THE EQUESTRIAN NEWS -- MAY 15, 2012 -- McLain Ward announced Monday that he is retiring his Olympic mount Sapphire, who helped bring home the Gold in 2004 and 2008. The Belgian Warmblood mare is 17 this year, and sat out most of the 2011 season following a ligament injury in her right front leg during the Winter Equestrian Festival.
“As I’ve said before, if she never jumps another fence, she doesn’t owe anyone anything,” Ward told The Chronicle of the Horse at the time.
In addition to two Team Gold medals the Olympics, the Brewster, NY-based Ward and Sapphire earned a Silver Medal at the 2006 World Equestrian Games, and also won the 2010 Pfizer HITS $1 Million Grand Prix, and the $1 Million CN Grand Prix at the Spruce Meadows Masters.
Monday, as word leaked out and well-wishers pelted Ward’s Facebook page with well-wishes, the rider posted a comment of his own, affectionately referring to the liver chestnut by her barn name, Sara: “Now that the news has broke of Sara’s retirement I want to a take this opportunity to thank you all for your wonderful comments, many of which have made me teary eyed. While it is the end of her incredible career, I refuse to be sad. Sara is retiring healthy, happy and at her best.
“I am so grateful that fate chose me as the one to be in her life, be her rider and partner as she blazed her trail into show jumping history. There will be times I will certainly miss her being by side when the pressure is on but when i think of her all I have is incredible memories. As I look back all I can say is how lucky were we. It is hard to imagine let alone thank all of the people who at one point or another played a role in Sara and my success, but I will try: my dad [Barney Ward], Francois Mathy, Erica Mckeever, Lee Mckeever, Harry Gill, Hunter Harrison, Tom Grossman, Carrie Stanton, Emma Williams, Di Puopolo, Tim Ober, James Beldon, Bill Bradlee, Gabe Cook, Mikey Boylan, Missy Clark, the Van Bunder family, and many, many more. It’s been a hell of a run, filled with peaks and valleys but I wouldn’t have traded any of it for the world. Thank you Sara.”
Sapphire is owned by Ward and Tom Grossman’s Blue Chip Bloodstock. She doesn’t yet have foals on the ground, but the plan it to harvest embryos and produce offspring. “I have a 700 acre breeding facility, Blue Chip Farm, with everything we need to make this happen,” Grossman said.
“That’s where she will live. Two years ago we had a pasture right next to my barn manager’s house fenced a little bit high, just in case she had to hang out there. As we speak I have 500 horses running around in the field, but my guess with her is she’s not going to love that. So she’s probably going to be up at the stud barn. Obviously, she’s going to get to be wherever she likes,” he chuckled.
The horse, whose career has largely been arranged around minding her weight?with everything from her diet to her bedding choreographed to keep her trim?will now get to eat what she likes. “But we’re not going to let her get fat,” Grossman stresses. “She’ll have a very personalized hand-walking program.”
Will all this luxury, the questions arises, will a busy campaigner feel at home? “It’s true, these horses are finely-tuned athletes that have been trained to win their whole lives, but if she wants to get muddy and hang out and be a horse, she can do that too. She’s going to have the life she deserves.”
Grossman said that while Sapphire is sound, “she’s not perfect. There are a few nagging little things that we felt might be rushing it for the Olympics. She’s had very little vetting over the years, compared to other show jumpers, but McLain, Barney and I have always had a pact, that if she wasn’t perfect, we’d take her out at the very, very top of her game rather than patch her together.”
Asked if he has been thinking along the lines of selling embryos or producing and raising Sapphire’s foals as an in-house venture, Grossman said, “We’ve had some very aggressive offers for embryos. There’s a real push and pull between having something that’s personally meaningful and commercially valuable, but I’ve been in the horse business long enough to know I will never have another horse like Sapphire. The closest I could come would be to have one out of her.”