McLain Ward accepts his check from Pfizer Animal Health’s Stuart Meikle. photo by Elizabeth Skuba

When he looked out of the window of his home in Brewster, New York, on Saturday night and saw the rain pounding down, McLain Ward was a bit concerned about how the deluge might possibly impact the footing in the stadium at HITS-on-the-Hudson in nearby Saugerties.

It turns out Ward needn’t have worried.  Due to ongoing investments in the footing and the extensive efforts of Tom Struzzieri’s ground crew, the effects of Saturday evening’s storm were negligible.

Canadian Olympian Jill Henselwood called the footing  a “good trampoline for those horses.”  It certainly was for Ward’s Antares F.  McLain and the 12 year-old grey Baden-Wurttemberg gelding leaped around Olaf Petersen, Jr.’s course as if on springs,  taking the top honors in Sunday’s Pfizer $1 Million Grand Prix.

The storms over the Hudson River Valley abated overnight and although storm clouds threatened during the latter part of the afternoon, the day began on a sunny note.  Equestrian enthusiasts were treated to a day to remember with the running of the HITS $250,000 Hunter Final and the $500,000 Diamond Mills Hunter Prix preceding the Pfizer $1 Million.

Twenty six of the best hunter riders in the country saddled up to take their turn in the HITS stadium, navigating a 3’3″ hunter course set on a winding track curving around the colorful grand prix obstacles.  Amanda Steege, Bedminster, NJ, took the early lead from the fourth spot on Hunter Derby neophyte Balou, and her lead remained until Patricia Griffith entered the ring next to last on Lexi Maounis’ Sienna.  Griffith was followed by her Heritage Farm student Lillie Keenan and C Coast Z, winners of last year’s $100,000  USHJA International Hunter Derby.  Keenan and her grey gelding put in a fabulous round, but fell just short of Griffith’s mark and had to settle for second.  Steege finished in third place.

Chicks Rule! Winner Patricia Griffith, Lillie Keenan, Amanda Steege, and HITS President Tom Struzzieri. photo by Elizabeth Skuba

The cutest members of the HITS ground crew. photo by Amy Vodraska

The afternoon’s marquee event kicked off  shortly following the wrap-up in hunterland.  McLain Ward and Antares F were early in the order, entering the ring third.  Ward set of with purpose and tackled the difficult course, with its imposing 10.6 meter water, with aplomb.  Seriously, the man is the epitome of the word “chilly.”  Rodrigo Pessoa and Pessoa Show Stables LLC’s Winsom followed Ward and dropped the B element of the triple.  Ireland’s Johnathan McCrea was the next to jump and he and Colorado, owned by Candy Tribble and Windsor Show Stables,  posted a clear round.

McLain Ward and Antares F

Both the poles and the riders fell fast and furious for the next 26 rounds until Canada’s Jill Henselwood and her Olympic partner George entered the ring.  The ebullient George, whom Henselwood calls a “character” cleared the fences with room to spare, seeming to levitate over each obstacle.  The pair galloped home, leaving all the rails in their cups, to join Ward and McCrea in the jump-off.

The three-horse jump-off was led off by Ward, who piloted the speedy Antares F around the shortened course at a breakneck pace.  McCrea was next to enter the ring, but he and Colorado proved unable to match their previous clear round and lowered the height of two fences.  Last to enter was Henselwood, who gamely accepted the challenge set by the speedy Ward.  Regrettably, the Canadian pair was unable to match their previous clear as well, dropping one rail and finishing carefully to earn second place money.

Pfizer’s Stuart Meikle, McLain Ward, Jill Henselwood, and Johnathan McCrea. photo by Elizabeth Skuba

By that point it was all over but the presentation of the check.  McLain led the victory gallop and joined the other top three finishers at the press conference to pick up his WHOPPING GINORMOUS check from Pfizer Animal Health’s Stuart Meikle.

That’s a LOT of zeros for McLain Ward. photo by Elizabeth Skuba

Congratulations, McLain!  Don’t spend it all in one place!

Check back soon as there’s more to come on both mega-events from HITS Championship Weekend!  Also, many thanks to Lindsay Yandon and the staff at HITS Horse Shows for all their help!

Thanks for reading!