Washington, DC - October 25, 2008 -Earlier this week, a press conference was held confirming that two-time Olympic gold medalist McLain Ward will in fact be competing at the 2009 HITS Desert Circuit. Ward was joined at the press conference by HITS Senior Vice President Tony Hitchcock and HITS West Coast Management team member Fred Bauer.
For two of the eight weeks, Ward and several of his horses will make the move to the west coast for competition. This will be Ward's debut on the California circuit.
"It was a big decision this year to try something different. More importantly, more of the factor in my decision was from conversations that I had this summer with Tom Struzzieri, (CEO and President of HITS, Inc.)," said Ward. "Some of the after effects that came since the inaugural year of Thermal have really raised the bar on the level of shows out there, and they have brought on some great people. They have made the high-end sport something special."
Ward will compete in the High Performance classes offered at the HITS Desert Circuit that runs from January 20 to March 22. Each week includes two major grand prix events week and there are four World Cup qualifiers during the circuit.
"I am excited to get in the indoor ring there. I have heard a lot of good things about it. I have heard it is quite a small ring, which will be great practice for Las Vegas (at the FEI World Cup Finals)," said Ward. "We do have Charlotte and Tampa, which give us a little exposure to the small ring, but certainly the more practice the better. I hope before the end of the fall circuit I am pretty much qualified for the World Cup Finals so I can kind of pick and choose which is best for my horse and me leading up to the finals."
Ward will be joining a group of some of the top jumper riders in North America at the HITS Desert Circuit. His 2008 Olympic teammate Will Simpson will be competing. Simpson called in during the press conference to ask if Ward was ready for the top competition in California. The 2008 Olympic team silver medal winner, Jill Henselwood of Canada, is also expected to join the show jumping roster in Thermal. Top riders Rich Fellers, Richard Spooner, Joie Gatlin, and Jill Humphrey will give Ward a run for his money as well in the two grand prix events per week.
Ward continued in the press conference with his thoughts on the mid-summer show competition at HITS Saugerties in New York, where he is a regular. He would like to see improvements made to all shows and boost the quality of national competition. He has hopes to see top name rides less frequently make the departure to foreign countries. Ward believes that facilities such as HITS Thermal and HITS Saugerties will lead the way in providing quality show jumping for American riders.
"You have to remember the early 80s was certainly considered one of the strongest decades in show jumping. There was not a mass exodus to foreign competition," said Ward. "We need to raise the bar at home. We obviously have top show jumpers, and we are arguably the number one country in show jumping."
Ward continued, "If we can keep some of these horse and rider teams here in the U.S. and provide them with adequate jumping facilities and competition that makes them want to bring their best horses out and win, that's only going to make us stronger. That doesn't mean we are going to change our European policy or our effort to be strong globally, but we need to strengthen our summer competitions."
Ward looks forward to his two week tour at Thermal, and hopes that it will be the start of a yearly relationship.
Questions were also posed to Hitchcock and Bauer about Ward attending the HITS Desert Circuit. They spoke of the many improvements to their Thermal facility and the excitement about Ward attending the 2009 HITS Desert Circuit.
Over a dozen major changes have been made at Thermal since last year. The berm between hunter ring one and two has been remodeled, and other berms have been created to offer to the stabling and RV areas. Rules in the prize book have undergone changes as well, and now allow for High Performance horses to more freely between divisions without penalties they accrued in the past. Maybe one of the most intricate upgrade projects is the footing, which has been upgraded in hunter rings one and two to match what was installed last year in the two grand prix rings. The cosmetic aspect of the grounds has not been overlooked either. HITS, Inc. has hired Flora Baptista, who designed and decorated at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. Brand-new wood stalls have been added for superior stabling throughout the show grounds.
Bauer noted, "HITS is very pleased to welcome McLain to California." Hitchcock added, "We're very excited to have such an incredible roster of show jumpers at the HITS Desert Circuit this year. We have worked very hard on improving all of our facilities for all levels of riders, and we hope it will only continue to get better each year."
For more information about HITS, Inc., please visit http://www.hitsshows.com
Photo Credit: McLain Ward and HITS West Coast Management team member Fred Bauer shake hands following a press conference where Ward spoke of his decision to compete at HITS Desert Circuit in 2009. Photo (C) 2008 Rebecca Walton/PMG. This photo may be used free of charge only in relation to this press release.
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<a href="http://www.equestrianmag.com/article/mclain-ward-hits-desert-circuit-conference-10-08.html">McLain Ward Announces Attendance for HITS Desert Circuit at Press Conference</a> ~ EquestrianMag.com