Jenny Belknap Kees, McLain Ward, and Lynn Coakley @Phelps Media Group
Monday, March 27th, was a picture-perfect Florida evening, poolside at the Stallion Restaurant in Wellington, Florida, and was the scene for the EQUUS Foundation’s 20th Anniversary Celebration, attended by over a hundred horse lovers and equestrians. The evening, hosted by renowned equestrians Frank Madden and Jimmy Torano, began after dinner with cocktails, delicious appetizers, bites, deserts, and lively DJ music.
First off was the fierce and hilarious Bouncy Horse Competition. Two volunteers, Luke Jensen and Meghan Davis, faced off, racing one length alongside the pool, retrieving a plastic carrot, and racing back again to the finish line. Both competitors had trouble staying mounted and even wobbled and fell off, but bravely remounted in time for 15-year-old Meghan Davis to take the win by a nose over Luke Jensen.
Madden and Torano then introduced EQUUS Foundation VP, Valerie Angeli, who acknowledged and thanked guests and said, “The time is now to take responsibility for the horses that we ask to trust us. The practice of abandoning horses or subjecting them to neglect, abuse, or being sent to the slaughter pipeline because they couldn’t run fast enough, jump high enough, or were the wrong color or size is never okay.”
Angeli announced the launch of the EQUUS Foundation #HorseProtector Pledge campaign, reading the new pledge and asking guests to sign on. Angeli said, “Horses need all of us to protect them and we need to keep spreading the word and inspiring the equine community to care more about the welfare of horses than what horses can do for us. Horses are living, breathing, feeling partners — not commodities.”
“We hope all horse lovers will sign the pledge at equusfoundation.org/pledge to show solidarity in support of horse welfare. You even get your own fundraising page that you can send to friends and family to help us raise funds – if you would like to take that step. Everyone that raises $1000 or more in this effort will not only help save the lives of America’s horses, but also be eligible for a drawing to win a stunning, special luxury edition CWD Saddle in commemoration of CWD’s 100,000th saddle,” said Angeli.
Bertrand Pelletier, the head of LIM Group North America, spoke briefly about the saddle donation. “’You ride – we care’ is our motto,” said Pelletier, “and we are thrilled to donate this special saddle to a great cause — the welfare of horses through the EQUUS Foundation, in honor of its 20 years of horse protection.”
The highlight of the evening was the presentation of the inaugural Spirit Award to McLain Ward, presented by Jenny Belknap Kees, EQUUS Foundation Chair, and Lynn Coakley, EQUUS Foundation President.
“Twenty years ago, when Jenny reached out to McLain to explain what we were trying to accomplish in establishing the EQUUS Foundation and asked him if he would participate in an event that came to be known as the Fete Cheval, he said ‘Yes’ without hesitation,” said Coakley. “When we reached out to other top equestrians and said McLain is participating, they all followed suit. Little did McLain and the others know what we were going to ask of them!
“Now twenty years later, we are here to present the Spirit Award to honor an equestrian who has significantly elevated the image and desirability of horses. There was no question in either of our minds who would be the first recipient.”
Belknap said, “There’s not a lot that can be said about McLain that hasn’t been said before – except to say that McLain embodies everything that the Spirit Award stands for. He continues to be a force in propelling the equestrian sport forward – always the sportsman and the gentleman – and always a friend and advocate since our founding 20 years ago.”
In accepting the award, Ward said, “It is so important to have an organization like the EQUUS Foundation that not only steps up to protect horses, particularly in the most vulnerable time in their lives, but also keeps us aware of what’s really happening.
“When Lynn and Jenny first approached me about the Spirit Award, my first response was that there must be others who have done much greater work on behalf of all the horses that need our help than myself, and there are, but I accepted because I believe it is critical that horse sports be humane and ethical and responsible and that we take care of our partners throughout their lives, whether they were champions or not.
“The responsibility to lead the way falls on all of us,” says Ward. “We don’t realize where many horses — including show horses and racehorses — end up, and the terrible fate they may face. We just assume that they are taken care of, but that’s not the reality. I am honored to accept this award and to lend my name to the EQUUS Foundation.”
Belknap announced that the EQUUS Foundation is establishing the McLain Ward Horse Whisperer Award and will be awarding a grant in his name IN PERPETUITY to a deserving equine charity that is dedicated to protecting America’s horses and strengthening the horse-human bond.
To learn more about the EQUUS Foundation and their mission, please visit www.equusfoundation.org.