Four-time Olympic medalist Beezie Madden, coming off a silver medal at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, feels that age is but a number.
In Rio, she was the second-oldest member for Team USA.
Now 53, the four-time Olympian and Wisconsin native who makes her home in Cazenovia, New York, is looking forward to another rung almost as important as the Olympic Games in the sport of equestrian.
Madden and a team of four other U.S. riders will be competing in the FEI Nations Cup Jumping Final, one of equestrian’s oldest and most prestigious team events, which runs Sept. 28-Oct. 1 in Barcelona, Spain.
“We’ve made it a huge priority this year,” Madden said before warm-ups on Wednesday in Barcelona.
“This is a year we had no Olympic, world or Pan American championships, and we feel it’s the best team we could possibly have. … The Olympics are the ultimate in a sport, I think, so if you’ve done that, you’ve done the pinnacle of your sport, and any experience gained helps you in the future. Being an Olympian obviously it’s a very huge advantage. All four team members for this week are Olympic veterans, so we should have experience on our side, plus a young fifth, who’s had a phenomenal year.”
Madden is once again teaming up with fellow two-time Olympic gold medalist and 2017 FEI World Cup Jumping champion McLain Ward, along with 2008 Olympic gold medalist Laura Kraut, 2000 Olympian Lauren Hough, and newcomer Chloe Reid, the under-25 rider who has been turning heads at international competition.
Madden is on Darry Lou, Abigail Wexner’s 9-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion; Ward is on HH Azur, Double H Farm and Francois Mathy’s 11-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare; Hough is on Ohala, the Ohala Group’s 13-year-old Swedish Warmblood mare; Kraut is on Confu, St. Bride’s Farm’s 10-year-old Holsteiner gelding; and Reis is on Codarco, Team Reid LLC’s 10-year-old Irish Sport Horse stallion.
This year’s team jumping — which features a 10- to 13-jump course — has a different format than other years, starting off with 15 teams that get whittled down to eight for final round. Along with that elimination day, teams have the option to substitute a rider.
“We have to be good from the get-go,” says Madden, who won the 2014 world cup finals on Abigail Wexner’s horse Simon in Gothenburg, Sweden, becoming only the fifth woman to win the event, with Simon subsequently winning 2013 USEF International Horse of the Year.
“The possibility to switch one rider for the next match is a little bit different format,” she added, “but I think it’s an advantage. We’ll draw on our one horse, and if a rider looks subpar, we can go to a reserve. We’ve done that several times this past year and been successful with it. No one likes to be benched, but we’re all here to win a team event, and that’s what we’ll do.”
Germany is the defending team champion, but Madden is planning on surpassing the bronze medal the U.S. team won last year with good reason.
Under Robert Ridland, the chef d'equipe, Team USA has won four gold medals and garnered eight FEI Nations Cup podium spots in 10 competitions. Out of 30 possible horse/rider combinations, a U-25 development rider has been used 16 times, providing for a veteran leadership as well as a bright future.
Madden said that equestrian riders begin to peak in their 40s, and some in their 60s still compete in the Olympics. The horses usually range in ages from 9 to about 16, and the hope is that they can qualify a horse for two Olympics.
“You need a lot of experience and a lot of years behind you to get to the Olympic level,” Madden explained.
Of all her Olympic competitions — Athens, Beijing, London and Rio — Madden says that Athens stands out.
“It was my first, and it was the first for everyone else,” she said. “We were not expected at all to be favorites to win the gold, and we naively went in. I actually was the anchor rider, and when I got up, I asked if we had a chance to win and they said yes, if I can go clear (execute every jump with no penalties), we can go in a jump-off to win.”
Riding Authentic, Madden rode clear and Team USA won the gold medal in a jump-off. Madden also rode Authentic to team gold and an individual bronze medal in 2008.
“It’s a difficult sport because you need two athletes (the horse and rider) to peak at one time,” Madden said. “You can’t really tell a horse when it does well. You take what you get. The difficult part is both of you peaking at the same time, you have such a short window.”
Madden is riding for such a golden peak this week.