By Doris Degner-Foster
If someone was a successful working student for Olympic gold medalist and international coach Katie Monahan Prudent, it would probably be a risky move to voluntarily leave and go work at a sale barn. But it turned out to be a very good step for Beezie Madden.
“When John [Madden] offered me a job, I was still working for Katie and he actually had very little,” Beezie said. “He had a few sale horses — he was mostly in the sales business — so I guess when I decided to take the job with him, it was probably one of the biggest risks I took.”
Beezie had ridden competitively for Southern Seminary Junior College and after graduation was accepted into the University of Virginia at Charlottesville. But when she was offered a working student job for Katie, she chose to take advantage of the opportunity.
“It really came back to if I went on to the university I’d have had to declare a major and honestly, I was struggling with that,” Beezie admitted. She pointed out that as a working student, her parents wouldn’t have to continue to support her and pay for her horse’s expenses, which might have helped them agree to her plan.
A student of the legendary George Morris, Katie Prudent is known as a trainer who challenges riders to help them improve their performance, and Beezie was no stranger to challenges. “My parents gave me the best upbringing possible; they were not overindulgent,” Beezie said. When she was given her first pony, she only got a bridle with it and in order to earn a saddle, she had to prove to her parents that she really wanted to ride. Being comfortable riding without stirrups was a skill that proved to be invaluable later in her career.
Beezie was also a student of George’s and his insistence on correct equitation and form still shows in her exemplary riding position today — plus her thick hair rarely escapes her hairnet, a detail that George never misses. George has even been known to tell other young ladies who have a lot of hair, “If Beezie Madden can get her hair up in a net, so can you!”
Beezie had been Katie’s working student for more than five years when she went to work with John Madden Sales in 1987. With her background, she was well prepared to get the best performance possible from different horses that were for sale, regardless of their training or experience. Katie has said about Beezie, “I gave her the basics but John Madden made her a killer [in the show ring]; John is a great motivator for Beezie.”
John gave all the credit to Beezie when she won her first Budweiser-American Grand Prix Association Rider of the Year title. At the time, he said, “Beezie’s never won a major title, but she’s always been right in there. A lot of that is probably my fault, because I have a buying and selling business. She’ll win a Grand Prix and the horse is sold the next day. She’s paid her dues with discipline and hard work.”
Partnership and Marriage
After working together for 11 years, Beezie and John married in 1998. “I started out working for him so in that sense we kept that working relationship where he was the boss and I worked for him,” Beezie explained. “But it’s gradually gotten to be more of a partnership over the years.”
John likes to joke that he’s “just Beezie’s husband,” but his achievements are much more than being Beezie’s husband and trainer. John began as a groom and worked his way up to barn manager at George Morris’ Hunterdon.
He started John Madden Sales in 1982, moving to Cazenovia, New York, where the business is currently headquartered, in 1998. In addition to sales, John also trains amateur jumper riders and is involved in the governance of the sport. He’s been an executive board member and chairman of the International Equestrian Federation [FEI] Jumping Committee and was recently appointed vice president of the FEI.
John has said, “Success isn’t fulfilled through blue ribbons, higher jumps, bigger commissions, a flawless hunter round or any of the little things that we all get caught up in. [Success is] better care, improved management, better riding, enhanced conditions for competitions and most of all, continuing education. These are the things that will fulfill our responsibility to our horses.”
Any marriage takes effort, and perhaps more so with the busy life John and Beezie have. “This sport takes so much time and so much traveling; if we weren’t working together, we’d never be together,” Beezie said. “The pros outweigh the cons, and there aren’t too many cons. Most people wonder how we do it — I wonder how we’d do it if we weren’t working together.”
Beezie has ridden many talented horses. Among them are Cortes ‘C’, nicknamed Tiny, a huge black Belgian Warmblood gelding who crosses his front legs when jumping, and Simon, a Dutch Warmblood gelding and 2013 USEF International Horse of the Year.
There’s another horse that stands out as especially memorable to Beezie. “Northern Magic was probably the lesser-known horse that influenced my career,” she said. “I started riding him when I went to work for John in 1987.”
Northern Magic was 9 years old in 1989, the year the pair won the $75,000 Gold Cup at Devon, the $50,000 Harrisburg Grand Prix and took second place in the President’s Cup in Washington. That November, Beezie was instrumental in helping the United States Equestrian Team achieve its first place win in the Nations Cup class. She had a rail down in the first round but the real trouble came during the jump off when her stirrup leather broke. Beezie continued on and rode a clear round without the stirrup. Chef d’Equipe of the United States team, Bertelan de Nemethy, described Beezie’s ride as heroic.
That ride helped her earn the United States Olympic Committee’s Female Equestrian Athlete of the Year award for 1989. “Northern Magic took me on my first tour to Europe and was very successful in major Nations Cup competitions,” Beezie recalled.
Authentic, known around the barn as Bud, has been called the most decorated Olympic equine in history. He won team gold medals in the 2004 Olympics in Athens and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where they also won individual bronze. Beezie said, “Not only is he a top-class athlete, but he also has a great personality, and he seems to enjoy his life.”
But he didn’t enjoy a bout of colic just before the final veterinary inspection for the 2004 Olympics. In order to compete and pass inspection, no medications could be administered to ease his symptoms. As Beezie was about to see her Olympic dream that had taken her decades to reach fall by the wayside, a last-ditch effort was made. The veterinarian determined Authentic had a twist in his intestine, so he administered fluids and they encouraged him to roll. John said, “Sometimes if you let them roll over, that would put it back in place.” It worked and Authentic made the vet inspection in time to compete and won the team gold medal.
The syndicate that owned Authentic started to receive multiple high-dollar offers from overseas buyers after winning the team gold medal in 2004. U.S. Chef d’Equipe, George Morris, quickly got in touch with Abigail Wexner and she immediately bought Authentic, thereby keeping him in the U.S. and with Beezie. Abigail has said that Authentic is a horse of a lifetime and she felt privileged to be able to help him stay with John and Beezie.
In 2005, Beezie and Authentic were part of the American team that won its first ever Samsung Super League Nations Cup. They also won individual and team silver medals in the 2006 World Equestrian Games. “He took us to places we might never have gone and gave us achievements most people only dream about,” Beezie said. “Along the way he has been and continues to be a great friend as well.”
Authentic was retired from jumping competitions in 2009 but was officially retired in 2014 at the New Albany Classic Invitational Grand Prix and now is living out his retirement at John Madden Sales. “It’s an unbelievable honor and privilege to have a horse like him,” Beezie said.
Making an Impact
As an Olympic gold medalist, FEI World Champion, the first woman and first American rider to ever reach the top three in the Show Jumping World Ranking List and the first woman to pass the million-dollar mark in show jumping earnings, Beezie is aware of her influence and continuously sets an example. “It’s something that I’ve always thought about — to be a role model — because I did that with other riders when I was young,” she said. “It’s something that’s important enough that I try to do it well.”
In 2012, a new helmet ruling went into effect — velvet hunt caps were popular and the safer GPA type helmets were noticeably different. Beezie started wearing the approved helmet and said, “If it got a lot of people to wear safer helmets and if it saved one or two lives, not to mention maybe my own life, that was a big deal.”
Beezie was encouraged to take advantage of being able to influence the way of thinking concerning helmets when she and John were on a skiing vacation for the first time in several years. Since they had last been skiing, the wearing of helmets had become the norm on the slopes and they felt like the only people with bare heads. Beezie and John promptly purchased ski helmets before they made their next run. Stunned at how quickly wearing a helmet became the norm on the slopes, Beezie reasoned that such a change could also take place in the horse world.
“I’d say my journey has been about hard work and doing the little things right on a daily basis,” Beezie said. “Those are the things that ultimately lead to success. Always think about what’s best for the horse. Have a passion for what you do and don’t get lazy.”
Olympic athletes in other sports would most likely not be competing past the age of 50, but Beezie has no plans to slow down. In spite of a broken collarbone in May 2014, Beezie was back to normal by August and won the Longines King George V Gold Cup aboard Abigail Wexner’s Cortes ‘C’ in Hickstead, United Kingdom, adding another first to her résumé as the first woman to ever win it. A few weeks later at the 2014 World Equestrian Games in Normandy, France, she again rode Cortes ‘C’ to win team and individual bronze, with Cortes ‘C’ being named best horse of the Games.
Beezie hopes to make it onto her fourth consecutive U.S. Olympic team for the 2016 Games in Rio de Janeiro, and to win an individual Olympic gold medal. With Cortes ‘C’, Simon and young horse Breitling LS in her barn, it looks as if she has a good chance of continuing to represent the United States in exceptional fashion and achieve yet another Olympic dream.