When you visualize a world-class athlete the day of an important competition, you probably don't imagine him signing autographs for charity. Yet that's exactly what McLain Ward was doing when I walked into the horse show office to interview him. The Olympic medalist was painstakingly autographing Sapphire Breyer horse models and Sapphire retirement tee shirts. While we chatted, Ward, looking relaxed in sweats and tee, shared his thoughts on the retirement of his horse Sapphire-one of the greatest show jumping mares in history.
He shared Sapphire's retirement plans and when asked what she would most be looking forward to at Blue Chip Farm in Wallkill, NY, the answer came easily-eating. As Ward explained, as a competitor at the top levels of sport, Sapphire has been on a very strict diet for her entire career to maintain the highest level of performance. As Ward noted, she'll now not only be able to freely graze but she'll be able to indulge in the favorite treat on her bucket list-- Dunkin' Donuts. No picky eater, Ward noted that any type of doughnut will do. In addition to her leisure activities, Sapphire will be bred.
When asked what prompted the decision to retire this grand mare, Ward explained that after her injury his team had tried to rehab her in time for the Olympics. Despite their best efforts, Ward felt that the mare was not 100%. Rather than push her, the decision was made to retire her and allow her to enjoy a healthy and happy leisure life.
When asked to compare his current Grand Prix mount to Sapphire, Ward was quick to highlight the differences between the two. As Ward notes, Sapphire was a calm mare and the challenge was to keep her fit enough to be sharp. Antares F, the 11 year-old Wurtemburger gelding owned by Grant Road Partners, is a contrast in style. The gelding is more "up" and the challenge with Antares F is to control and package his athleticism. As Sapphire heads to retirement and Antares F hits his prime, McLain will vie for not only a win in the Wells Fargo Grand Prix of Devon but also a spot on the 2012 Olympic Show Jumping Team.
Always a cool customer, the pressure is on McLain this year due to the unfortunate timing of a fractured knee he sustained in in Wellington this January. Ward described the challenge of rehabbing, giving credit to his wife and stable team. He noted the one bright side of the injury-his time away from the ring made him miss showing and made him all the more hungry for a win in the Devon Grand Prix and a bid to the olympics. As he notes, sometimes it takes an unexpected set of circumstances to make you "realize how much you love what you do." We have certainly loved watching the journey.