One with the horse

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At the sparkling 2013 Old Salem Farm Spring Horse Shows, jumper Beezie Madden was honored for her triumph a month earlier at the Rolex FEI World Cup Final in Gothenburg, Sweden. Though it was her first major individual title, it was also yet another accomplishment for the two-time Olympic gold medalist, who’ll be back in action at the North Salem horse farm when it hosts the American Gold Cup in September.

To get to the point where you can stand atop the podium at an Olympic or World Cup event, it takes a lot of conditioning, but above all just plain riding, an average of six to seven hours a day, Beezie says.

At the Spruce Meadows North American and Pan American tournaments in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, where she recently competed with six horses, Beezie would exercise a horse in the morning and jump the horse in the afternoon, depending on the day and the horse.

The key here, Beezie says, is for the rider and horse to be like a hand in a glove.

“You can’t be thinking about it in the ring. It has to be a habit.”

And as with any great relationship, a good deal depends on both partners concentrating and communicating.

“A lot of the communication that’s going on is not very visible to the eye,” she says. “I’m telling the horse a lot with my hand, leg and foot.”

Even the best riders with the most elegant form can suffer from chronic lower back strain, so Beezie does stretching and works with TRX nylon suspension ropes in hotel rooms or heads to the hotel gym.

But it’s hard for her to work out in the summer, when she’s constantly on the road. She figures she spends about 10 days at home in Cazenovia, N.Y., where she and husband John – brother of Old Salem Farm head trainer Frank – have a horse farm, John Madden Sales Inc. Those 10 days, however, are “a nice break” when she and John can ride their 12 to 15 horses over the verdant land. The stable is a mix of a stallion, some mares and some geldings, which are the least temperamental. There are also some brood mares and foals. The horses are European Warmbloods, though lighter boned, more like Thoroughbreds, she says, which is a trend in show jumping.

“They have a sensitivity and alertness,” she says of these Warmbloods, and not only in the ring, as the horses have to travel on airplanes and pose for the camera.

Given the rigors of summer travel and the haven that is the farm in Cazenovia, Beezie saves her serious physical training for the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Fla. For three months there, she works out with a trainer three times a week. You can bet those workouts are intense. Beezie acknowledges that she’s a competitive person.

“I like to do things I’m good at, and I don’t like to do things I’m not good at.”

It’s been that way since the Milwaukee native got her first pony as a Christmas gift at age 4 from parents Joe and Kathy Patton, who owned a horse farm in Wisconsin. Riding, she says, “was something we did as a family.”

Beezie – who shares her grandmother Elizabeth’s name and nickname – started competing at 6, moving on to the Grand Prix level at 22. Aboard Abigail Wexner’s Authentic, she was part of the gold medal American teams at the 2004 Olympics in Athens and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. She also took home an individual bronze medal from Beijing. She won the FEI Rolex World Cup Final Championship aboard another Wexner horse, Simon.

Given her competitive fire, it’s no surprise to learn that Beezie has her eye on the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. But hold your horses: First there’s the little matter of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France, next year. World championships are very important in show jumping.

“That,” she adds, “is the next big goal.”

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