Olympic Gold atop a Breezie Hill
By Denise F. Brown
I am the lucky winner of the 2012 Ariat Grand Prize drawing. I was awarded a head-to-toe Ariat outfit and a trip to spend a day with Olympic Gold Medalist and reigning FEI World Cup Champion Beezie Madden, and her husband, horse trainer John Madden at their horse farm in Cazenovia, NY. In addition to 2 Olympic Gold Medals and an individual bronze medal, Beezie has also garnered a team gold at the 2003 Pan Am Games, a team and an individual silver medal at the 2011 Pan American Games as well as team and individual silver at the 2006 World Equestrian Games. My husband, John O’Sullivan and I flew to NY from NH on Friday and drove to Cazenovia to the beautiful Brewster Inn on Lake Cazenovia just in time for a late dinner (and fabulous) and then rest up for the big day. We didn’t open Ariat’s complimentary bottle of champagne because the Maddens requested that we get to the JMS Farm by 8:30 am on Saturday to experience a typical work day with them. So we got up early and I put on my great new Ariat outfit, barn boots and windbreaker jacket, grabbed a quick continental breakfast and drove a pleasant half hour ride through horse country and golf courses until we came upon a contemporary shaped barn on top of a hill that was lined with pastures and horses.
We had arrived to find a busy gentleman’s horse barn with riders and stable hands scurrying about and preparing horses for their training sessions. Beezie and John and a barn dog named Lola greeted us quickly with smiles and invited us to explore the barn and tack rooms and have some coffee and donuts while Beezie was going to warm up her first mount of the day in the indoor riding barn. We also met Clark Shipley who cares for the horses. He smiled and continued to saddle a horse for Beezie as they introduced us to two of Abigail Wexner’s horses, Cortes ‘C’ and Simon.The first horse that Beezie started warming up inside the barn was Simon, walking and trotting past the big Ariat logo hanging on the wall. She was already completely focused on her horse.
Within a few minutes of watching horses getting groomed and saddled, stalls cleaned and people busy with chores, John told us to head up to the fields on the hill past the service equipment barn and horse trailers. “You’ll see all kinds of jumps when you get there.” So we hurried up the windy hill and saw every jump imaginable placed strategically about the fields ‹ water jumps, ditches, hills, singles, doubles and triple jumps, there was even a big bicycle to jump over and two Shamu Whales were set up as a jump to train the best of the best riders and horses. The “best” means Beezie Madden and her eight or more world famous show jumper mounts. In the distance, their lovely estate home was overlooking “Madden Mountain” and their “playground” that sits on top of 200 acres of rolling hills and valleys. A couple of riders and horses were already in the field along with a few people adjusting rails for jumps. Then Beezie rode up and I finally realized she was riding the famous horse named Simon, owned by Abigail Wexner. John Madden beamed with pride as he let us know about Simon and Beezie’s recent win at the 2013 FEI World Cup Finals that has made him the top horse in the world of show jumping today. Then John began to orchestrate both people and horses. He was in charge of it all and had a little piece of yellow paper with notes of the order of which horse and rider would be up next. The horses and riders seemed to be completely relaxed as his soft spoken manner and tone of voice directed them to each area of the field and specific jump, pattern or series. One by one, they began jumping with little or no effort. After each jump, he would ask the rider what they thought and how the horse did and if they thought the horse was ok with that jump and if they were happy with the jump and if they wanted to try it again. He never pushed the horse or rider too hard or to tire them out. Just enough to know they understood the jump. If the horse needed to be walked down into the ditch to check out the jump or down the hill to understand what they were being asked to do, he took the time for the horse to ‘get it.’ He would tell the rider, “You need to want to move forward and into the jump in order for the horse to want to move forward, too.” He explained how they needed to naturally feel and focus their movements together.
After about a half hour or so, the riders disappeared back to the barn and immediately two more riders showed up along with Beezie on the spectacular black horse Cortes ‘C’! After that round, Beezie came back with another incredible horse owned by Gwendolyn Meyer, Coral Reef Via Vola, and then after that, she rode in with the fireball Amadora. As usual, three horses at a time were scheduled on the field. Each horse and rider jumped different patterns and John always asked each rider how they felt about the horse’s performance. Beezie’s mounts all looked beautiful and understood their job as they flew through the air. They were well seasoned athletics in their approach, entry and landing. No one looked tired or stressed. Beezie would smile as she went by me, but she did gently warn me a little bit not to get too close to the jumps or in the way of the horses. John explained how the riders and horses were very focused on the jumps and everything is exactly planned a certain way. I was amazed they even let me on the field to take all the pictures I wanted. I didn’t want to bother their concentration for a second and did my best to stay clear as everyone walked back and forth from one end of the field to the next and to each area of jumps being worked on. They were very kind and patient hosts to put up with someone new on their field during all of this motion. John said they were training and packing to leave for their next show at Spruce Meadows in Canada in a few days. Their lives revolved around preparing for shows. If they weren’t transporting horses by trailer, they were packing horses 2 in a crate for a flight to a show in Europe. A couple of the other horses and riders were being trained by the Maddens with high hopes for Olympic Gold some day. John is well known as a horse trainer and Beezie is famous for her medals. Beezie is also an excellent riding instructor, but when John is on the field, she is “in the zone” with her horse and lets John direct the students. We also met Charlie Jacobs and Brazil’s Isabella Salles who are two of the Madden’s students. When I said ‘windy hill’ earlier, I meant windy like really windy and so cold that John Madden had his staff run down to the barn and get me two of Beezie’s coats to wear and a coat for my husband. They said it had snowed and was sleeting the day before, but they practiced all day anyway, plus the next day would be the same pace. Beezie is like the Eveready bunny, never even stopping for a break. She was up on one horse after another for the whole day, and every day. That is what makes her a Gold Medalist. And, to top it off, we met another famous horse! In the paddock alongside the training field there were several retired horses grazing on the spring grass and watching all the jumping action. I recognized the stunning Authentic (nicknamed “Bud”), the Dutch Warmblood gelding who has won three Olympic medals and two World Equestrian Games medals, now owned by Abigail Wexner. (In 2004, Bud and Beezie breezed through the Olympic Selection Trials, finishing in first place. They helped the U.S. team win the Gold medal in the 2008 Olympic Games.) This amazing horse was very friendly and came up to greet us and get some attention. He seemed to be dreaming of his own victories as he sleepily closed his eyes while leaning on the top fence rail. Unfortunately, John Madden had to leave for a family emergency, so we decided to cut out a bit early and let Beezie focus on her next mounts plus the other riders for the rest of the afternoon. Over all it was a great day. I got my new Ariat boots muddy in Beezie’s fields and I had an opportunity to watch my own private horse jumper show starring Beezie and John Madden, and photograph a couple dozen of the world’s best horses and riders. Thank you Ariat!
Denise is an equine artist. See her artwork at www.raccoonstudios.com