She’s intense in the ring, but HH Azur, or “Annie” as she’s affectionately known, knows how to chill on the farm.
For three-time Olympic show jumping veteran McLain Ward, HH Azur has been a gift. The Belgian Sport horse mare began making moves on the show jumping circuit in 2015 with exciting wins in the U.S. and Canada.
By 2016, Annie and McLain had earned a place on the U.S. Show Jumping Team at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. And it was Annie’s courageous performance that helped the Team bring home a silver medal.
Then, just a few months later, came a win that meant the world to McLain, further cementing Annie’s place in his heart. Together, the pair soared to an exuberant and emotional victory at the 2017 Longines FEI World Cup Jumping Final in Omaha.
It was a feat McLain had dreamed about since he was a boy. But year after year it remained just out of reach. With a spectacular effort, Annie finally helped make that dream come true. “The amazing thing is [Annie]. She’s number three to my wife and daughter,” McLain shared after the win. “I said, ‘Annie I need a little help today. Just try to stay focused, one more round to go.’ She dug in deep and just felt phenomenal the last round in the ring.”
In fact, throughout the five rounds of jumping, Annie never toppled a rail and went clear to win it all.
Even during the most nerve-wracking jump-offs, Annie makes it look easy. She’s practically buoyant, racing around the stadium with her ears up and her tail wispy behind her.
While competing at the World Equestrian Festival CHIO in Aachen last year, Annie tore a muscle. It wasn’t a major injury, but it was enough to warrant some rest and relaxation time for the mare. But nothing sidelines this champion for long — by January 2019, Annie was back in the game. “We’re going to get back to competing at the level she was at,” Lee McKeever, McLain’s groom and barn manager for the past 30 years, said at the time. “It’s really exciting.”
And, sure enough, Lee was right. At the end of March 2019, McLain and Annie competed in the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI 5* event, held at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida. It came down to a thrilling eight-horse jump-off against some of the best. When it was McLain and Annie’s turn, they absolutely brought the house down and came away with the win. A truly spectacular return!
According to Lee, Annie is a bit more relaxed behind-the-scenes than people might expect. “She’s very good-natured and very good to be around,” he says. He admits that the mare is one of his favorites and he’s excited to see where she goes next in her career.
Although she might appear intense and even a bit feisty in the ring, Lee notes that she’s quick to cool down when she’s off the clock. “At home,” he recalls, “she’s very relaxed.” In fact, he says, “she loves pizza. Medium crust.” As for toppings? “She likes just plain cheese,” says Lee.