American show jumper Beezie Madden is the most successful female rider in modern history.
She has not one but two team gold medals from both the Olympics and the Pan American Games. She has twice won the World Cup Final and she was the first woman to capture the famed King George Gold Cup at Hickstead in Great Britain. (Which she did twice. Consecutively).
Suffice it to say, Beezie is no stranger to the view from atop a podium.
But it’s the pair of bronze medals achieved with Cortes ‘C’ in 2014 that she says were the most memorable of her career.
But before we can tell you that story, we have to tell you this story about the unorthodox gelding and his tumultuous start in Beezie’s string.
Purchased by Madden’s longtime owner Abigail Wexner in May 2011, Cortes ‘C’ came with a unique leg crossing jump style and great expectations.
“We were so high on him,” recalled John Madden, Beezie’s husband and business partner. “We tried him and Beezie said, ‘Do we really have to try him a second time again? I just want to have him.’”
Beezie’s gut proved correct. The pair earned their first 5* Grand Prix win less than three months later. By the time the year was out, they’d collected no fewer than nine top five finishes.
“The horse was so easy and everything went perfectly,” recalled John.
So perfectly, in fact, Cortes was pegged as the mount that would take Beezie to her third Olympic Games, London 2012.
But, as is often the case with horses, their preparation didn’t go to plan. The next winter season at the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida, Cortes was off form. In the first six months of 2012, he and Beezie posted only one clear round in a 1.60m class.
“Florida is notoriously hard on horses,” said John, “it seemed like we couldn’t do anything right. He wasn’t healthy. He didn’t feel good.”
The Madden’s had the bay gelding “tested for everything” by their veterinarian. Test results revealed ulcers—despite the fact that Cortes was already on ulcer medication—digestive issues and allergies.
“Within two weeks, the horse turned around and I don’t think he knocked another fence down for a year and half or two.”— John Madden
Immediately, their medical team went to work on his diet.
“We started with making sure his feed was exactly what it should be, we made sure the ulcers were taken care of, we used the Haygain Hay Steamer to make sure he wasn’t getting funguses and bacteria and things like that [in his feed],” said John.
“Within two weeks, the horse turned around and I don’t think he knocked another fence down for a year and half or two.”
Cortes never made it to the London Games. Beezie competed Coral Reef Via Volo in London instead. But the striking bay gelding would get another shot at a team championship—only this time he was up against tried and true winner Simon for the spot.
Come the 2014 World Equestrian Games™ Normandy, Beezie was spoiled for options in horsepower. The year prior, Cortes racked up international wins in three 1.60m classes, including the notoriously difficult Global Champions Tour Chantilly, as well as a slew of top five 5* finishes around the globe.
Simon, meanwhile, a proven contender purchased from the Netherland’s Jeroen Dubbeldam in 2011, earned Beezie to her first World Cup Final title in 2013 and was so often in the ribbons between 2012 and 2013 that his record is more notable for the few times they didn’t finish in the top 10.
Both horses were in excellent form ahead of team trials for Normandy. It seemed not a question of whether Beezie would make the team, but of which horse she would take.
Then disaster struck.
A few weeks before the US team selection trials were to begin, Beezie was sidelined with a broken collarbone after falling off her upcoming grand prix mount Breitling LS at Old Salem Farm Spring Horse Shows in New York. The break was so severe it required surgery.
“[Qualifying for WEG] looked a little glum at the time,” confessed Beezie.
“I was really lucky with the horses I had at the time because Cortes was already 10 or 11 years old and I had Simon who was obviously very experienced before then—they did not need to show a lot that year leading up to the Games anyway.”
A month and a day after the fall Beezie was back in the saddle. Four weeks later, she was overseas contesting Hickstead, one of only two remaining team observation event for the World Equestrian Games.
“I was planning on doing Simon as my main horse at Hickstead because with more experience, he needed less lead up to it, but Cortes felt so phenomenal,” recalled Beezie, who a week prior had won a 2* Grand Prix with the gelding in Zuidwolde, NED. “We told Robert Ridland, the chef d’equipe, he’s ready.”
That week in Great Britain, Cortes and Beezie made good on their early promise. The pair jumped double clear in the Nations Cup at Hickstead, winning in closely fought battle against the Netherlands and Germany.
Two days later, she captured the Longines King George V Gold Cup with Cortes as well, becoming the first woman to win the class in its 108-year history. (Women were excluded from competing in it until 2008.)
“[Cortes] pretty much sealed his spot on the [WEG] team right there,” smiled Beezie.
The week that followed in Normandy stands out as one of the best in Madden’s career. Cortes ‘C’ and Beezie continued to produce clear round after clear round in France.
“He was the best horse there.”
“He jumped around those courses like they were a 1.30m that week, it felt like,” she said. “I had one little unlucky rail in the second round of the individual final, and then he jumped clear for all the riders in the final four. So he was the best horse there.”
Beezie left Normandy with team and individual bronze medals. They are but two of many earned in her storied career. But for Beezie, that week in France is one of the top three moments of her career.
“It wasn’t as a result our best week, but it was probably one of the best week’s we’ve ever had,” she said.
“Maybe it was better that [I broke my collar bone and couldn’t compete for a month]. You never know. Maybe we would have screwed them up if we had shown more!”
For John, it was a moment reminiscent of the 2006 World Equestrian Games when Beezie took team and individual silver medals with Authentic.
“Those were two weeks when everything just goes well and it makes you feel like you’re smart. It makes you feel like you’re a good trainer. Those were weeks when you feel like you couldn’t go wrong but the reason was because of all the preparation, I think,” he said.
“Every single piece of the puzzle is hugely important. It’s a matter of all those things coming together and then when it gets easy, it gets really easy but getting it to get easy, I wish was easier,” smiled John. “But it’s not.”
Haygain steamers are one solution that has stuck. Steamed hay is now an integral part of the Madden’s program at home and on the road.
“With these horses having them travel so much, they’re just getting so many different things that their immune systems have to react to,” continued John. “Even if it’s not manifested in bumps or sneezing or coughing or whatever, I’m sure we’re overloading their immune systems a lot of the time. And that takes a lot of energy for the horse. So we really started on the Haygain as a really important tool to eliminate the funguses and bacteria in their hay.
“The biggest secret is there is no secret. If you’re really want a lot of success, and we’re real competitive and that’s what we want, it’s mutually beneficial to have your horse as happy and healthy and feeling great as can be,” concluded John.
“That’s your best chance at success.”
Learn more about the health benefits of steamed hay at Haygain.com.