In equestrian sport, age benefits experience, and experience is an undeniable asset in the ring. But more often than not, this sentiment is applied to riders who reach the top of their game later in life, not their horses.

That notion needs rethinking, according to American show jumper McLain Ward.

“We’ve worked really hard to build a great string of horses, and also to maintain them so that they last a long time,” the four-time Olympic medalist and FEI World Cup Finals Champion said after a recent CSI5* win at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, FL.

“My top horses are 17 years old [HH Azur], 15 years old [Callas], and 14 years old [Contagious]. They are experienced, which gives you such an advantage, and their health is a great testament to my team. We have great owners that allow us to show these horses the right amount and not put too much pressure on them.”

When it comes to competing horses well into their teens—and especially at the five-star and championship level—there’s no doubt that careful maintenance and scheduling are key to supporting their health and comfort. But there’s plenty more that can be gleaned from Ward’s “senior” string and what they’ve achieved over the last few years.

For that, we headed over to Jumpr App to deep-dive into the numbers, comparing each horse’s recent achievements to some of their past career-highs ahead of the CSI5* Dutch Masters in s-Hertogenbosch, NED.

HH Azur is the Queen of Consistency

We don’t call her “Queen Annie” for nothing. In 2016, HH Azur and Ward earned a team silver medal at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games. The next year, she helped Ward reach World No. 1 for the first time. Six years into their partnership, the now-17-year-old SBS mare has earned well over €3.6 million in total prize money and finished on 42 podiums. But how has Annie been doing lately?

Jumpr App stats show HH Azur’s overall clear-round average from 2015–2023 is remarkably consistent, trending at 50% or higher most years.

Back in 2017—arguably her biggest year to date—Annie jumped in 24 total classes, 17 of those at 1.60m. Of those, she had a 59% clear round average, and finished in the top-10 a phenomenal 82% of the time.

Although she showed in just 18 total classes in 2022, she had a 100% clear-round average in the six rounds she jumped at her bread-and-butter height, 1.60m, finishing top-10 in each. This includes her biggest wins of the year at CSIO5* Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ Tourmaline Oil Cup in September and the $1.28 million Rolex Grand Prix CSI5* at CHI Geneva in December.

But what does that look like over the course of her career? Put it this way: At age 17, Annie is still maintaining the same 50% total clear round average she was in her best competitive years. Even more telling: her average faults have barely changed, from 2.54 in 2017 to 2.56 in 2022.

The Verdict: Queen Annie’s like a fine wine—and a living legend (but you already knew that). At the 1.60m level, she may not compete as often these days, but when she does, she and Ward are just as competitive as they ever were. Which is to say very.

Callas is trending in the right direction

A relative newbie to the string, Ward acquired Callas in 2022 from American rider Anne Revers when she left to attend college and immediately moved the mare up a division. Before Revers, the 15-year-old Holstein mare was campaigned in Europe by Hikari Yoshizawa (JPN) and Tom Martens (NED). After jumping 1.45m and lower for most of her career, how does Callas stack up at 1.60m?

Before Ward took over the reins, Callas had topped 8 podiums since 2015, earning €56,620 in total prize money. In 2018 and 2016, her most prolific competition years to date, she competed in 38 classes both years, with the vast majority (50 and 71%, respectively) of rounds at the 1.40m and 1.45m levels. Her most lucrative year was 2018 with Yoshizawa. At the 1.40m height, Callas had a 67% clear round average, finishing in the top-10 42% of the time to earn four podiums and more than €28,600.

To say the tide has shifted with Ward is an understatement. In 2022, Callas jumped 11 rounds between June and December, but nearly three-quarters of those were at the significantly higher 1.50m and 1.60m heights. The pair jumped clear rounds and finished in the top-10 at 1.60m 40% of the time, winning more than €136,300 in prize money that season alone. (That’s 34% more money than Callas’s 2016 and 2018 earnings combined).

Their 2023 season is trending even higher still. Thanks to her CSI5* win at the Winter Equestrian Festival in February, Callas has already exceeded her 2022 winnings with 10 months still to go in the year. As of March 7, she’s the highest earning horse in the world with €175,502 prize money earned in the 30-days prior.

The Verdict: Callas may have changed things up later in life, but she and Ward have made impressive strides in their relatively new partnership, on a far bigger stage. Though she’s had more clear rounds at lower heights, her top-10 finishes and prize money earnings at 1.50m/1.60m are turning in her best competitive years to date.

Success Is Contagious

Some horses take longer to reach their full potential, and Contagious is a prime example. The former Reed Kessler (USA) mount came to Ward’s string in 2018, and both Kessler and former rider Julia Beck (GER) agree the now-14-year-old DSP gelding had loads of quality, he just needed time to mature.

With Ward in the irons, he did, earning team silver at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games, and taking 7th at the 2022 World Championships in Herning, Denmark.

To date, Contagious has earned more than €1 million in total prize money, finishing on the podium 29 times since 2015—including back-to-back CSIO5* 1.60m victories at CHIO Aachen last summer. But is he really hitting his prime at 14?

Despite having an impressive clear-round average of 73% at the 1.45m level with Kessler, Contagious stepped up his job description with Ward, jumping his first 1.60m class in 2018. By the following year, he was jumping clear over that height 62% of the time, with a clear round average and top-10 finish percentages both at 50% for the 1.50m and 1.55m levels.

The chestnut gelding was sidelined with an injury in the summer of 2019. But by 2021, Contagious was a new man—literally.

That year, he and Ward doubled their podium finishes, jumping in a dozen 1.60m classes and upping their clear-round average at that height to 75%. They also finished in the top-10 70% of the time.

Interestingly, when Contagious jumped even higher, at 1.65m, his clear round average dropped to 33%, but he finished in the top-10 in all three classes he entered.

Another fun fact: From 2019–2021, Contagious won two classes or fewer a year, jumping an average of 21 times a year in that time period (which included time-off for his injury). In 2022, he jumped in 25 classes, but was victorious nearly a quarter of the time, winning more prize money (€445,550) that year than the three previous combined.

The Verdict: Success is contagious for this partnership, which, according to Jumpr App, has finished in the top-10 45–48% of the time in every class they’ve jumped since 2020. (Contagious’s previous best was 41.4% in 2018). Though Ward is clearly using the gelding more carefully as he ages, this ‘late bloomer’ has finally come into his own.

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