In this day and age buying a horse untried and unvetted is unheard of, but McLain Ward’s Hall of Fame inductee, the world-renowned mare Sapphire, was purchased without either – simply with a phone call. The day the mare stepped off the trailer in 2002, was the first time McLain saw her and the first time he sat on her.
“She arrived. She was kind of a heavy horse, but she defied type – she had blood,” McLain said of the chestnut Belgian Warmblood. “I was leaving for California the next morning and I wanted to jump her,” he recalls, having purchased the mare in conjunction with his sponsor Harry Gill, having heard about her through his friends the Leone brothers.
“We were jumping a combination – about 1.30m – and I clearly remember that at the top of the jump there was a butterfly flying around. She struck out at the butterfly and killed it, then took the next step like nothing had happened. And that’s how fast that horse’s instincts were. It was always a moment, looking back, the quality and the sharpness and the incredible athletic feat that was. Right on day one – it was a sign.”
McLain has had many top horses since but with hindsight he realises, Sapphire was beyond exceptional.
“It’s always interesting to look back,” he said. “One characteristic with top riders, is no matter how good their horse is at the moment, they always think there’s a better one around the corner. And I can’t say that I’m immune from that either. But when I look back now on Sapphire’s career, not that I didn’t appreciate and realise how great she was at the time, I think I realise even more so now.”
Sapphire competed at two Olympic games, two world championships and numerous World Cup finals. For at least a nine-year period she was headlining in the sport.
“Her greatest asset was that she was a very smart horse,” said McLain. “She had the ability to do it and she kind of understood in the best way that we can say, what we were asking of her and she got it. Looking back on it now, I’ve had some great talents since then, but I’ve never had a horse that put it all together the way she did.”
Sapphire will be formally inducted into the Hall of Fame at the Gala on Sunday 6 March coinciding with the Winter Equestrian Festival.
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