McLain Ward has developed a ritual when he gets on HH Azur.
“I give her a pat and say, ‘You don’t owe me a single jump, but if you could jump a few more, I’d appreciate it,’ ” Ward said.
The 16-year-old Belgian Warmblood (Thunder VD Zuuthoeve—Sion VD Zuuthoeve, Sir Lui VD Zuuthoeve) mare is a veteran in the show ring, having won the 2017 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Final (Nebraska) and a team silver medal at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. While she might be entering the twilight of her career, she’s not done yet.
On May 22, she won the $200,000 Empire State Grand Prix at the Old Salem Farm May II in North Salem, New York, for the second year in a row. The pair stopped the timers in 37.29 seconds, nearly a second faster than second-placed finishers, Katie Dinan and Grant Road Partners LLC’s 16-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Brego R’N B.
“I’m always thankful to the very supportive Harrison family and Double H Farm for being in my corner my entire career and this horse’s career,” Ward said of the mare’s co-owners. “It’s great to see this mare wonderful, healthy and still doing this sport. It’s lucky that she doesn’t actually need to jump a lot to compete and be in top form, so we kind of pick and choose.”
Old Salem was “Annie’s” second grand prix win this year; she also topped the $216,000 CSIO4* Grand Prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival (Florida).
Alan Wade set a winding course with 16 jumping efforts and a tight time allowed of 75 seconds. American Devin Ryan and LL Show Jumpers LLC’s Eddie Blue claimed an early lead with what seemed to be the only clear score in the initial phase, but Ireland’s Paul O’Shea and U.S. riders Katie Dinan and Ward quickly added some pressure as the class went on.
“I think Alan Wade did a really good job over the two weeks of competition here with the new surface,” said Ward, who is also the spring horse shows’ co-chair. “It was really phenomenal and got better and better as the show went on. I think we saw that in the results this week with more clear rounds, even though the level was higher. [May 22], he built a very challenging four-star. We had a pretty strong group of horses with several Olympic and World Championship horses, but the courses had been built up to that challenge in a good way. The horses were all prepared to jump.”
Ryan, who earned team gold at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games (North Carolina), took third in a time of 38.25 seconds. Ireland’s Paul O’Shea and Skara Glen’s Machu Picchu, a 15-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding owned by Machu Picchu Partners LLC, finished fourth with 10 faults.
Watch Ward’s winning jump-off round, courtesy of ClipMyHorse.TV