It was a great start. We had three or four weeks of no jumping, so it was nice to get one round under our belt. The horse felt really good and we’re just going to go one round at a time.
REGARDING THE COURSE: I think it’s very fair, it’s a nice welcome. It’s always difficult here. It’s the first round after everybody resting up. You have a wide range of riders always at the beginning. You have the best of the best and then you have some new emerging countries. I think it’s a good round to get everybody going. There are still plenty of places to have a fence down. I was just happy with the way the horse went, that was most important to me.
It walked quite straight forward, not huge. Today you’re dealing with the anxiety of getting going and I wasn’t so concerned if I jumped clear or four, I just wanted the horse to feel in a good place.
You’re lead-off rider and your last riders are typically your most experienced. I think it’s a friendly course.
ON ANTARES: He felt good. The jumping is never a problem for him, it’s the rideability. He was really quite rideable today, that was what I was most pleased with.
Just needed to make the time allowed, so I wasn’t so concerned about it. With him I have to actually make sure I don’t go too fast sometimes.
REGARDING REED KESSLER: Yes, she gave me a lot of good advice (laughs). She’s a cool customer, she’s going to do great.
REGARDING ORDER OF GO FOR TEAM USA: We’ve done it for two Olympics and a Pan Am and it worked out ok. The only place we didn’t do it was the WEG, so we decided to go back to Plan A. This is George’s team and Beezie and I have book-ended it for years. I think we ought to stick with what works. I like TO go early as well, it doesn’t bother me
I know you’ve had a chance to watch the eventing. What was your reaction to that performance? I thought it was similar to what happened in Show Jumping at WEG, solid team where everything fell apart.
That’s horses sometimes. I don’t know a lot about eventing, I’m far from an expert. That is horse sports, sometimes the unpredictable happens and that’s what makes it exciting. Also, eventing seems to have really changed over the last decade. There has been so much emphasis on the show jumping and the dressage, and much less emphasis on the cross country course, which I think is a good evolvement. I think as a country we need to evolve with that. We still seem to be very focused on cross country, and it seems like 80% of the people are finishing the course. I think we need to change our thinking. But I am from the outside; obviously I am not an expert.
How did you wrap up training in Holland? What were you doing to prepare for the tests you are going to see here?
I think when we arrived in Holland we were pretty prepared, it was basically fine-tuning. I think it was, not changing what we normally do to get here, try to stay the same. I think it was just a good location to be all-together in one place, to get to know each other. Just making sure all the horses were fit and ready to go.
An empty Greenwich Stadium, awaiting Dressage and then Show Jumping
Did you have other horses with you?
We all had a couple other horses in the area so we could keep riding a little bit.
Did having fewer clients and horses help you get to know Antares better?
No not really. If I didn’t know him before a week ago, it’s too late.
What is it like being at games with out Sapphire, who you know inside and out?
It’s a change for sure. I really came to count on her, and obviously she really never let me down, it was one of her greatest qualities. I am lucky enough that I have some great people behind me and we were able to purchase Antares a couple of years ago with London being the goal. Thanks to a great group of people and team behind me that happened. This has been a difficult year physically. He’s an incredibly talented horse and this kind of competition suits him. He’s got a lot of blood and we’re just going to go round by round. I believe he’s up to the challenge.
What do you think of the Olympic format, especially since the first day’s scores count mostly for your order the next day?
The first day weighs in. There’s an Olympic rule that only three of the four can go forward, even if all four are qualified. So the first day counts for that, because it’s the top three qualified, so it is a factor. It’s a format that has been heavily discussed; there are pros and cons to it. Probably most athletes and riders would say they prefer the World Championship format, at least over the consistency. But the Olympics are about heats, and that’s what this system is based on. We all know that coming in, so it’s not a surprise.
Are you making any special considerations for your knee? Have you found a gym?
We have a gym at the hotel, which for what I can do is perfectly adequate. There’s an ice machine on my floor, which is nice. The knee has been pretty good. Particularly if I don’t ride too many, which isn’t a factor here. The knee feels pretty good; I don’t think it will be a factor. If I make a mistake, it’s not because of the knee.
George touched on this earlier, but who do you think the biggest threats are?
As George was speaking about it, I was thinking, it’s really going to lend itself to a great competition. I hope we’re in the mix. I do think there are four or five teams really in position. I don’t see a team that is significantly stronger. The Germans, the Dutch, the Swiss look strong, the French, and obviously being Great Britain it’s a home country advantage with very experience riders. I think you really have four or five very strong teams who have some great assets and have some weaknesses, and we’re all in the same situation. Things do have to go a little bit your way on the day.
What do you think about the courses Bob Ellis will build? Will it be a huge scope test?
I think Bob is a smart course builder. He’s a horseman, and he’s a rider’s course builder. He not a guy that kills the horses, he never has. I don’t think it’s going to anything absurd. I think it’s going to be very difficult. He builds some very technical “S”-Lines, kind of his signature style. They are tough rideability-wise, and certainly something I have to pay attention to because my horse can be a little bit aggressive. I think the Nations Cup courses will be very difficult, but not big score courses. More technical and little mistake courses. Obviously the Individual I am sure that he will turn the screws a bit. Normally you get down to that last round and it’s pretty wide.
Will you be going to watch any other sports while you are here? Do you find it to be the distraction that George does?
I do. Everybody is different. I watch it on the TV, obviously I love the Olympics, and I have to say I miss out NBC coverage. I am a game face kind of guy. I am here for a reason and I think for me at least that focus is what has gotten me to a third Olympics in a row. So, I’ll stay with my normal routine. I am here for Show Jumping and not much else. I’ll come back for the closing ceremonies.
What about Dressage?
I’ll watch some of it, but as it fits into the schedule. You have to also make sure you get enough rest and downtime. You can’t just spend all your time at the venue, you get a little bit washed out.
Anything else you want to add?
I am very excited.
Thank you, good luck!
McLain Ward and Anatares F
When will you be shipping into Greenwich Park?
We ship in Wednesday morning.
How is Antares doing? What are you doing to get prepared?
Antares is doing great. We’re not really doing anything differently than normal, just trying to stay healthy and keep everything smooth until we get there.
Has George been giving you any special pointers?
Well, obviously we’ve been doing this long enough, especially Beezie, Rich, and myself, we have a lot of experience. I think the biggest thing we are focusing on now is keeping everybody calm and keeping a bit of holding pattern. All so far is going smoothly.
Did you come over for the Opening Ceremonies?
We did not. We had a nice team dinner. It was a little bit of logistical undertaking. We all felt we should stay with our horses.
I know you got stopped at passport control coming over for your accreditation, what happened?
I had a few old tickets from Rotterdam, but it has been taken care of now.
How is the rest of the team doing? Does everyone look fit and ready?
Everybody looks really great, everybody is very excited, but I think very calm. Everybody feels well prepared, so now we are just watching the clock tick down.
Looking ahead at the Games, what do you think is going to the biggest challenge for the United States?
The courses, like always. At the Olympic level the standard is very, very high, and you need to be at your best. We have been doing everything we can to be prepared, and now we need to get there and do a job.
Thank you so much, I look forward to seeing you soon!