Few titles in horse sport are more coveted than that of Grand Slam Champion.

In baseball, where the term originates, a ‘grand slam’ is not only a home run for the batter, it’s often a game-winning play that sends three additional runners across home plate, scoring a total of four points for the team.

While golf, horse racing, tennis, and other sports all have their own versions of the grand slam, the Major series for the Olympic disciplines of show jumping and eventing are considered by many to be the pinnacle of equestrian sport.

If nothing else, it’s because the feat has only ever been accomplished three times in history.

The first Grand Slam Champion was British eventer Pippa Funnell, who rode Primmore’s Pride and Supreme Rock to glory in 2003. German eventer Michael Jung repeated the feat aboard La Biosthetique-Sam FBW and FischerRocana FST in 2015. At the same time, the show jumping partnership of Scottish rider Scott Brash and Hello Sanctos did the incredible, winning three Majors in 2014–2015.

Unsurprisingly, in the more than two decades since the creation of the Grand Slam of Eventing in 2001, and in the decade-plus since the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping was founded 2013, there have been many more Grand Slam losers than winners. Taking a single major is a lifelong goal for most riders, let alone more than one victory over the span of a career.

Rarer still is the prize of winning two or three majors consecutively.

And it’s these, woefully close Grand Slam hopefuls that concern us today. That impressive short-shortlist of brilliant, talented athletes who came oh-so close while trying—and failing—to win the Grand Slams of Show Jumping and Eventing.


©Split Seconds / Alamy Stock Photo

2006: Andrew Hoy

Australian eventer Andrew Hoy nearly became the second rider to win the Grand Slam of Eventing in 2006, just three years after Pippa Funnell laid down the gauntlet. He took the Kentucky Three-Day with Master Monarch, and followed up with a win at the Badminton Horse Trials aboard Moonfleet.

Hoy opted to ride the latter, Irish-bred gelding once again at the Burghley Horse Trials, where the pair were bested by Hoy’s countrywoman, Lucinda Fredericks. What’s more: Hoy and Moonfleet led in the standings through the first and second phases—ouch!

Oliver Townend and Ballaghmor Class, winners of the 2023 Defender Burghley Horse Trials

2009, 2018, 2024: Oliver Townend

Alas, the third time was not the charm for British Olympic team gold medalist Oliver Townend, who has been knocking at the door of a Grand Slam championship for nearly two decades.

Townend first came close in 2009 when he won Badminton with Flint Curtis and Burghley with Carousel Quest. He headed on to the then-Kentucky CCI4* with not one but two mounts and two shots at the title—until a serious fall on cross-country aboard Ashdale Cruise Master required an air-lift to the hospital, dashing hopes with both horses.

Townend was in the hunt again in 2018, taking back-to-back victories at Burghley with future Olympic mount Ballaghmor Class, and Kentucky with Cooley Master Class. Despite his cup runneth-ing over with horse power that season, Townend closed out his run with two, top-10 finishes at Badminton, taking fifth place with Ballaghmor Class and second place with Cooley SRS, who was pipped by Jonelle Price (NZW) and Classic Moet.

The British rider was at it again in 2024, winning Burghley for a second time with the now-17-year-old dynamo, Ballaghmor Class, and Kentucky (with Cooley Rosalent) for an impressive fourth time. Sadly, “Thomas,” as Ballaghmor Class is known in the barn, suffered a crushingly ill-timed hoof abbess, putting yet another end to Townend’s 15-year-long Grand Slam quest.


2012: William Fox-Pitt AND Andrew Nicholson

Townend may be the Majors’ version of “always-a-bridesmaid,” but William Fox-Pitt (GBR) and Andrew Nicholson (NZW) are surely its strangest, near-winning bedfellows.

That season, the recently retired Fox-Pitt won both Burghley in 2011 and the Kentucky Three-Day in early 2012 with the New Zealand-bred Thoroughbred, Parklane Hawk. Then, Badminton was canceled due to inclement weather, and the rules were clarified to allow the British rider to continue to contest the Grand Slam of Eventing should he take home Badminton the following year.

In a made-for-television style twist, however, 2012 saw the rise of a second Grand Slam competitor in New Zealand’s Andrew Nicholson, who won the Burghley Horse Trials with Avebury and Kentucky with Quimbo.

That year—and for the first time before or since—two live contenders were looking for a big payday at Badminton in 2013. Unfortunately, despite both men finishing in the top-5 that year (Nicholson was third with Nereo; Fox-Pitt fifth with Parklane Hawk), neither made the victory gallop as Grand Slam Champions.  


©Mike Sturk/Spruce Meadows Media Services

2023: McLain Ward

The good news for American rider McLain Ward? While losing the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping by a single Major is a bitter pill to swallow, it’s kind of a title in its own right. After all, in the near-decade since Scott Brash and Hello Sanctos proved it was possible, no one else has even come close.

Marcus Ehning of Germany had a shot in 2018, but ended up bookending Majors with Prêt à Tout at CHIO Aachen and CHI Geneva when they failed to take the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters’ that season. (That honor went to Sameh El Dahan of Egypt and Suma’s Zorro).

Ditto for countryman Daniel Deusser, who repeated the feat in 2021–2022, winning CHIO Aachen with Killer Queen Vdm and the Dutch Masters with Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z. Alas, Martin Fuchs and Leone Jei took CHI Geneva in between.

For a little extra salt in the wound, Deusser was back in top form with Killer Queen Vdm in 2022, when he took the CSIO Spruce Meadows ‘Masters.’ Close but no cigar!

But it would be Ward’s attempt with the legendary HH Azur after victories at CHI Geneva in 2022 and the Dutch Masters in 2023 that tops them all. Unfortunately, CHIO Aachen would prove to be the graveyard of hopes for Ward and the then-17-year-old “Annie,” who—after dropping poles early on course—pulled up early from the class. Annie retired from the sport shortly after.

Even still, Ward may have understood, if ever there is a “good” time to send a beloved equine partner into their well-earned green field of retirement, a Grand Slam quest, won or lost, might be it. After all, what better way to put a period on a brilliant career than in the pursuit of a gloriously impossible dream?