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Ahead of the WEG 2018: McLain Ward – “I’m really looking forward to show the world what we can do”

Tuesday, 16 January 2018
Ahead of the WEG 2018

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.
McLain Ward looks forward to the FEI World Equestrian Games on home soil. Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

The FEI World Equestrian Games™ 2018 were planned to be hosted by Bromont in Canada. However, at the end of July 2016, the FEI announced that Bromont was no longer an option due to financial issues and re-opened the bidding process. Already in August the same year – only one year after the first competition on the show ground – Tryon International Equestrian Center was working together with the United States Equestrian Federation on a bid to host the 2018 Games in North Carolina. And, at the end of 2016 it was final: In September 2018 Tryon will welcome thousands of athletes to compete for the World Championships medals.

In a series of articles, World of Showjumping focuses on the upcoming FEI World Equestrian Games™.

McLain Ward is one of the home athletes who aims for a spot on the US team for the FEI World Equestrian Games™. WoSJ sat down with Ward – one of the world’s absolutely best riders – to talk about the pros and cons of having a major championship on home soil, his superstar HH Azur and the growth of showjumping in the US.

Ward has competed at several championships, and made his Olympic debut in Athens in 2004. With several medals from both the Olympics and the World Championships, as well as being reigning World Cup Champion, Ward for sure knows all about the ups and downs that comes along with jumping at those big occasions. “The World Equestrian Games in Kentucky didn’t go as we hoped for, and that was a difficult year for us. Then we had a dry period all the way through the Olympics in London. But we had a great group of riders and horse owners that were able to recognise where the weaknesses were, so we have been able to bounce back. The sport is very strong in the US now because of the high calibre and high quality events. All the organizers push each other and that is the way to succeed,” Ward points out. 

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.
McLain Ward is aiming for the championships with HH Azur. Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.

“For me personally, having more and more top 4* and 5* shows in the US is brilliant. I love going to Europe, not only to compete at great events but also to see where I am in the sport against different riders. Still, my life is in America. My business is here and my family is here, so I can’t just leave to Europe for eight months every year. It is not a reality and it is also not how I chose to live. I always believed that for the US to be successful, we need to have a strong sport at home,” Ward says.

And in September 2018 it is time for one of the biggest equestrian events there is – the FEI World Equestrian Games™– again in the US.  “When I found out that the World Equestrian Games were coming to Tryon I was excited about it. To be able to allow my supporters to be part of it close up and personal in their own country is fantastic. That builds enthusiasm and I really look forward to it. Having championships in your own country is wonderful for the emotional experience. As part of the team it is on one way a huge benefit, but it is also a distraction. It is a distraction with friends, family, sponsors and clients – so you have to learn how to handle it. You have to find a balance,” Ward explains about his experiences.

“At the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky I think we as a team didn’t handle it very well, but then at the World Cup Final in Omaha I handled it better. There I got that great feeling of being in my home country, without letting it distract me. As an athlete you have to find the right balance. At this point with my experience level, the distractions don’t affect me so much anymore. As an athlete, you have to be able to concentrate on what your job is and everything else is kind of pushed aside,” Ward says.

Ward explains that he had a lot of help from the US Olympic committee: “The Olympic experience has been really helpful. They do a lot of seminars on how not to get distracted and they say that 80% of the disappointing performances come from not handling the distractions well.”

Photo (c) Jenny Abrahamsson.
McLain Ward has two main goals for HH Azur this year - the World Cup final in Paris and the WEG in Tryon.

Ward is preparing HH Azur for the big challenge at the FEI World Equestrian Games™. “HH Azur is young and fit, and our first goal during next year is the World Cup Final in Paris and then it is the World Equestrian Games. It is a nice break between these two shows, so it is reasonable to think that the same horse can do both. Everything else is for us a step on the way to these two events, “ Ward tells.

HH Azur was found through Francois Mathy, as so many of Ward’s top horses: “I was lucky enough that my father met Francois in 1978 in Johannesburg, where both of them got invited to an event where you ride other horses. They kind of hit it off and that was the beginning of bringing warmblood horses into the States. They were really at the front of that together with Paul Schockemöhle, who was involved as well. When I was coming to age, we had really something to offer Francois that just a few people could – we had a past and a history and an incredible future. I kind of took over the business in the middle of the 90s. And Francois has probably been the greatest influence of my life – not only in business, but also as a human being. All of my great horses have come through him. Sapphire is one of them and we have done some breeding with her and have many 3 and 4-year-olds coming up. Even though the breeding is getting better when it comes to showjumpers in the US, in my experience time spend to look for horses in Europe is time better spend than reinvent the breeding in the United States,” Ward says.

“For the World Equestrian Games this year, I think it will be fantastic. It is beautiful setting, spectacular conditions and the weather will be very good that time of year. And I think we have a community, not only local, but also a community in the US that will stand behind it. They are proud to have these events and they will come to support it. This is a management team with a lot of experience and that have a lot of people behind them, so I’m very convinced that it will be a first class event and I’m really looking forward to show the world what we can do,” Ward concludes. 

In our series 'Ahead of the WEG 2018', World of Showjumping will give our readers a preview and a look behind the scenes on the upcoming FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Tryon.

Here can you read previous articles:

Ahead of the WEG 2018: From nothing to organising the FEI World Equestrian Games™

Ahead of the WEG 2018: “The whole venue was built in 16 months"


Text and pictures © World of Showjumping by Jenny Abrahamsson

No reproduction without permission

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