Barney Ward, former show jumper and father of two-time show jumping Olympic team gold medalist McLain Ward, passed away on the evening of Oct. 27 after a battle with cancer. He was 71.
Barney grew up in Providence, R.I., and rode as young boy but did not have formal lessons. After graduating from the University of Rhode Island, he spent a year playing football professionally, eventually playing for a farm team of the New England Patriots. He left football, however, to pursue life as a professional horseman.
Barney spent years working for various farms before branching out on his own in 1967. By the late-‘70s, he had converted an old cattle farm in Brewster, N.Y., into Castle Hill Farm, where McLain still lives and trains.
Barney was a top grand prix rider in the '60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, despite surviving a broken neck in 1978. He rode to such wins as the 1983 $15,000 Mercedes Benz Grand Prix of Devon (Pa.) and the $60,000 American Gold Cup (Pa.) in 1986 on Sedac, who was the American Grand Prix Association’s Horse of the Year that year. Barney also set a puissance record in 1975, clearing 7’5” at the National Horse Show (N.Y.).
But in 1996, Barney pled guilty to conspiring to kill four horses for insurance payouts. He spent 33 months in prison, followed by three years of probation, and was ordered to make restitution to the insurance companies. The U.S. Equestrian Federation imposed a lifetime suspension on Barney, including prohibition from attendance on showgrounds.
Barney continued to support McLain from their Castle Hill Farm, training and selling horses. McLain has frequently expressed the integral role Barney played in his career.
Barney’s ex-wife and McLain’s mother, Kris Ward, passed away in 2005. Barney leaves a wife, Relda, and sons Jay, McLain and Dylan.