m home, I work a little bit harder than I do when I’m at the show, so actually, when I go to the show, there’s more down time to catch a breath. 

[After Devon], I’ll be home for about 10 days, and I’ll ride a few horses at Saugerties next week. Azur stays in Europe. I’ll be back [in Europe] a week before Rotterdam, and I’ll ride her then. 


HH Azur (left) and HH Carlos Z loaded into a lorry in Europe. 

In this series, the Chronicle follows six riders as they seek to fulfill their Olympic dreams in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. We’ll check in with them every few weeks as they pursue a team spot, seeing how they’re getting their horses ready and preparing mentally. 

Read all of the Road To The Olympics with McLain Ward

We’re also following:

Show jumper Callan Solem

Eventer Phillip Dutton and his groom Emma Ford

Dressage rider Kasey Perry-Glass

Eventer Clark Montgomery

Dressage rider Laura Graves

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