When I met with Beezie Madden this fall, on the cusp of her half century, she was second only in the world rankings to Britain’s Ben Maher.
Since Beezie (born Elizabeth Patton) embarked on her Grand Prix career in the late 80s, she has amassed an incredible array of team and individual accolades. Olympic, World and Pan Am medals are among her collection as are epic victories in the Grands Prix of Aachen and Calgary. In April this year she added the World Cup Final to her extensive resume. Her husband, John Madden, has had a hands-on role in Beezie’s career rise, but it is Beezie’s dedication, talent and refreshingly down to earth character that have made her a magnet for owners, of which she has always had a loyal following.
Where does the Beezie Madden “I Love Horses” story begin?
BM: My parents had a small business in Wisconsin buying green horses, training them and then selling them as hunters. Originally they rented stables at the Milwaukee Hunt Club but when they closed the equestrian facility there, my parents built their own place in Mequon.
What do you remember from those days?
BM: Not a lot. I can remember learning to ride on the school horses at the Hunt Club and, when I was four, my brother Stewart and I got ponies for Christmas. They were a 10.2 hands high, mother and daughter pair. They lived in the field with the other horses. Our house was about a half hour away so we would go every day after school.
How did you progress? Who inspired you?
BM: I think I was pretty self-motivated. After that first pony I had three more as I grew up – small, medium and large. Then I started riding my mom’s amateur hunter in the equitation classes. We showed only in the Midwest – Indiana was a big trip for us at six hours. Since I was 13, I had qualified for the Medal Finals but I never went to the Final until my second-to-last year in Juniors. We leased a horse on the East Coast and I finished eighth. In my last year of Juniors we went to Florida and lived in a camper for the season which was five or six weeks then. That was my first year jumping. My junior hunter became my junior jumper.
When did you make your breakthrough?
BM: When I went to Southern Seminary Junior College I started riding with Katie (Monahan-Prudent). After two years with Katie I was offered a place at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. Katie also offered me a job and I took the job instead of going to University.
What did you do at Katie’s and how long were you there?
BM: Whatever needed to be done. A little teaching, riding, equipment organizing, braiding…I was an extra body. I had one horse of my own and Katie gave me the occasional horse to show. During the six years I was with Katie I was given the opportunity to ride the Brewsters’ Stillmeadow Farm horses. In 1987, I went to work for John.
When did you two meet and was it love at first sight?
BM: John was just leaving Katie’s when I arrived and no it wasn’t – it was gradual! It was over ten years from going to work for John before we got married (in 1998).
Your Grand Prix career really took off after you started working with John, most noticeably with Northern Magic in 1989, when you were elected the USOC’s Female Athlete of the Year. Since then, after countless victories and the huge success you have enjoyed both nationally and internationally, have you ever felt the weight of expectation?
BM: I think I have always had my own expectations, as well as others’ expectations to do well. Having a feeling of accomplishment is a very nice thing but I really love what I do. I love everything about it from bringing on the young ones to competing. I am so lucky I do what I love doing most.
What compromises or sacrifices have you made for your sport?
BM: I compromised a college degree, I guess. If I had had more time I would have liked to play more sports. I played basketball, volleyball and softball in college.
You’ve won Olympic and world championship medals and last April the World Cup Final (on your 13th attempt) what’s missing from the resume?
BM: An individual Olympic gold! Next year we also have the world championships – I’ve won two silvers; I’d like to win some gold.
What have been your best moments?
BM: I’ve had so many it’s hard to name the best. The Olympics, obviously; the World Cup was the most recent. The World Equestrian Games in Aachen was a phenomenal week for Authentic and myself; winning the CN International at Spruce Meadows…really, it’s hard to say which was the best.
Your Olympic and world medal winning partner Authentic was recently retired age 18 at the New Albany Classic, the home of his owner Abigail Wexner. Just what does Authentic mean to you?
BM: The neatest thing about Authentic was that we had him since he was six years old and we knew of him as a four year old at Johan Heins’ stable. He and I grew together. He took me to my first Olympic Games and to my first world championships. He was so special in that he really wanted to do the job to the extent that he would drag you into the ring – even at some of the biggest venues. Left to his own devices he would have stayed in the ring!
How did you come together with Abigail Wexner?
BM: We knew Matt Burke who runs Abigail’s equestrian operation and he wanted to bring in some other people to teach so he asked us to come to her place a couple of times. One day he told me she wanted to buy me a horse and that was Desilvio. He was a six year old then so that was about 12 years ago. She’s been an unbelievable owner. She started with the one horse and just kept on going. She’s probably owned five or six with us at a time. She likes to have young horses and bring them along so obviously some of them get sold, but it’s not a big worry of mine that any of the top ones will be sold.
What’s an average day like at home?
BM: We are probably only “home” six weeks of the year. On average I’d say I ride about three or four horses a day, more when, let’s say, we’re schooling for Spruce Meadows, then it’s more like eight or 10 a day. We are in Florida for three months of the year, then usually it’s the World Cup Final, then home for a week, spring shows, home for a week, Europe…it sort of goes like that.
How involved is John – does he only help at horse shows?
BM: He’s involved quite a bit at shows and at home, wherever home happens to be. The sales business is not really that anymore, it’s turned into more of a training and competition business. Apart from my competition schedule we mainly are looking after clients and their horses. We oversee Gwendolyn and Genevieve Meyer’s program in San Juan Capistrano (Coral Reef) where they have 15 to 20 horses; we coach Cara Raether and recently we’ve been helping Alison Robitaille in her come back to the international level following the birth of her second child.
Are you doing any breeding at your farm in Cazenovia?
BM: We have five mares, all retired from competition, which we breed from. We have a three-year-old, three two-year-olds and a yearling and four foals expected next year. It wasn’t a business decision; it’s just something fun and you never know when you might get lucky.
What do you do with your spare time?
BM: Spare time? What’s that? If we go on vacation we’ll go skiing in December. Our favorite place to go is the Stein Eriksen Lodge at Deer Valley in Utah.
Do you see dollar signs when you go into the ring or isn’t money important?
BM: It’s fun to look at how much you have won at the end of the day and know that your bills are going to get paid. Usually, though, if there is a lot of prize money, it’s also an important event and you are always motivated to win the important ones. Look at the Olympics – there’s no prize money yet everyone wants to win them.
Do you find yourself thinking: “Man it would be nice to be world number one?”
BM: To be number two is pretty exciting! I didn’t know that I would be in this position when we planned the year and I’m done after the Alltech National Horse Show. While it would be exciting to be number one, I’m not going to sacrifice my horses chasing it.