McLain Ward: “It is a huge, historical challenge”

He has already been one of the most successful show-jumpers in the world for years. After his Major victories in Geneva and at The Dutch Masters, McLain Ward now has the opportunity to win the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping at the CHIO Aachen. An interview with the 47-year-old, US American rider.

McLain, this week in Aachen is a very special week for you. You are the second person in history who has the opportunity of becoming a Grand Slam winner. Are you nervous?

Yes, it is exciting. It is a huge, historical challenge – but one that I have already got that close to achieving. Winning in Aachen is very special for every rider. With the Grand Slam title within my grasp it is going to be even more special.


You won both the Rolex Grand Prix in Geneva and in s‘-Hertogenbosch with HH Azur. Will she also be your partner on Sunday?

That is the plan. But it is a long week here in Aachen and I have to qualify for the Rolex Grand Prix first. Doing that is my top priority. But if all goes to plan this week, “Anni” (HH Azur, editor’s note) will be my choice for Sunday.


What makes HH Azur so special for you?

Oh, she is a real Queen for me, a wonderful warrior with a very big heart. She always gives me the confidence that I can risk everything in the decisive moment. She is simply a remarkable mare with an incredible physical talent. I have experienced so many memorable moments with her.


You mentioned how special winning here in Aachen would be for you. It is also a very special year for the Rolex Grand Slam. The series is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. How much has it changed the equestrian sport?

This series has raised our sport up to a fantastic level. The four Majors are among the most prestigious events in our calendar, every one of us riders wants to win at least one of these traditional classes in the course of his career. Which is why we all specifically align the plans of our top horses according to these shows and attempt to make sure they are in top condition when we travel to these competitions. As a result, the level of sport the four Majors offer really is unique.


So far only one person, Scott Brash (GBR), has triumphed in the Rolex Grand Slam. What makes it so difficult to win this series?

I think winning three or four of these Majors in one’s lifetime is difficult enough. But to win them back-to-back really is a huge challenge. The rider has to be fit, the horse has to be healthy. This requires incredible management and a fantastic team standing behind you. And then there are plenty of other world-class riders in every jumping class, who also want to win.


You have already celebrated so many victories in your career. But your name is still missing from the winners’ board in Aachen…

I have always wanted to make it onto the famous winners’ board here in Aachen. Perhaps I sometimes wanted it too much. The Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen is like a girl I am in love with, but whom I haven’t had a date with yet. But my name will be on it before we have reached the end of the board. (laughs)


There was a rider once, who tried to eternalise his name on the board himself …

Yes, I remember that anecdote from the year 2012, when Michael Whitaker wrote his name on the board with an Edding on the Saturday evening. And then on Sunday he did actually win the Rolex Grand Prix. That was the craziest coup I have ever experienced. I certainly haven’t got that courage and confidence (laughs).

The photo shows McLain Ward, the contender for the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, at the CHIO Aachen 2022. Photo: CHIO Aachen/Arnd Bronkhorst

The photo shows McLain Ward, the contender for the Rolex Grand Slam of Show Jumping, at the CHIO Aachen 2022. Photo: CHIO Aachen/Arnd Bronkhorst