January 13, 2023—McLain Ward’s World Cup Champion and Olympic partner, HH Azur, has one final accolade to celebrate. The U.S. Equestrian Federation named the 17-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare the 2023 SmartPak/USEF International Horse of the Year.
The U.S. Equestrian Federation bestowed the honor on “Annie,” whom Ward retired last July, at the 2024 USEF Annual Meeting in Louisville, Kentucky. A popular vote determines the Horse of the Year.
“She’s jumped five or six FEI classes, and it just shows what an impact she’s had on the sport,” said Ward. The Olympian sent his thanks via video along with Annie’s longtime groom Lee McKeever. “Obviously in my life and my career, but the whole of us that are involved with her, we always felt she is truly the queen. And at 16, 17 years of age, after a hiatus from the sport, to come back and compete at the level is a testament to an incredible brilliance that she had been.”
Ward and Annie won the first two legs of the Rolex Grand Slam. These included the 2022 Rolex Grand Prix of Geneva and the 2023 Rolex Grand Prix of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. The pair made their final appearance in the Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen in Germany. Later that day, Ward announced Annie’s retirement. Ward and Double H Farm own Annie.
The pair finished in the top 10 more than 75 times at the CSI5* level. In addition to their 2017 FEI Longines Jumping World Cup™ Final win, they helped bring home team silver from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
Paradigm Takes National Horse of the Year Title
John French’s 2023 Platinum Performance/USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships’ partner, Paradigm, earned the SmartPak/USEF National Horse of the Year honor.
French said that Paradigm’s owner, Meredith Lipke, told him their goal for 2023 should be to “‘Just see how far you can get with Paradigm. Just make a goal the Derby Finals’ That’s what we did. I never thought that he would win all that he has won this year, and it’s because of Meredith and my team and everybody that works at KPF.”
The 11-year-old warmblood gelding competed throughout 2023 with both Lipke in the amateur ranks and French in the open classes. “Mikey” earned multiple prestigious wins. These included the $10,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby at the Saratoga Classic I. Additionally, they won the High Performance Hunters Championship at the Middleburg Classic. Another win was the High Performance Hunter Championship at Lake Placid.
Mai Baum Named USEF Horse of Honor
In addition to Annie and Mikey for the English sport accolades, Mai Baum was named a USEF Horse of Honor. In 2023, the 17-year-old German Sport Horse gelding and Tamie Smith won the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event. Lexus, owned by Alexandra Ahearn, Ellen Ahearn, and Eric Markell.
Mai Baum and Smith then finished third in the CCIO4*-S at the CHIO Aachen World Equestrian Festival in Germany. They were the highest-placed American combination and helped secure a silver medal for the Land Rover U.S. Eventing Team.
Tomorrow will be the last day of the annual meeting. It will cap off with the Equestrian of the Year honors at the 2023 USEF Pegasus Awards.