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HH Azur voted SmartPak/USEF International Horse of the Year 2023

Sunday, 14 January 2024

Photo © Shannon Brinkman/US Equestrian. McLain Ward and HH Azur. Photo © Shannon Brinkman/US Equestrian.

Double H Farm and McLain Ward’s 18-year-old mare HH Azur (Thunder vd Zuuthoeve x Sir Lui vd Zuuthoeve, breeder Nathalie Beaufort) has been voted 2023 International Horse of the Year by the USEF membership. HH Azur was honoured during the SmartPak/USEF Horse of the Year Awards dinner at the USEF Annual Meeting in Louisville, Ky., on January 13.

Announcing the award, USEF wrote in a press release:

"HH Azur has been one of the most successful horses in recent history, amassing a resume of accomplishments too long to list throughout her historic partnership with McLain Ward. In a resurgence of dominance later in her career, HH Azur stole the spotlight in Geneva, Switzerland, at the 2022 CHI Geneva, winning the prestigious Rolex Grand Prix of Geneva. As leaders of the Rolex Grand Slam standings, HH Azur and Ward traveled to the Dutch Masters in March 2023 to contest the second leg of the slam. Showing the strength of their partnership, they secured victory in the Rolex Grand Prix of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, which saw 16 of the world’s best combinations return for the jump-off. Their victory marked only the second time in history two consecutive Grand Slam events have ever been won consecutively since the inception of the Rolex Show Jumping Grand Slam in 2013.

The pair finished sixth in the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix at WEF just a few weeks later before making a moving final appearance in front of thousands of fans at the Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen, which marked the pair’s last start together to close the chapter on HH Azur’s incredible competitive career. In total, Ward and HH Azur finished inside the top 10 more than 75 times at the CSI5* level, which includes a victory at the FEI Jumping World Cup Final in 2017, alongside their team silver from the Rio de Janeiro 2016 Olympic Games."

“I am very honored to be able to accept International Horse of the Year for HH Azur. Her story is well-documented, and it is something truly remarkable,” said co-owner and rider McLain Ward via an acceptance video. “When I think back to 2023 for this incredible mare, this incredible partner, and a friend of ours to receive this honor when I think she only jumped five or six FEI classes. It just shows what an impact she had on the sport, obviously in my life and my career, as well as all of us who are involved with her. We always joke that she is truly the queen. At 16 and 17 years of age, after a hiatus from the sport, to come back and compete at that level is a testament to what an incredible, brilliant horse she has been."

“It is a real honor and privilege to look after such a good mare and for her to get this recognition of Horse of the Year," said Lee McKeever, long-time groom for Ward and HH Azur, in the USEF press release. “It is a very special award for her, and she has well deserved it.”


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