After McLain Ward on Rio, Brewster, NY, outrode Margie Engle, Wellington, FL, on her Olympic mount Hidden Creeks Perin in the $25,000 Festival of Champions Grand Prix on Friday, June 22, the two riders chatted about their horses, the class and the positives and negatives about the Festival.
The starting field of 27 was a welcome relief for both riders, who have in past years competed in classes with twice as many entries or more. And sometimes the number doesn't dictate the skill of the competitors or the difficulty of the courses.
"Of the 27 riders, 25 or 26 were capable of winning this class," remarked Engle. "These are all good horses."
"The course was still difficult enough. It was no easier just less entries," added Ward.
Ward has been spending time over the past few months getting his horses into form, before that it seems everything that could go wrong did go wrong. This past winter in Florida in one grand prix in a jump-off when he was going clear his girth broke and in another grand prix, again going clear, his stirrup broke. And last year when it seemed that Ward might be a sure thing for the Olympic team, it was not to be.
So, Ward's been working with his horses, getting to know them and bringing them along. And now things are starting to turn around.
They're all different but all talented. "Rio can be a child sometimes. He's a temperamental horse. He's very playful. It's a bit easy for him, so his concentration has always been an issue."
"Rio turns on a dime. He is like a little pony and he can spin back on his fences," explained Ward.