Going For Gold
As the world looks at the canvas of the Rio Olympics, equestrian sport paints a unique picture. You will see professionals and amateurs, men and women, and younger and older all competing against one another. And of course when you add in the wild card of a horse as a partner, anything can happen.
Unlike other Olympic athletes, riders have the ability to compete at the top of their game for many years, and experience is a key factor for calming nerves and providing confidence. Canadian show jumper Ian Millar actually holds the record for most Olympic appearances – a ten time participant!
Top U.S. show jumper Elizabeth “Beezie” Madden hopes Rio will be her fourth Olympics, having competed in Athens in 2004, Beijing in 2008, and London in 2012. Madden is an Individual Olympic Bronze Medalist and a member of the two gold medal U.S. teams from the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games where she rode Authentic. Who could possibly be a better role model for sporting women than Beezie who is at the top of her athletic game at 52.
Her biggest challenge is creating a special trophy case for the gold medals. “Right now they are on the trophy wall. We talked about creating a special glass case because people like to see the front and the back of the medal but then again they like to actually touch them.”
Beezie received her first pony as a Christmas gift on her parent’s horse farm in Wisconsin and dedicated herself to the sport, rising to the Grand Prix level in 1985. Now Beezie and her husband John operate their stable John Madden Sales in Cazenovia, New York and travel the globe to top competitions.
Taking Great Strides For Women
Madden has been a trail blazer, the first woman to pass the $1 million mark in earnings for show jumping. In 2004 she became the first woman and the first American rider to reach the top three in the Show Jumping world-ranking list. Madden is also the only four time USEF Equestrian of the Year. In April of 2013, Madden won the FEI World Cup Finals Champion in Gothenburg, Sweden aboard Abigail Wexner’s horse Simon who was named the 2013 USEF International Horse of the Year.
Madden has been based in Wellington, Florida this winter using the opportunity at the Winter Equestrian Festival and HITS Ocala to show a number of young horses who she is excited about as well as Simon and Cortes ‘C’. She was also part of Team USA at HITS Ocala with McLain Ward, Todd Minikus, Lauren Hough, and led by Chef d’Equipe Robert Ridland, which claimed a victory at the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup CSI04*in February.
On the road to Rio Madden comments, “I’m lucky enough that I’m already on the short list for the team so I haven’t had to do a lot of showing down here. That makes it really nice to schedule the horses and have time to get them ready for the observation events which will be the CSIO’s in the spring.” She adds, “Hopefully the team will be picked after Rotterdam, and if we’re involved we’ll probably do Aachen with those horses then Rio.”
On her top picks for horses she says, “I hope to have both Simon and Cortes ready in line to be on the team in Rio. Right now I would say Cortes in the front runner. But I’m lucky to have those two and maybe even Breitling who is looking good but doesn’t have the experience of those two.”
When asked how the different venues of the Olympics affect the experience she notes, “I have to say once you are in the venues most of them have been quite nice and what we’re used to at a high level event. Getting to Rio is more of a challenge for our federation and the veterinarians with the health requirements and the equipment. I think once we’re there, everything is usually what we’re used to at a high level.”
In terms of her best Olympic moments Madden says, “Athens as my first Olympics was amazing. I have to say Hong Kong defending our gold medal as a team was a highlight and then the individual medal there as well. In London we were disappointed in our results but the venue and the management of our discipline there was fantastic and being right in Greenwich Village was a great experience even though we didn’t do as well as we hoped.”
Keys To Success
With her gold medal experience Madden shares keys to success, “It’s about management and a whole team behind you of owners and vets and grooms and grounds people to help you out and then picking good horses. It’s also about scheduling. If you do too much with a good horse, they may not be at their best when you want them to. Scheduling is very important.”
Experience is also a leg up for the Olympics. As a veteran Madden comments, “It’s helpful knowing what to expect when you get there. It’s always nice having done something before. You feel a little more relaxed, and you feel you know what’s coming. At the same time we will have higher expectations each time we go that we want to do better than the last time.”
The Olympics also bring rival individual competitors together as a team. Madden notes, “Hopefully some of our teammates are people who’ve been together before. This year Robert’s [Ridland] plan is we’ll do two CSIO’s together, possibly with two or three of the same people, and if we think it’s a good preparation for everyone hopefully the team will be together. We develop camaraderie working together. Normally you’re competing with your peers but when you’re on a team with them it’s nice to be able to route for them and help each other out.”
Traveling the world, the one thing Beezie never is without is a horse. It’s rare that she has down time but when she does she might be snow skiing or engulfed in a book, favorites being stories about WWII or the military. Not surprising as her favorite subjects were History and English when she was valedictorian of her Junior College.
In terms of the best advice she has for up and coming riders she recounts, “One time the British Chef d’Equipe before a grand prix told me to go in and have fun. ‘Let yourself be the best you can be when you’re having fun.’
© Portraits of Beezie Madden and Simon by Camila Umana