Plaidcast 388: Beezie & John Madden and Victoria Birdsall by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services

Plaidcast Episode 388 Beezie Madden John Madden Victoria Birdsall

LISTEN NOW

To listen to the Plaidcast, you can use the player above, Stitcher, Spotify, iTunes, Google Play Music, or your other favorite podcasting app!

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is THIS-Logo-300x153.jpg


Piper speaks with Beezie and John Madden and Victoria Birdsall about their new business partnership and their plans for the future. Brought to you by Taylor, Harris Insurance Services. Listen in!

GUESTS AND LINKS:

  • Host: Piper Klemm, publisher of The Plaid Horse
  • Guest: Beezie Madden is one of the top US show jumping riders and has set the standards for show jumping. She was the first woman to pass the $1 million mark in earnings, and in 2004, she became the first woman and American to reach the top three in the Show Jumping world-ranking list. Beezie is also the only four-time USEF Equestrian of the Year. In 2013, Beezie won the FEI World Cup Finals Champion in Gothenburg, Sweden. In 2014, Beezie became the first woman to win the King George Gold Cup at Hickstead and became the first woman to achieve back to back victories when she won again in 2015. Beezie is an Individual Olympic Bronze Medalist and a member of the two gold medal U.S. teams from the 2004 & 2008 Olympic Games and a part of the U.S silver medal team in 2016. Beezie has 18 wins in Nations Cup competition and 8 World Cup Qualifier wins. Beezie became the first rider to win the $1 Million AIG HITS Grand Prix in all three locations.
  • Guest: John Madden is a distinguished figure in international horse sport. Having started his career as a groom on the hunter/jumper circuit, and progressing into an assistant trainer role, in 1984 he founded John Madden Sales Inc, and has trained many riders and horses to Championship success. John has held multiple roles in USEF, and served as Vice President of the FEI, and FEI Jumping Director. He was recently named Chairman of the Board of Non-Executive Directors for the International Grooms Association. John is married to legendary USA jumper Beezie Madden.
  • Guest: Victoria Birdsall started in the sport as a young rider competing in the ponies and progressed through the equitation and jumpers, training with Holly Hill Farm, Heritage Farm, and Frank, John & Beezie Madden. She graduated from Boston College in 2015 . Since then, she has honed her skills in the jumper ring, working for top professionals, such as Anne Kursinski and Ilan Ferder, competing young horses, sale horses, and grand prix horses up to the 5* level. For the past year, Victoria has worked and trained alongside Beezie and John Madden developing her own young horses and has recently announced that she will join the John Madden Sales, Inc.
  • Title Sponsor: Taylor, Harris Insurance Services, Taylor, Harris Insurance Services (THIS) was founded in 1987 to provide specialized insurance for all types of equine risk. THIS places their policies with the highest rated and most secure carriers, meticulously selected for reliability and prompt claims settlement. THIS is proud of their worldwide reputation for responsive and courteous service, and welcomes the opportunity to discuss your equine insurance needs and provide you with a quote.
  • Photography Credit: Shannon Brinkman Photography & Andrew Ryback Photography
  • Subscribe To: The Plaid Horse Magazine
  • Sponsors: American StallsPurina Animal NutritionWorld Equestrian CenterAmerica CryoBoneKareShow Strides Book SeriesWith Purpose: The Balmoral StandardGood Boy, EddieHITS Horse Shows, Sentinel Horse NutritionLaurel Springs School and Great American Insurance Group

This transcript was generated automatically. Its accuracy may vary.

Piper Klemm: This is The Plaidcast. I’m Piper Klemm, publisher of The Plaid Horse Magazine. And coming up today on episode 388, I talk with Beezie and John Madden and Victoria Birdsall of John Madden Sales, Inc. about their new business partnership and their plans for the future. This episode is brought to you by Taylor Harris Insurance Services.

John Madden is a distinguished figure in international horse sport. Having started his career as a groom on the Hunter Jumper Circuit and progressing into an assistant trainer role, in 1984, he founded John Madden Sales, Inc. and has trained many riders and horses to championship success.In addition, John has held multiple roles at USEF and served as vice president of the FEI and FEI jumping director. He was recently named chairman of the board of the non-executive directors for the International Grooms Association. John is married to legendary USA jumper rider, Beezie Madden, who he calls the best horse person and person in general that he knows.

Victoria Birdsall started in the sport as a young rider, competing in the ponies and progressed through her junior career in the equitation and jumpers, training with Holly Hill Farm, Heritage Farm, and Frank John and Beezie Madden. She then went on to study business operations management at Boston College, graduating in 2015. Since then, she has honed her skills in the jumper ring, working for numerous top professionals, including Anne Krasinski and Ilan Ferter, competing young horses, sailhorses, and grand prix horses up to the five-star level. For the past year, Victoria has worked and trained alongside Beezie and John Madden, developing her own young horses, and has recently announced that she will join the John Madden Sails Inc. team as rider and trainer. Beezie Madden is one of the top US show jumping riders.

Beezie grew up with horses in her life and began competing at the grand prix level in 1985. She has set the standard for show jumping in many ways. She was the first woman to pass a $1 million mark in earnings for show jumping, and in 2004, she became the first woman and first American rider to reach top three in the show jumping world ranking list.Beezie is also the only four-time US. EF Equestrian of the Year. In 2014, Beezie became the first woman to win the prestigious King George Gold Cup at Hickstead with Cortez C. Beezie also became the first woman and one of only a few riders to achieve back-to-back victories in the King George the Fifth Cup when she repeated the victory with Cortez C in 2015. In 2013, Beezie won the FEI World Cup Finals in Gothenburg, Sweden aboard Simon. Beezie is only the fifth woman ever to win the FEI World Cup Finals. Subsequently in 2013, Simon was named 2013 USCF International Horse of the Year. Beezie followed up that win with a repeat in 2018 on Breitling LS. Beezie is an individual Olympic bronze medalist and a member of two gold medal US teams from the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games where she rode authentic. She was also part of the US silver medal team in 2016 with Cortez C. In 2006, Beezie won both team and individual silver medals at the World Equestrian Games aboard authentic. In 2014, Beezie returned to the World Equestrian Games with Cortez C, winning a team bronze and an individual bronze.Cortez C was also voted best horse of the games. Beezie was a member of the gold medal winning 2003 and 2011 Pan Am Games teams and an individual silver medalist at the 2011 Pan Am Games. Beezie has 18 wins in Nations Cup competitions and eight World Cup qualifier wins. In 2005, she won the $200,000 Budweiser American Invitational in Tampa aboard authentic and repeated that feat in 2007 and again in 2014. Other notable wins include the million dollar CN International at Spruce Meadows in Canada, aboard judgment ISF in 2005. Beezie is also a three time winner of the prestigious Spruce Meadows at Co Power Queen Elizabeth Two Cup, winning twice on authentic and again in 2012 on Simon. Beezie is currently second on the all time prize money winning standings at their world renowned Spruce Meadows. In July of 2007, Beezie added winning the world renowned Grand Prix of Aachen to her list of notable achievements aboard authentic. Beezie became the first woman to win the $1 million AIG Hits Grand Prix in all three locations offered in 2019 with her win with Dairy Lou at Hitsler Mall. 

Welcome to The Plaidcast, Beezie Madden, John Madden and Victoria Birdsall.

Beezie Madden: Hi, thanks for having us.

John Madden: Thank you.

Piper Klemm: So our sport at the highest level has evolved over the years to have, I would say the team having more control, influence and matching horses with riders to kind of going this really independent route where we see a lot of self-funded people and people trying to create their own infrastructures. And I feel like we’re swinging back into using stable riders again. John, can you explain to us what a stable rider is and kind of how that works in the ecosystem of top sport? 

John Madden: Well, yeah, I’m not so sure I agree with you. It’s getting more prevalent now than it had before. And in the old days, it happened a lot, probably because now we live in a society of doers a lot more than we used to. Like I’m talking about a long time ago, cause I’m old, but very often people would own horses for riders and they were more, maybe it was a little more genteel time or something, or the great thing about the sport is it’s much more available to many, many, many people. And that hurt the professional rider getting the best horse and doing the things in people that loved horses and wanted to be involved with horses, but only wanted to jump three foot six or four foot or whatever because they were an amateur owner and they had hunters. Then they gave their other horses to somebody who could dedicate more time to it and things like that. When Beezie started in the jumper division, the lowest you could jump was the junior jumpers and it was four foot six. Other than that, there was no jumper division to jump in. So it’s great that it’s available to more people, but it’s also a little bit harder to find support for a rider that a professional stable is supporting. Having said that, the sophistication of the sport has become so, so great and the number of opportunities out there for people to do all different things. And this sport has expanded so much that we really think to be a top rider. And if you see in interviews with Beezie and everything, her whole career, she always was really grateful to the Federation and the team behind her and the supporters behind her because the sport has evolved and nobody can do all the jobs that we once had to do in the olden days.

Piper Klemm: Victoria, can you tell us about what your role is gonna be as a stable rider and how you’ve kind of moved into that role in recent months?

Victoria Birdsall: Yeah, so I think for me, something that’s been really important part of my career is that, yes, I’m a rider, but I also really enjoy all aspects of horse care and horse management and training and everything that goes on in the barn. So not just the riding and what happens in the ring, but almost even more so what’s happening in the barn every day is super important. And that’s something I really enjoy being here at John Madden’s farm is I get to be in the barn. I get to work closely with the grooms. I get to be a part of everything. And yes, the riding is obviously a main component of my day to day. But everybody here is a true horseman, truly loves the sport, the horses. And I think I fit in well with that group. So to me, that’s hugely important. And one of the reasons I really love being here and going forward, I think, yes, I’m gonna be working towards goals of jumping bigger classes and getting into five stars and hopefully jumping for the US on the team one day. But to me, the important stuff comes from the day to day here at the farm, working with everybody, working with the horses in all aspects. 

Beezie Madden: And I think also having Victoria on our staff really opens up opportunities for us to expand both with developing young horses and taking on students and people to teach because she has plenty of experience in teaching and taking riders to the ring that we can, you know, be able to sometimes split up and go different places and be pretty customized to what people need.

Piper Klemm: Beezie, it can’t be underestimated how long you are at the very top of the sport in the entire world. Talk to us about the decision to step back a little bit and to step back in a way that you’re still very involved in riding and training young horses and in the stable every day. And when we say lifelong passion, regardless of what level you make it to the sport, you really embody that this was not ever about one thing except the horse. 

Beezie Madden: Yeah, I mean, I love working with horses still. So some people say I retired, but I didn’t really retire. I’m still riding, I’m still competing because I love doing all of that and working with the horses and the students. You know, my main goal is not to make it to teams and ride for the US team and go to the big championships anymore, but that frees me up to be able to do more work at home with some of the horses, more work with the students, and basically be more involved with some of the training of both horses and riders.

Piper Klemm: Can you tell us a little bit about how the top of the sport works? I think a lot of people don’t understand how much you have to qualify for some of the larger events and you need to be showing and competing and winning a certain amount all the time. Like, you can’t move your focus away for literally anything else if you’re gonna stay at even being able to participate in those events, let alone win the really top classes. 

Beezie Madden: Yeah, I mean, so there’s, you know, the competition calendar, right, these days is so full. It’s basically a year round sport now. You try to give your horses a break, but I don’t think many of the riders get much of a break. And I think to go to the best shows in Europe, and unless you wanna pay a lot of money, you have to be able to be high enough on the world ranking list in order to be invited or be accepted to those shows. So, you know, if you get low on the list, it’s a vicious circle, because you can’t go to the best shows and you can’t get as many points as other people then. So, it really is about staying high on the list. And the same with our US list. We have a separate US ranking list and to be picked for teams to go to Nations Cups all over the world, you need to stay high on that list as well. 

John Madden: So, it really takes a village. It takes long-term commitment. And it makes me wonder why we’re going down this road again. But I’m just saying that jokingly, but I mean, we’ve, I think, you know, we’re really proud of how things have gone with Southern Arches and Cali Shot and things like that. It’s been fantastic and we’ve worked to help get her in a position where she can go to the best places and we wanna continue doing that. But it sort of reminds us that this is really our passion to do all the intricacies of it. You know, it means getting back to our roots just a little bit and you know, working with more different people and working with more different horses and taking on more clients. And I think we get addicted to adrenaline and as much as, you know, there’s a time and a place for everything and Beezie’s done a great job and she’s got a tremendous amount more to offer. But we’re looking at this like, you know, we can hopefully, we didn’t do so bad all the time and what we’ve done so far and would like to do better to help support the US Team, to help, to support what Victoria is doing and to fulfill our need for adrenaline rush. 

Piper Klemm: Beezie, tell us what it’s like to ride for the team, to be wearing the pink coat. I mean, I think there’s so many goals right now and our sport’s almost confusing for a spectator, but there still is that one singular goal that I think, you know, many people rationally or irrationally dream of. What is the pride like actually competing for your country?

Beezie Madden: Yeah, I was lucky to come along in an era when riding for the team was the most important thing to do. So it was easy to have your focus on that and logical. So, you know, back in the 80s, the US team was the team. I think they won most everywhere they went. And I think we had the AGA tour then, which toured around mostly the Eastern United States, some in the West. That series was the series in the United States. And I think all the best riders in the United States went to those shows. So you were always competing against the best people, at least here in the States when you were here. And then if you were really lucky, you got to ride on a team and go to Europe. And that was pretty much the only way to go to Europe then was to go with the team. So for me, it was easy to have that focus on riding for the team. And then once you get there, my God, it’s fantastic feeling to be competing for their team. And at that time, it was the best team in the world. And I think it still is one of the best teams in the world, although there are a lot more, it’s more competitive now, worldly, but still the US should and expects to be one of the best teams wherever they go. And I think it should be. So I think, you know, if people, once they get the feeling of doing it, I think they’re all excited and gung ho and want to continue to do it. But it’s like you say, there’s so many things out there now, the global champions tour, the major league tour, the Rolex majors, there’s just so much out there that it is confusing, but hopefully we still have enough people around that have a little pride in their country and patriotism and wanting to go to the Olympic Games, which I think it’s really important we keep staying in the Olympic Games to have that care both for riders and for owners.

Piper Klemm: John, tell us a little bit about selecting Victoria. Obviously she’s worked with you all for a long time on and off. What kind of characteristics and attributes really impress you to make this huge investment, which I think we can all argue is a passionate investment because we’re so obsessed with immediate payoffs and this fast culture, but this is a long-term project. 

John Madden: Yeah, this is gonna take us a while and it took us a while to decide to do it. And the easiest thing I can say is just Victoria kept showing up and she certainly has the talent and she certainly has the temperament and she’s done a lot of really good things with maybe limited resources. And we think she’s just a real good person. And I wanna make it clear, I think that Victoria is right here and it’s important for me to say this right in front of her is this is not just an investment in Victoria. This is an investment in what we all want to do. We’re in it together. If it goes great, wonderful. We will have challenges, it will be difficult, but we’re in it 100% together. It’s just as much for me and it’s just as much for Beezie and it’s just as much for our country, we hope, as it is for Victoria. And that’s a theme of what we do here at John Madden Sales. We go up in flames or we go down in flames, but we do it together. And there’s really no question. I mean, the biggest thing for me, and Beezie can talk more about the details of it, but the biggest thing for me is the kind of person that Victoria has shown herself to be and her dedication and her passion for the horses and her discipline to a great extent. And it’s something we wanna do. We wanna have fun with it. And we hope there might be a few other people that wanna get involved with us that wanna enjoy the ride. 

Beezie Madden: We’ve had some experience with having other riders, throughout my career, we had a few of them, Callie Schott being one of them that worked for us. And when they did a good enough job, they got to show some of my young horses as well. So we have had some come and go. And I think Victoria keeps bouncing back. And because we like her and she likes us. So I think we had faith that she was gonna be kind of a stayer. So if we do put a lot into it, she’s gonna stay and wanna be a part of it still too, which is a big part of it. Plus she has a good rapport with the horses. And I think similar thoughts about horses and horsemanship as we have, partly because she’s grown up some with us, but she’s also had other good influences in her life on the horses. 

John Madden: And she’s a great teacher. 

Beezie Madden: Yeah, great teacher and having good background. She’s already got a lot of the stuff in her that we need. So it feels like, yes, it’s gonna take a while, but also we can hit the ground running as well.

John Madden: Because one of the things, we’re really lucky. We’ve had a great, great, and we do have a great relationship with Southern Arches and we’re very, very involved in all aspects of things. But I think one of the things that we also realize partly through, we really miss having a string of horses in our own stable that are at a very high level. And we really were concentrating a lot and will continue to concentrate on things with Southern Arches, but we can continue to grow now. I mean, they’re getting to a place where they’re going really well, and we’re gonna hopefully can continue to keep developing Cali and keep developing what we do with Southern Arches and keep that rolling. But we feel like we have time now to push this aspect of things also. And it’s got a lot to do with pride. And I’m very proud of a lot of the things we’ve done. And I say all the time, it really doesn’t matter what you do, it matters a lot how you do it. And so every intricacy of what you do, everything about your philosophy and principles about how you’re going to manage the horses, how you’re going to care for the horses, how you’re going to work with your clients, how you’re going to handle the situations with different clients that are learning and trying to come up the ladder. All of those things are put in together. And we know that Victoria, through all her experience with us, and as Beezie said, experience with other good professionals in the business, we know we’re on the same wavelength. And I think that’s really, really, really important because how we address every challenge and how we address every success, that’s really important to us. And it’s what brings a lot of pride and satisfaction in what we do.

Piper Klemm: Beezie, John mentioned the word talent. What does talent mean to you?

Beezie Madden: Oh, I think, I mean, it depends on this talent for all different things. I mean, I think you need, obviously people need a talent for riding. Not everybody’s good at it. But also I think you need a talent of being able to present yourself in a professional manner, being able to have people skills. I think you need a talent for competing as well. I mean, some people are great riders and you put a pink coat on them or tell them they’re jumping for $3 million or something. And all of a sudden it’s hard to tell they have any talent sometimes. But so talent can be specific and talent can be broad. And I think what’s really important in the show jumping is the broad talent, not so much the one that has the most talent for riding or the most, you need a lot of talent in a lot of different categories.

John Madden: Yeah, I think that’s really true. You gotta be talented at picking horses. You need to be talented at discipline. You need to be talented at patience. You need to be, like Beezie said, you need to have people skills and you have to have a talent for that. I mean, it’s amazing. I think I could name a list of 20 or 30 people that had more riding talent or looked like they had more talent to be successful in the business than Beezie did when she was 18. And none of your listeners would know their names. So I think Beezie’s right. The broad talent is a very, very, very important part of it. And I’m not sure any one person can have all those things. And that’s why we’re trying to team up together and hopefully use some of our history with what we’ve done to give credibility and hopefully be able to evolve and really keep pushing forward with all of this.

Beezie Madden: I think bravery comes into it a lot. I mean, we have to fess up. We do have a bit of a dangerous sport. So, I mean, you have a 1100 to 1300 pound animal that you’re on top of and you’d like to keep it that way. But I think also bravery and putting yourself out there and saying, I want to ride for the team. I want to be a championship rider. I want to have the best horse and be successful because I think some people have a fear of that as well. You know, they don’t want the best horse because then they’d be expected to produce and they’d be embarrassed if they didn’t. I think, you know, we try to, sometimes we talk about it in terms of basketball or something like that, or it could be soccer or anything like that. When you have only a few seconds left in the game and you need a score to win the game, you need a basket and you want the kid that says, give me the ball, coach, not the one hiding in the corner, hoping that the play doesn’t involve him or her.

John Madden: It’s that, that’s a really good point because if you gave me, I’d be hiding in the corner. That’s not what I do. That’s what Beezie does. That’s what Victoria does is different types of people have different talents. Sorry to interrupt. You were doing beautifully.

Beezie Madden: No, I was done haha

Piper Klemm: Victoria, you had success in the pony ring and the equitation ring as a junior. And then you went to college and graduated in 2015. Can you talk to us a little bit about your pathway and how you saw yourself coming up through the ranks and how you saw your studies and kind of organize your career?

Victoria Birdsall: Yeah. So I came from a family that had nothing to do with horses at all. I really do think that I was born with this kind of love of horses because I had no exposure to it before. When I was a kid, I just wanted to ride a horse. That was all I wanted to do. So for my fifth birthday in February in Massachusetts, which is cold, my family took me for my first lesson and thought, she’ll hate it. It’s cold, it’s miserable, but I loved it. And there was no going back from there. And the competitive nature in me wanted to kind of keep, you know, going to bigger barns that showed more and get more into it and find the bigger shows and, you know, ride as many ponies as I could. And luckily my family really supported me in that and kept me in school. And, you know, I was a good student because I knew I had to be in order to be able to leave and do what I loved doing. So they helped me really balance school while also chasing my dreams. And through my junior years, you know, my mom traveled with me everywhere for lessons and shows. And my dad drove my horses and my ponies and horses. Eventually they bought a farm and, you know, really as a family unit supported me through it. And I knew that I was gonna do this for the rest of my life, even back then. But I did want to get my degree and go through school and have that experience and that option as well. So I did go to Boston College, got a business degree, continued riding through school. I had some young horses, I did some catch riding. I didn’t want to totally lose my place in the horse world. And when I graduated, I just, you know, fully jumped back into it. I moved to Europe. I worked for an American in Europe for a while, worked for some other professionals here, Anne Kursinski and Ilan Ferder, and just gathered experiences in, you know, different environments where I would learn from different people and the different ways that they did it. And eventually found my way back to John and Beezie because through it all, they, you know, I always looked up to them and Beezie was my idol as a kid growing up, obviously. But I think working with them more and really seeing how they did things and how they trained and how their program was, it to me just felt like the perfect fit and where, you know, I really believed in everything they did and how they did it and how they feel about the horse and put the horse first. And so I’m really grateful that I found my way back here and that the timing of everything, you know, worked and there was space for me and that we are kind of moving towards these big goals that I have and that I’ve kind of held onto through all of these different experiences I’ve had through my career so far.

Piper Klemm: You’ve made the decision to really be all in with this. I think that’s a decision that can’t be underestimated a lot. I think a lot of people want to do it all and in today’s world, we have such a backstage pass to most people’s lives that we’re like, oh, that looks interesting or this other thing looks interesting. And I think the singular focus is still what it takes to be at the top and that’s what it’s always taken. But I think there are so many more distractions in today’s world. Was it a big decision to really commit like this? I mean, this is everyday forever.

Victoria Birdsall: Yes, honestly, for me, the decision was not a big decision at all. It was a no brainer. It was written in me from the very beginning. I think I kind of had practice at that, sacrificing when I was a kid in school. My social life was definitely different than the other kids. I didn’t go to all the events at school. I was gone from Thursday to Monday every week, basically. And as a kid, you had to get used to it, having other students and friends say, oh, why aren’t you around? Or where are you gonna be this weekend? Or you’re never here. And it was, you know, as a kid, a little awkward being like, I do this other thing with my life. But that other thing was my obsession and what I loved more than anything. So I think it is a huge commitment and it does take up all of your life. But I think as much as I love it and as much as I think people like John and Beezie and other top people in this sport or any sport really, if you really wanna be the best, I think it takes that deep, deep love of it and kind of deep commitment. 

Piper Klemm: Beezie, when you’re preparing a horse for a big competition, like the Olympics or the World Games, at a moment where they really need to peak perfectly, when do you start that planning? When do you start that training? Like kind of work us backwards from, say, an Olympic event when that timeline begins. 

Beezie Madden: The best way to go to the Olympic Games is with a horse you’ve had for a while. So I would say, you know, each time we had an Olympic Games or a World Championships, but mostly Olympic Games finish, whether we’re involved or not, we’re always looking ahead to the next one. So four years from then, you know, do we have the right horses?  Do we have more that you’d love to have more than one that you have that you’re aiming for that? So I guess the answer is it really starts at least four years before. And then you constantly reevaluate whether you have the right horses or not. And you have to, you know, some people end up getting a horse not that long before the Olympic Games, like Laura did with the Balatonu. That was an amazing feat that she pulled off there. A, getting the horse and B, getting to know the horse well enough before Tokyo that she was an intricate part of the team. But I think really, you know, each year then you have a goal for each horse. We don’t like to ask 100% of the horses more than maybe three times a year. So we aim for three big events for each horse during the year. And how we peak them for that is, I mean, you have to make sure they’re fit enough physically and show fit enough, you know, that they’ve done enough showing that they’re ready for a big competition. And then generally before the big competition, I think we probably have about two weeks of not competing, but just focusing on honing what little things there always is that you need to work on, you know, where I was trying to bring out their strengths and try to minimize their weaknesses all the time. So that’s very individual with each horse, but you know, that’s an ongoing process all the way to the Olympic Games. 

Piper Klemm: John, choosing horses at this level has been such a big, is such a big part of the game. And I remember reading an article in The Chronicle, like maybe 10 years ago that quoted you about how you, when you watch a young horse go, you’re watching their withers more than their legs. Can you kind of explain that to us and how we can all look at young horses a little differently?

John Madden: Yeah, well, it’s just like what, you know, it’s one of the things that I look for and I don’t know if I’m right or not, but we’ve had some luck. And, you know, you want a horse to be like a human athlete. You know, you can have a person that’s, you know, better for distance running, or you can have a person that’s better at sprinting. And let’s face it, there’s kind of different body types that work for those things. So, you know, when you’re picking out a horse, one of the prime things that I look for to answer that specific question is how they leave the ground. And, you know, the horse, they sort of pole vault off their front feet and they get their power from their hind feet. And the front feet control the trajectory and the hind end controls the power. So I want to see a horse that really explodes off the ground. And the best way I can describe it to people when they’re asking about what that means is see sort of the trajectory of the withers, that the withers come back and slam the rider in the chest, hopefully. That’s the best one. Like they got shot out of a cannon, that they come backwards and forward with tremendous power and quickly. And my easiest way to see that is to try to see what the withers are doing in that whole process. 

Piper Klemm: Beezie, tell us a little bit about how the courses and the jumps and then therefore the horses have changed over the decades. Sometimes when I watch, some people who have done it for a long time have adjusted and been extremely adaptable and very successful in many systems. And then sometimes I’ll be watching someone ride and I’ll be like, oh, I like that. That style doesn’t translate as well to the new questions being asked.

Beezie Madden: Yeah, I think over the years, the A, the material has gotten a lot lighter and there’s less of it in the jumps. I mean, you watch some of the old videos and it’s all solid fences. It’s like five rails in a brush box, underneath the front rail of an oxer. And I think the cups have gotten shallower. The poles have gotten made by a machine, so they’re perfectly round. They roll off very easily. Safety cups have made it so that you come down a little on the back rail and the cup gives way, which is safer, but also makes it more delicate or more careful jumping, we call it. So I think the horses have also adapted and gotten more thoroughbred-like, more blood, a little lighter. You don’t really need as much power as, you know, you used to have old-fashioned horses that were big and powerful, and I don’t think those are that useful anymore. I think you need quick scope, where the horse is quick off the ground and can cross the jumps easily by getting their momentum really easy rather than doing it by slow power. You talk about style of riding. I think the ones, riders that get their horses more broke and more rideable are the ones that are doing the best these days, because the horses are much more technical. You need to go forward and backwards and do it in a way where the horse is in the best position to jump the jump, because, you know, when you had those solid fences, you could kind of ride at them, and the horses would be impressed by them and back off, but now there’s really no solid fences out there that can hold the horse off the fence. So you need a horse that’s very rideable and lets you put them in the best place to jump each jump. And also the rider is setting them up for the next jump to come when they’re approaching the jump before. So it’s very technical now, and you need a horse that actually does what you ask them to do, instead of a horse that just kind of, you can cowboy around, and that doesn’t really cut it these days. 

John Madden: One of the things we talk about a lot is the technical courses have, I mean, look, if your horse can’t jump the fences and can’t jump them without touching them, you shouldn’t put them in the class. That’s the jump, the jump itself, the obstacle. But the course is it’s very much linking turns and being able to have the horse in the best position to jump, just like Beezie said. And the test for doing that gets more and more intricate all the time. So, you know, most of the classes now are basically touch classes. When I was younger, we thought the horse jumped real well if he didn’t knock a couple down. And now we think the horse doesn’t jump so well if he touched two in the class. He didn’t have a great day. So a lot of it is the relationship, and I think it should be this way. I’m really happy about this, that it’s much more testing than in the old days, the relationship between the horse and the rider. And one of the things we think about a lot is, it’s scored by knocking the fence down, but we always say you earn it between the fences, because you get the faults when you can’t have the horse in the best position to jump. 

Piper Klemm: How do you go about customizing a horse’s plan for different types of competition like this? I mean, I think like World Cup being indoors, and that’s a different ask and a different horse than Spruce Meadows or something that you’re really galloping. I mean, some horses can do all the things, but it’s even fewer as these different competitions seem to get more specialized.

John Madden: I think we have less specialized competitions now than we did before, but that’s a great question. And we’re really, really lucky. We have a beautiful facility in Wellington, in Grand Prix Village.  So we can, and that’s perfectly suited to have the horses ready for what’s happening down in Florida. Thanks to Mrs. Wexner. We’ve been there for, I don’t know, 20 years or something. It’s a beautiful spot down there in Grand Prix Village. And I’m looking out over our Grand Prix Field right now here in Casanova, New York. And we’re really lucky because we have every natural obstacle you could need. We have about a 20-acre Grand Prix Field. We have a tiny, tiny, tiny little indoor ring that can get you ready for any indoor competition. And then we have a nice outdoor ring where we can get ready for places like Devon or all the sand rings that we see these days. But I think at the end of the day, what we need to do is try to have completely well-rounded horses and take the time to put that foundation in them because the basics never change. And then when you have a really well-rounded horse and the fundamentals of both the horse and rider are really, really good, then we can just make small adjustments. Maybe if they’re gonna go to Spruce Meadows, they do a little more work on the hills and in the big field and jumping the real natural obstacles. And if they’re gonna go to indoors, we jump around our tiny little indoor ring and then the indoor show looks huge. The ring looks giant.

Piper Klemm: Beezie, you broke so many barriers. And I was at a lot of these shows or aware of them at the time, but reading your bio for this and reading them all together, was it something that you were aware of, that you were the first woman to win so many of these things? Was it something that kind of wasn’t even in your consciousness? You were so focused. How did you kind of relate to that, that pressure and knowing that you had millions of little girls looking up to you?

Beezie Madden: I don’t know. I guess having millions of little girls look up to me doesn’t really strike me as pressure, but more so giving meaning to what we did. Sometimes when you look at it, what we do is we’re not curing cancer here when we’re jumping horses around all over the world, but if we do something to inspire some little girl to have a passion in her life, I think that’s wonderful if I inspire some little girl to compete against men and be one of the first women to win certain things or even be more competitive than most of the men. I think that’s kind of a cool thing that there is something important in what we do. So that I didn’t feel pressure, and I also never really thought about that it was special to be a woman rider competing against men because when you grow up here in the United States, it’s more girls than boys when you’re riding at the junior levels. And then really, even when I was first out of the juniors, I was an amateur and I was competing against mostly women again. I think it’s more when you get into the higher levels and people get older because women go off and have families when they’re older or something like that. But for various reasons, it ends up being more men. And then it hit you more when I went to Europe because there were very few women at the top of the sport then other than the other, my fellow Americans. So, I was on many teams with female riders from the United States and there’d be very few female riders at the show. So, it did hit you a little more then, but I never really thought of it as a special thing because in our sport, you do compete equally against men.

Piper Klemm: It’s been really interesting to me doing more coverage in Europe and interviewing how many of the men have wives that are riding all their young horses at home or, you know, like everything’s for them. But then like the outcome, you know, my brain can’t exactly make sense of that because I grew up with all the ferocious female role models. 

John Madden: Again, you come back to it needing to have a lot of support to do this. You know, we know so many European riders that their whole family is involved at all different aspects. And I think it keeps coming back to having to have great support in this.

Piper Klemm: We are who we invest in as a country and, you know, as a sport. Victoria, tell us a little bit, kind of specifically, some closer things that you’re looking forward to or some shows you’re really excited about or horses you’ve gotten to ride.

Victoria Birdsall: So right now, I just got home from a show and it was my first show with a horse owned by Abigail Wexner called Las Lajas. And that was a really exciting experience. She’s a wonderful horse. She’s eight years old. And I’m really excited that Beezie is trusting me to take over some riding on her. We had a great show together and I’m really excited for the future with that. I’m also riding some young horses that we have here and really looking forward to what else we’re going to find and bring along on the team. And I think also not so much just about horses, but looking forward to who else we can bring in and if we get some clients that I can help, like we were saying, inspire some young riders or some adult riders, amateur riders, whoever wants to join the team here with us and be a part of it and move towards the future together. I think we’re excited about that. Show’s upcoming. We’re going back to Michigan quite a lot. We’re going once this summer and then in the fall again. We’ll be going to Ottawa this summer also, which is a lovely show that I went to for the first time last year with John and Beezie and really enjoyed it. They do a great job there. Then we look forward to the fall and then Florida next year. Hopefully we have a good team going and some new horses in the string.

Piper Klemm: John and Beezie, I know that you’re very involved with Callie and you talk to her all the time. She just rode for the team last week. What advice did you give her? What did you want her to know before she put on her pink coat? 

Beezie Madden: I think John went over there with her. I was in Traverse City with Victoria, but I know before Callie left, I gave her some advice. I said, just remember when you’re there with all those people, you want to stick to what got you there. Everybody’s going to have comments or suggestions and wonder why you’re doing this instead of that. But I think I told her you got to always remember that you got to stick with what got you there and have confidence in that. At the same time, you have to be a good team member. You know, you have to root, especially trying to make the Olympic team. It’s a funny atmosphere there. You have to hope that everybody does well because you want the team to do well and you want to end up with a good team at the Olympic Games. But I said, just hope that they do well and you do a little better.

John Madden: And specifically, like when I’m there and whether it’s Beezie or Callie or whatever, I mean, it’s so ingrained in us and I think it’s so important that you can’t tell somebody, don’t be nervous or don’t be excited or don’t. That doesn’t work. It’s just people have to concentrate on those things because you said it. So and then natural reactions. I mean, Beezie, believe it or not, is human. I know a lot of people thought she never had nerves or never has nerves or anything, but she is human and she has all the same emotions other people have. But I think the important thing is the ability to focus on what makes a difference. You know, eyes up, heels down, get the horse forward, straighten and balance. So you have to give yourself something to concentrate on so that you’re not being distracted by things that don’t matter. So the biggest thing we’ve always tried to work on is focus on the things that make a difference. That’s the fundamentals of horsemanship.

Piper Klemm: John Madden, Beezie Madden and Victoria Birdsall, thank you so much for joining us on the plaidcast.

Beezie Madden: Thank you. It’s our pleasure. 

John Madden: Thank you. It was a pleasure doing this. 

Victoria Birdsall: Thanks for having us. 


Piper Klemm: To learn more about anything we’ve discussed on today’s show, visit theplaidhorse.com. You can find show notes at theplaidhorse.com/listen, follow The Plaid Horse on all the social medias. You can subscribe to the print edition of The Plaid Horse Magazine at 
theplaidhorse.com/subscribe. Please rate and review The Plaidcast anywhere you listen to it. And if you enjoy this episode, please share it with your friends. I will see you at the ring!