No horsing around in preparation for ’12

May 27, 2011, 12:29 p.m. (ET)

Beezie Madden wasn’t entirely sure what to expect during the equestrian Rolex World Cup Jumping Final late last month in Leipzig, Germany.

She’s had many years of success, ranging from three Olympic medals — two team and one individual — to numerous prizes and titles on the prestigious Rolex circuit.

But Madden isn’t riding Authentic, her tried-and-true competitor. She’s been bringing along new horses this season, trying to get a few ready for the London 2012 Olympic Games and beyond.

Authentic, her Dutch Warmblood mount for the 2004 Games in Athens and the 2008 Games in Beijing, incurred a tendon injury in 2009 and is now happily living a life of leisure at her farm in Cazenovia, N.Y.  

Madden isn’t comparing every horse in her stable to Authentic, as that’s a lot to live up to. But it appears she may be grooming some very competitive replacements.

Madden finished the Jumping Final in fourth place, marking the highest placement for any American, male or female, thanks to the efforts of Coral Reef Via Volo, with an early assist from Danny Boy. She missed third place by just one point.

“I’m thrilled at the way everything turned out, because you can only hope young and inexperienced horses will respond to everything the way you hope,” Madden said. “When it comes down to it, you aren’t going to know what’s going to happen until you’re in the moment. Via Volo, and especially Danny Boy since he hasn’t competed much, could have gotten anxious or stressed by the situation. It’s a normal part of their learning curves. They showed they’re really coming along well, and I am just really proud of both of them.” 

Being at a big international competition can stress equestrians and their horses. Flying long distances, being in a new place with different smells and sounds, and then competing in an unfamiliar venue before large crowds can be disorienting for horses.

“It can be very intense, as they’re all by themselves in the ring, with 10,000, even 20,000 people watching their every move,” Madden, 48, said. “That’s when you really start learning about where the horse is at.”

Madden had even deeper questions about Danny Boy, given his health issues over the past year.

Danny Boy, an 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding, was seriously ill for months with an autoimmune virus, causing him to drop weight and become weak. He’s been nursed back to health, but Madden wasn’t sure if he was completely ready to resume high-level competition after only a handful of appearances this year.

“He had a cough, fever, and big legs, which is bad news for a horse,” Madden explained. “When you run a fever like that for a while, it gets more dangerous with the complications. It took a long time for Danny Boy to get back to himself. We’re very lucky he did come back, as it was really touch and go for a while since he was sick for so long.”

She decided to use Danny Boy in the early legs, where she could take advantage of his speed.

Via Volo, a 13-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare, came out for the second and third legs. Madden and Via Volo were perfect, racing through the course with no faults.

Madden vaulted up the results on the last day, finishing fourth with 11 faults.

“Via Volo was nothing short of amazing, handling the entire situation with calm and strength,” Madden said.  “Via Volo performed exactly the way we hoped. Having Danny Boy come through too is an added bonus.”

Madden will continue working with Danny Boy and Via Volo, plus other very green Olympic hopefuls in Belgian Warmblood geldings Cortes C and Zhivago. She’s mulling over bringing Authentic, 16, back for a last Olympic run, considering he was one of the best international competition jumpers of the 2000s. She admits Authentic probably is going to stay retired, as he hasn’t competed in two years and shows signs of being quite content.

“When I looked in on him today, he was throwing mud and playing around,” Madden said. “He’s living a good life right now. It would take a lot to get him back to where he’d need to be, but you never know. We’re thinking about it.”

The American team still needs to lock up its spots in the London field over the coming season. Madden has applied to be on the team, wanting to be part of her third Olympic Games.

“Being in the Olympics is something different for us, because usually we don’t have people who aren’t into jumping watching us,” said Madden, who first competed and won team gold in the 2004 Athens Games. “The Olympics is the only place where we’re part of the rest of the sports world, get to be on a team with everybody else in America, so it’s special and unique. We hope people watch jumping and fall in love with it. We feel the pressure to put on a good show.

“And London will be incredible, considering how knowledgeable they are about equestrian sports and their proud history.”

Bringing a horse along, and then seeing it reach its potential in the Olympic Games or big international competitions remains a special thrill for Madden.

“I never compare any horse to Authentic, because I tell everybody that he’s my once-in-a-lifetime horse,” Madden said. “Not every jumper gets an Authentic, so you never want to be greedy enough to assume you can have another in your career. But I am really excited about Via Volo, Danny Boy and the others. You never know if lightning can strike you twice. That’s the challenge and the gamble you live for as a competitor.”

 

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Joanne C. Gerstner is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.