Thank you for the memories - photo: Erica McKeever

The great French author, poet, and journalist Anatole France once said something that goes like this, “All changes… have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves.”

This seems, to me, an apt way of looking at Sapphire’s retirement. After all, this is not a bad thing. Sapphire goes into retirement healthy, happy, and sound. She retires leaving us with many wonderful memories of a seemingly invincible duo. She moves on to another phase in her life, one filled with donuts, not diets, and many hours doing whatever she pleases in her pasture.

So why the melancholy, when we know this is the good and right thing to do for a great horse that owes us absolutely nothing?

Perhaps it is because we, as fallible human beings, wish to hold on to anything beautiful and wonderful and magical. Perhaps we are melancholy because, deep down, we fear we won’t see anything as beautiful, anything that will compare to the magic that McLain and Sapphire were able to make together. After all, McLain himself once said in an interview, “She never does anything wrong…As long as you stay out of her way, she normally comes through.”

As for the second part of the quote, the part about leaving behind a part of ourselves? I was watching coverage of another great equestrian, Canada’s Ian Millar, on Spruce Meadows Television. The piece was called Big Ben, For the Love of a Horse. At one point Ian talks about how sometimes, when he is walking a course, he wishes he was riding Ben, and how he’ll look at a course and think to himself that Ben would have had no problem with it. I’ve read that the legendary Secretariat’s groom, Eddie “Shorty” Sweat, tried always live life in a way that would make his horse proud of him. These examples speak to a bond between horse and human that transcends other bonds.

I’m going to get a bit metaphysical here, but I think when you experience a bond like that, although you move forward and continue on, a part of you is always looking back at what was. One good thing is that lessons learned from that bond, and from those shared experiences, goes forward with you. I’m no expert, but I’d imagine as McLain moves forward in his career, it will be hard to experience something, say another Olympics, for example, and not compare that experience to his Olympic experiences with Sapphire.

McLain Ward and Sapphire at the 2010 World Equestrian Games, photo courtesy: Michelle Dunn

To take this analogy a step further: Although the equestrian community is happy to have had the chance to enjoy watching this amazing mare for so long, and we are thrilled she is able to retire healthy and at the top of her game, this represents the end of an era for us, her devoted fans. This means that we, too, must move on. And clearly we will be leaving a part of ourselves behind, because although there will be other wonderful partnerships, we will always be comparing them to McLain and Sapphire.

How many of us can remember, or say we were there, at so many of the highlights in Sapphire’s career? I can remember the World Cup in 2009, when my non-horsie husband refused to get me a snack as McLain and Sapphire were coming soon in the order and he did not want to miss them. Or on the final day of the World Cup, when it came down to McLain and Meredith, and my husband and I agreed we would rather miss our flight home than miss any of the competition.

How many of us can recall her gallant efforts against Hickstead at the CN International in 2009, when a mare not known for her speed beat a horse considered possibly the world’s fastest? I’m sure many have memories of her win at the Hampton Classic in 2010, and then, less than a week later, of her romp around the course at the Pfizer Million.

If ever a horse made the job look easy, it was Sapphire. Frequent FEI Rolex World Cup commentator Steve Hadley, talking about her rounds in the World Equestrian Games at Aachen in 2006, spoke about Sapphire looking like an absolute pleasure to ride, and how she went around in such a beautiful, rhythmic “jumper’s canter.”

Thank you, Sapphire, you wonderful, amazing mare, for all the joy you’ve brought to fans of the sport. It’s been a privilege to watch you. There aren’t enough superlatives to do you justice. Enjoy your donuts, Sara!

I’d like to take this opportunity to invite the Horse Junkies community to share their memories of Sapphire and McLain as we pay tribute to a great mare.


We watched Sapphire warm-up at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. We didn’t have tickets to watch the competition and just stood at the warm-up ring, fascinated. The thing that struck me was how few warm-up fences they took. Some of the riders were riding warm-up fence after warm-up fence. She came out and cantered around working on flexion and just popped a few BIG fences.

Lori Miller

We were supposed to go to WEG (Lexington) to work for three weeks on the press staff. Needless to say, it hit me a few months out that three weeks was just way too long to be away from my mom (battling cancer) – too far away for too long a time… It was heartbreaking but an easy decision to make.

We decided though that we could drive down for about a “weekend” and headed south the Sunday the Canadian Eventing team won their silver medal. Imagine pulling into the KHP in the middle of that!

McLain Ward and Sapphire - photo by Michelle Dunn

But that meant we were there for about two days of the jumping competition – my boyfriend’s raison d’être (he used to groom for the Team horses in the era of Big Ben, Kahlua, Zucarlos etc.) He loves them all. Me? I was there for two reasons only – to watch Hickstead and Sapphire compete.

Luckily I had seen Hickstead in action before, but since McLain had the luxury of bringing his “B” horses to The Royal, I had never had the opportunity to watch Sapphire live in action. Unfortunately McLain didn’t have the best week, but I was still in awe of this magnificent, beautiful creature. We left the night after the first evening class, so I was able to shoot a full day and evening rounds of both horses.

Upon reading the news that she has been retired, I have a heavy heart, but I’ll always be thankful we took a few days and headed south to WEG just to see friends, and be such a very small part of that experience.

Bless you, Sapphire, and may you have a long and happy retirement.


Michelle Dunn

I have been going to Spruce Meadows for just about my entire life to watch the competitions and cheer for my favourites. A few years back I remember seeing this American on a big chestnut mare for the first time, she walked into the International ring in a very calm and poised manner, seeming to take in and process her surroundings, almost as if she were making a plan of her own. I’m not going to lie, at that time I wasn’t into following the circuit so much, I really just wanted my Canadian’s to win- so why would I pay attention to this combination?

The answer become incredibly clear to me that day when I saw her jump. She made the jumps look effortless, simply skimming over the massive oxers and springing easily over the verticals. Of course this pair would turn out to be McLain Ward and Sapphire, a combination that remained firmly in place on my radar ever since.

The most powerful memory I have of Sapphire is from 2009, the year she won the CN International, beating Eric and Hickstead in the jump-off. It actually still pains me somewhat since she beat my beloved Hickstead, but I will concede and say that on that day, she was an absolute unbeatable force under the warm Calgary sunshine. Although possibly to the crowds dismay, she deserved the win that day, she gave her heart out and used every spare inch of her incredible scope and talent. Even through my disappointment, I was happy for Sapphire and McLain, their names would join the league of the worlds elite on the CN trophy right where they belonged.

Quite selfishly I suppose, I am saddened to hear of Sapphire’s retirement. I would have loved to see her compete some more, even in another Olympic’s, but she certainly does not owe that to anyone. On the flip side, I am thrilled to see her retire healthy and happy, for all that she gave to everyone around her that is the very least that she deserves.

Have a great retirement Sapphire, it was a privilege to watch you work your magic time and time again….thanks for the memories, you will be missed!

Keara McMurdo

I remember watching the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and I had to figure out when to watch it live with the time difference. I’m not big into show jumping because I mostly do dressage and eventing. But after seeing Sapphire, I was mesmerized. She was unlike all the other horses. Smaller, not so tall and long-legged like most of them, but jumped with all her heart. Then that fall I finally got to see her in person at the Washington International Horse Show in DC and fell in love all over again as she won the President’s Cup Grand Prix. I loved following this mare and I hope she gets all the love and care she deserves in her retirement. ~ Karyn Marie

My favorite memory was watching her win the million dollar GP at HITS (I watched online but still..) it was like it was a given that she would win! ~ Jodi Mac Millan-Cooper

I saw her win the Hampton Classic last summer. She’s amazing. Happy retirement Sara. ~ Barbara Rubenau-Glazer

While I will miss seeing Sapphire do her magic, I am happy she is retiring healthy. It’s nice to see people put the welfare of the horse first. McLain will continue to be a great ambassador for the sport but can only imagine how he will miss one of the best partners he has had. I look forward to seeing a new pairing and wish Sapphire many happy hours grazing and enjoying life. She certainly has earned it. ~ Geri Hollander

Beautiful mare and a fantastic jumper, horses like this are priceless. So glad she’s retiring happy and healthy, she deserves it ! Enjoy your retirement Sara, and good luck to Mclain for the future ~ Debbie

It is a blessing to see such a wonderful pair have a fairy tale ending together. What a splendid mare, and Mclain looks like he truly had an amazing bond with her. Hooray for Sapphire!!! ~ Ashley

Fan video tribute