McLain Ward (USA) scored his first international victory of the 2024 Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) season in Thursday’s $62,500 CSI4* Adequan® WEF Challenge Cup during the Horseware Ireland-sponsored Week 10 at Wellington International in Wellington, FL. Ward has been patiently biding his time throughout the winter season, and the pieces fell into place in the week’s qualifier for the $215,000 Horseware Ireland CSI4* Grand Prix during ‘Saturday Night Lights’.

The class kicked off with an impressive field consisting of 48 horse-and-rider combinations. With a course carefully crafted by Oscar Soberon (USA), riders were put to the test and the order for the jump-off dwindled down to 12 pairings. That number dropped to ten as Margie Engle (USA) elected to save JackofHearts for another day, as did Shane Sweetnam (IRL) with RR Combella. As has been the case before, a competitive jump off lineup still proved to be no match for a victory-hungry Ward as he clocked in with a neat, no-fault effort in 34.95 seconds.

“She has been very solid and felt great the whole circuit,” Ward detailed of the Robin Parsky-owned 11-year-old Oldenburg mare (Don Diarado x Lordanos). “I had one grand prix that I had a big score in because we didn’t have a lot of experience with the water and I overrode her, but she’s either been clear or on four faults every time out; it has been a bit frustrating with some of the four-fault rounds and it was nice that it came together today for her, her owner and myself.

“She’s a very careful horse,” he continued. “She has taken a while to develop because of that quality, but she’s jumping the bigger size easier and easier now, so I’m really always excited to compete with her.”

While the Olympic medalist has his sights set on Paris 2024, he contends that the WEF circuit produces some of the most challenging competition seen throughout the year.

“You do see the more experienced riders start to pinpoint and target their horses towards the end of season,” added Ward. “But I think it’s very hard to win every day here and it is also very easy to get in a four-fault run and things not actually going that badly. We say it builds and builds, but really we’re already built by week three. There’s often no difference between a three-star and a five-star when it comes to the level of competition here.”

Ward’s fellow U.S. teammate and world no. 5, Kent Farrington, produced a fault-free finish but was eclipsed by Ward. His time of 36.67 seconds posted with Haity McNerney’s nine-year-old Holsteiner mare, Myla (Crunch 3 x Quadros), settled for second. Nicola Philippaerts (BEL) and his competitive partner, 11-year-old Selle Français gelding Derby De Riverland (Kannan x L’Arc De Triomphe), owned by Team Philippaerts, rounded out the top three following slightly under a second behind Farrington in 37.17 seconds.

Rounding out a good day for U.S. riders, Laura Kraut produced the only other double-clear effort aboard Baloutinue for fourth place.

Show jumping action in the International Arena will resume on Friday with developing talent taking center stage in young horse finals for five, six and seven-year-olds.

Results here.