Fitness & Flexibility: A Glimpse Inside McLain Ward's Training Philosophy

Fitness & Flexibility: A Glimpse Inside McLain Ward's Training Philosophy

Ever dreamed of picking McLain Ward's brain? Here's your chance. In this candid interview, the man of many medals sits down to chat about his philosophy with horses. He explores everything from planning his season to mental resilience. 

You can find the highlights below along with timestamps if you want to jump to a specific topic. 


On planning the year for each horse... 

McLain's plans are always viewed through a Championship lens, usually charted on a two-year schedule. From there, he works backwards and the schedule breaks down into bite-sized pieces. Each horse has a one-week plan but McLain says that as he's gotten more experienced, he's learned to be more flexible in the day-to-day schedule (2:25). Building a framework is most important, the details can change, but as long each day or each show is part of a bigger picture, then you can be agile enough to adjust as your horse's needs change (3:59). 

Horses are individuals. They should be ridden as individuals and given a training program that's tailor-made to fit them (7:20).

On training methods...

First, keep it simple. McLain thinks that the more complicated it gets, the less effective. Horses only have so much of an attention span, drilling and complicating things will not help you in the long run. (7:30).

Related: What McLain Ward Said About Horses Is a Lesson For All of Us

Simple is better when it comes to equipment. Simple bridle, simple aids. "forward, straight, balance riding is still the best," he says (10:10). 

On physical fitness... 

Fitness is the base of the program, but he doesn't obsess over it. Horses don't need to get worked three times a day. They don't necessarily need to be ridden with an entire hour every day. It's all about balance (8:30). 

Fitness is also a progression. They don't need to be at peak fitness for all competitions. You big ones, like Aachen for McLain, they would need that peak fitness. An athlete can't be at 100 percent all the time (9:30). 

Twenty-five years ago it was unheard of for riders to work out or consider diet, but now performance enhancing exercises, working out, eating strategically, are essential (11:30). 

On mental fitness... 

It's mind over everything for McLain. "The mind if the factor that sets the best from the rest in this sport." It's the mental thoughts of everything, not just time in the saddle it's taking into account their entire operation.

Brain over brawn? Definitely, says McLain. "I'd much rather be good in my brain with a little less talent," (13:30). 

You don't reach mastery of your mental game, it's a journey that you're constantly working on (even when you are McLain Ward). 

Uncover your inner blocks, break past show nerves, regain confidence with Annette Paterakis' Masterclass. 

On finding your way in the sport...

Your team is your everything. Barn managers, veterinarians, farriers, grooms are integral to success. This team is what takes a Grand Prix rider to a team member and makes the difference. The most successful riders in the world typically have longstanding relationships with their team (21:00). 

Everyone has their own individual path to their success. McLain shares a framework with his students, but gives them room to make their own choices. If they followed every single one of his steps, they won't become the best version of themselves, they'll only become a second-rate version of McLain (23:40). 

Read this next: Ten Things Adrienne Sternlicht Has Learned From McLain Ward

Interview conducted by Annette Paterakis. Feature image by Shannon Brinkman.