Mimi Maddock was 10 years old when she sat down for her first meeting with Andre Dignelli and Patricia Griffith at Heritage Farm.
Dignelli, an 11-time champion of the USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals—East, turned to the young rider and asked her what her goals were. She responded, “I want to ride in a Grand Prix.”
He smiled before responding: “Let’s get to Pony Finals first.”
“I’ll never forget” that conversation, Maddock’s mother Lily tells The Plaid Horse. “We were immediately enamored” with the team, she adds. They moved to Heritage a week later.
Since that June 2019 meeting, Maddock, now 13, has set some interim goals. Working under the guidance of Heritage—who has produced five Overall Grand Pony Hunter Championships and five more USEF Pony Medal Final winners—she has calculatedly checked them off. Maddock has progressed from her first Pony Finals appearance to her first WEF Circuit Championship, her first medal final call back and, this year, and her first tricolors on horseback.
The New York City native now heads to the 2022 USEF Pony Finals off a career-best season. With 245 points,
she shares the lead in the USEF Pony Medal national standings; she also sits second in the WIHS Pony Equitation rankings. Meanwhile, she’s jumped her first 3’3″ medals this summer.
“Going back to my first WEF with Heri-tage, having that Circuit Championship really started me with the correct mindset,” Maddock says. “I’m just excited. I’m excited to go to the barn to see my horses. I’m excited to have lessons, and I’m just excited to keep learning.”
A Family Affair at Blue Heron Farm
In the winter months, Maddock spends her time at Blue Heron Farm in Wellington, FL,
a collaborative effort for the family. Lily broke ground on a plot of land with Mimi’s grandfather in March 2020. They welcomed horses onto the property in 2021 for the 2022 WEF season.
Heritage Farm assistant trainer Caroline Passarelli—the 2016 USEF Pony Medal Final Champion—lives onsite with the Maddocks, with Griffith visiting regularly. Antonio Barraza, whose sons Ivan and Oscar also work at Heritage, has been with the Maddocks since their first day at Heritage and helps care for their string of three ponies, two horses, and miniature pony Strawberry Shortcake, adopted from Rising Starr Rescue at the 2018 Hampton Classic. The remainder of the year, the Maddocks stable with Heritage in Katonah, NY, and on the road at horse shows around the northeast.
“I love having the horses here, because I can see them really often. I love being able to just walk outside and spend time with the horses,” Maddock says. “I’m able to bond with the horses, and I feel like that’s a really special part of the sport—having a nice connection with the animals.”
It’s also helped her grow as a young horsewoman. She assists Passarelli with night check, preparing grain (and keeping it away from Strawberry Shortcake) and supervising turnout, among other tasks. Training at the farm is broken up with trail rides and, a few times a week, ponies are shipped to nearby Heritage Farm South for lessons.
“She’s very fun to work with, and she wants to keep doing better and learning how to do it and what makes a winner,” Passarelli says. “Having the farm for her in Florida where she lived with those ponies, she was able to see their routine every day. She was very involved, and that was really important for her to see. She saw the preparation that went into getting to the show ring successfully, and I think that was instrumental in a lot of success that we saw from her.”
It was at Blue Heron Farm where Mimi began her transition from the pony ring to her first shows on horses—somewhat unintentionally. A single chance lesson on Lily’s horse Airplay—affectionately known as “Archie”—turned into a quick ascent in the show ring. In their second outing at WEF, the pair took home the Reserve Championship in the Low Children’s Hunters.
That lesson “went so well, and Lily enjoyed watching them so much, that she was willing to step back and let Mimi have a turn at showing him,” says Heritage’s Dottie Barnwell Areson. “I think she was having so much fun showing Archie and experiencing a lot of success on him right away that it made her hungry to make that move” to the horse divisions.
By season’s end, Maddock also received the opportunity to lease Amira Kettaneh’s accomplished equitation mount, Gossip SA. At WEF 11, the duo were champions of the Children’s Hunter division—just their second show as a partnership.
“I think having a couple ponies that go like horses, the transition was kind of easy. I think it’s helped her riding,” Griffith adds. On the horses, “everything happens a little slower, so I always tell the kids that it’s almost easier on the horses, but her transition was a really quick one.”
A Horse and Pony Education
“It’s really fun to take what I’ve learned from the horses and utilize it on the ponies,” Maddock says. “I feel like I have almost a bit more control on the ponies after I ride a horse. It just goes back to putting in the best round you can and not focusing on the score but focusing on the way you rode and what you can do to improve.”
That’s the mindset Maddock has applied to her riding, instilled in her by Griffith, and what continues to keep her thinking positive, even in the most competitive of settings.
“Patricia and the entire Heritage team have really helped me believe that it’s not about the score you get; it’s the way you put in your round and how you feel about how you rode. It’s not about how you placed,” Maddock says. “Patricia is one of my biggest role models. Even if you’re not having the best round—if you make a mistake in the handy, it’s always good practice to then try an extra inside turn and get more practice in, every time you ride.”
It’s easy to get caught up in results and be disappointed, Griffith notes, especially in Wellington, where the competition is top-notch. “I think as soon as she stopped focusing on the ribbon and just tried to focus on good, consistent riding—she was maybe the most consistent rider in the WIHS Pony Equitation, if you look at her points. That’s what we’re still perfecting, because that’s obviously a big part of the sport.”
The Turning Point
At the 2021 USEF Pony Finals, Maddock made the call-back in the USEF Pony Medal Final and finished 18th overall out of nearly 200 riders.
“It’s always a challenging course, and to be able to walk in for that first time, she really laid it down,” says Areson. “I think for all of us, that was such a cool moment and cool marker of the growth that she had made in her couple of years with Heritage.”
A significant contributor to Maddock’s growth has been her two-year partnership with Qualen’s Got Magic, the 10-year-old Welsh Pony Cross by Maple Side Mr. Magic. Maddock’s partner for her medal final callback, “Jimmy” jumped to three more medal wins during the 2022 WEF season. Jimmy is hailed as the undisputed veteran and “rock” of the Maddock pony string, but it hasn’t been an easy road.
“He had that big rangy, horse-like canter, and that wasn’t the easiest for us when we first got him,” Griffith says. “I would say now, that’s sort of her easiest, go-to ride. That’s been a complete transformation. He’s a pony that you definitely need to read. There are times that he needs leg, and there are times that by the end of the course, he’s so rangy, you’re getting down the lines too early. It’s been nice to watch that growth, because at first, I think everybody wasn’t sure if that was maybe one notch more pony than she was ready for, but he has a lot of quality, and he goes a little bit like a horse, and I think that’s really helped her riding.”
“He’s the reason I’ve become the rider I have,” Maddock adds. “He’s taught me so much.”
The pony has prepared her for her next project, one that especially excites Maddock as she heads toward her third Pony Finals appearance. Super Sport, just 6 years old, is the sixth-ranked Medium Green Pony Hunter in the country, discovered by Griffith and Passarelli at the 2021 Capital Challenge Horse Show, when a colleague suggested they watch a video of a pony that had only recently been imported from Germany.
“From the minute that Mimi got on him, it was a real match,” Passarelli says. “Yes, he’s beautiful. He has all the stride. He has all the scope. He’s a beautiful jumper. But I think what really sets him apart is that you can’t really teach that personality or demeanor to a pony. They’re kind of born with it. So, he’s just become very, very special. We’re excited for him and to see how far he goes, because he hasn’t shown us anything but excellence so far.”
Beyond Jimmy and Super Sport (a.k.a. “Gabe”), Maddock will also bring Hey Scooby to Kentucky for Pony Finals. The lone large pony of the group, Scooby stepped Maddock up to her first 3’ classes, and the pair took the Large Pony Hunter Championship at WEF 9.
“It’s not that they’re easy. It’s not that they’re hard,” Maddock says. “It’s just, they’re really great teaching ponies.” Jimmy and Scooby “try so hard, but they also have some spunk to them. They’re really great ponies.”
Wise Beyond Her Years
Maddock may still aspire to reach that Grand Prix, but ask her about her goals now, and she’s got a different response.
“I’d like to have some nice success in the pony divisions and start doing more with the horses—maybe moving up a little bit, but just having really nice, solid and competitive rounds,” Maddock says. Longer-term, “I’d love to do the Big Eq Finals, do some of the jumpers, and a little bit in each ring.”
Both in the ring and outside of it, her team envisions a long-term commitment.
“She’s one of those kids that enjoys spending time with her ponies besides just riding them,” Griffith says. “She seems like the type that loves the whole process.”
“From day one, she’s been a good student,” Areson adds. “She’s never been a kid who gives pushback. She’s never a kid who doesn’t want to hear the feedback that you have to give. She’s always willing to work hard and listen. I don’t think I’ve ever had a moment that I felt resistance from her in training. For a young rider, I think that’s rare.”
“The progress every weekend is important to her. She takes this very seriously, which I think is very important, because even from a young age, you kind of know if this is more of a hobby or something you really want to pursue,” Passarelli says. “And from everything Mimi is showing me, she’s very into this. She comes to the barn every day and she’s wanting to do it and she’s wanting to learn more. It’s not just about more jumps.”
*This story was originally published in the August 2022 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!