Show jumper McLain Ward has decided to retire the great mare Sapphire.
After two team gold medals at the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games, a team silver at the 2006 World Equestrian Games, winning the $928,501 CN International at Spruce Meadows (Alta.) in 2009 and the Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix (N.Y.) in 2010, and placing second to Shutterfly at the 2009 Rolex FEI World Cup Final, Sapphire firmly established herself as the reigning American show jumper of our time.
“She’s been my best friend for many years,” Ward said. “We’ve done a lot together over the last decade. I’m going to miss her at the ring, but I don’t want to be sad about it. It’s a great period in my career and my life and I’ll remember it with fondness beyond belief. She did more for me than I can ever explain.”
Sapphire also won the $100,000 President’s Cup at the Washington International (D.C.) in 2008 and 2010, the Longines Grand Prix of La Baule (France) and the Grand Prix of Rome in 2010, the $200,000 American Invitational in 2008, and both the $50,000 Grand Prix qualifier and the $250,000 FTI Grand Prix at the 2009 Hampton Classic (N.Y.).
Sapphire’s career was put on pause last March, when she suffered a slight strain of her check ligament. Ward and his team, including Lee and Erica McKeever, decided to give the Belgian Warmblood (Darco—Idjaz-C, Hedjaz) a full year to recover. Sapphire had just begun showing again at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Fla.) early this year when Ward broke his leg.
On the strength of their past record, Ward and Sapphire were placed in 10th on the U.S. Equestrian Federation long list for the team for the London Olympic Games. Ward and his team planned to bring “Sara” back to the ring at the Old Salem Farm (N.Y.) shows and then compete in observation events for a spot on the team. But on May 14, they decided that it was time for her to go off her lifelong diet and enjoy the good life instead.
Efforts to breed Sapphire during her recuperation were unsuccessful, but Ward plans to try again now that competition is no longer her main goal.
“It was a tough call, because she looks phenomenal. She looks better than ever, to be honest,” Ward said. “There were just consistent niggling little problems; there wasn’t any major trauma. I wouldn’t say she was lame, but we just didn’t have her 100 percent. As a group, we weren’t comfortable to ask more of her unless she was in 100 percent health.
“We’ve always prided ourselves that we did right by the horse, and the horse rewarded us greatly. I always believed and made a commitment to the horse that I’d let her go out on top and I’d never squeeze the last bit out of her. I wanted to honor that. She’ll have a great retirement. She had two foals from when she was a young horse, and I hope she’ll have a few more babies.
Ward posted on his Facebook page: “Now that the news has broken of Sara’s retirement, I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for your wonderful comments, many of which have made me teary-eyed.
“While it is the end of her incredible career, I refuse to be sad. Sara is retiring healthy, happy and at her best. I am so grateful that fate chose me as the one to be in her life, be her rider and partner as she blazed her trail into show jumping history. There will be times I will certainly miss her being by my side when the pressure is on, but when I think of her all I have is incredible memories.
“As I look back all I can say is how lucky were we. It is hard to imagine, let alone thank, all of the people who at one point or another played a role in Sara’s and my success, but I will try.
My dad, Francois Mathy, Erica McKeever, Lee McKeever, Harry Gill, Hunter Harrison, Tom Grossman, Carrie Stanton, Emma Williams, Di Puopolo, Tim Ober, James Beldon, Bill Bradlee, Gabe Cook, Mikey Boylan, Missy Clark, the Van Bunder family, and many many more. It’s been a hell of a run, filled with peaks and valleys, but I wouldn’t have traded any of it for the world. Thank you Sara.”