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McLain Ward named 2023 USEF International Equestrian of the Year

Monday, 15 January 2024

Photo © Shannon Brinkman Photo McLain Ward, 2023 USEF International Equestrian of the Year. Photo © Shannon Brinkman Photo.

USEF has announced McLain Ward as their 2023 International Equestrian of the Year. Ward, who was nominated as Equestrian of Honor and selected by US Equestrian member voting in December, was honored at the 2023 Pegasus Awards Dinner at the USEF Annual Meeting in Louisville, Ky., on January 14. It is the second time Ward receives the award.

In a press release announcing the award, US Equestrian wrote:

"The 2023 season marked a masterful year for McLain Ward (Brewster, N.Y.), who campaigned 11 different horses at the international level. Most notably, the beginning of the 2023 season started with consecutive wins aboard HH Azur in the Rolex Grand Prix of Geneva and the Rolex Grand Prix of 's-Hertogenbosch at the Dutch Masters, making the duo only the second combination ever to win two consecutive legs of the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping since its inception in 2013. Ward then helped the NetJets U.S. Jumping Team to a win in the FEI Jumping Nations Cup USA in San Juan Capistrano aboard Contagious and secured another victory in the Grand Prix aboard Kasper van het Hellehof. He rode Callas to a top result for the team in the Mercedes-Benz Jumping Nations Cup at CHIO Aachen, followed by another strong performance for the pair at the Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup Final in Barcelona.

Ward was named to his third Pan American Games Team, this time aboard Contagious. The duo was consistent and efficient throughout the entire week in Santiago, helping the team to secure Olympic qualification for Paris 2024, and standing atop the podium with team gold. Ward also traveled home with an individual bronze medal in his fourth championship appearance for the United States with Contagious. In 2023 alone, Ward notched 25 international victories and represented the U.S. in five different countries.

This is Ward’s second USEF International Equestrian of the Year award (2017, 2023).

“We are very honored to receive this award because it is chosen by our US Equestrian community. It is a reflection of our team’s hard work, and how that work is having a positive impact,” said Ward in an acceptance video. “You might ask why I started this speech with the word we instead of I. The reality is that [it is] because of the individuals and professionals around me, both past and present, that any of our accomplishments have been possible. The people around me have been some of the most brilliant and knowledgeable minds who have not only been the reason for that success in the sport, but have also, more importantly, made sure our horses have had a wonderful quality of life because of the care they receive.”

Ward continued by acknowledging his groom of over 35 years, Lee McKeever. “My first thought was that I was not truly the horseman behind our success,” said Ward. “My job in this operation has always been to ride, train, and compete, but Lee is the true horseman. I believe that true geniuses don’t often realize they are a genius, and that is true for Lee. He wakes up every morning thinking about the horses, and he spends his days figuring out what they need to be the best in the sport and, much more importantly, in their lives.” 

Ward is a 2023 winner of the William C. Steinkraus Trophy, which is presented to an equestrian competing in the Olympic disciplines of dressage, eventing, or show jumping. As the International Equestrian of the Year, Ward was a recipient of the Robert P. Strub Trophy and a premium gift pack of critically acclaimed wines from Horsepower Vineyards."


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