World number three McLain Ward (USA) started the New Year the way he aspires to start every day—winning.
The Olympic team gold medalist rode Hija van Strokapelleken to a decisive victory in the opening class of the 2018 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, FL.
He and the 11-year-old BWP mare posted a fast and clear round in the Douglas Elliman Real Estate 1.45m Jumpers speed class, stopping the clock at 69.938 seconds.
It was more than one second faster than runner up Kevin Babington (IRL) and Double O Seven 7’s time of 71.070 seconds. And over four seconds faster than third place finisher Gustavo Prato (ARG) and Carnaz (74.278 seconds).
The class marks Ward’s first appearance in the ring with Hija van Strokapelleken, but it’s not their first ride around the block.
The 2017 FEI World Cup Jumping Finals champion sold the horse to Jennifer Gates’s Evergate Stable LLC a year and half ago. The mare competed under Nayel Nassar (EGY) last summer on the Global Champions Tour in Europe. She’s now returned to Ward to be sold.
“She’s a wonderful horse,” said the Brewster, New York-based rider. “She’s really capable of doing any grand prix. It was a little bit of an easy start for her, but she really performed beautifully. I’d never shown her before.
“It’s like riding an equitation horse around,” he continued. “She has a big, scopey stride. She’s clever. She’s really willing, and she’s really dead simple.”
Ward plans to compete with Hija van Strokapellken in Thursday’s $35,000 Equinimity WEF Challenge Cup Round 1 and Sunday’s $75,000 Rosenbaum PLLC Grand Prix.
“We’re kind of using this week to get to know a little bit of where we are with her and to get to know her a little bit better, and so far so good,” he said.
“I’m really enjoying the ride on her.”
What he didn’t say but probably thought: “If she keeps this up, the price is going up too.”