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Beezie Madden Reveals It's a Long Road to the Olympics

By Stephanie Lawson

John Madden likes to swear large groups of people to secrecy, but you didn't learn that here.

He also likes to give credit where he feels credit is due.

Credit to all the US Equestrian Team supporters and US Equestrian Foundation members whose contributions, regardless how small, helped his wife Beezie and her Olympic show jumping team members win the gold medal for the US, for the second Olympics in a row.

Credit to Bates Saddle, who patiently worked with the duo over five years to perfect a saddle that perfectly fits all 20 of the horses they work, using adjustments their grooms can make in minutes. "They are fantastic in supporting the sport," he said.

"I don't do this, the staff does, because we're always running around," he said as he fiddled with the D rings under the flaps, which in this saddle unscrew so the entire saddle, secured by Velcro, opens up. In that position, the tree can be made larger or smaller, wedges of foam added or removed, so the saddle fits any horse perfectly. The Bates people come to you to fit it to each horse, he said.

John and Beezie Madden were in Norristown, PA September 14 to sign autographs and speak about the Olympics and other topics at the first Horsatack store to open in the US.

Anchor Position

Beezie, who rode the anchor position for the 2008 gold medal US Olympic team, also earned the individual bronze. It was her second team gold medal, but her first chance to stand in gold medal position on the podium. The 2004 US team received their gold medals in the mail after the German team was dethroned in a doping scandal months after the Games.

What was she thinking as the National Anthem played? "I was thinking about all the people who made it possible. The staff close to us, and all the people across the US that contribute to the USET Foundation and USEF."

"The overwhelming feeling from the Olympics was gratitude," John added. "It takes so much to win those things. Since Athens our goals were the World Championships and the Olympics. If you think of the infinite things that can go wrong, and what it takes for things not to go wrong, to end up with the third best possible outcome is amazing."

The best outcome being, of course, team gold/individual gold, and the second best possible outcome, gold/silver.

"We started in 06 after the World Equestrian Games," Beezie said. Her 2004 gold medal horse, Authentic, was eleven and the goal was to have him peaking for the 08 Olympics. "We started then scheduling his competition and vacation times. We showed him selectively in 07, including indoors at Harrisburg and Syracuse. Even though the Olympics are outdoors, indoors is good experience for all horses because the crowd is close and the jumps come up fast.

"We had him aimed to peak for the selection trials, but at less than 100 percent in order to save him for Hong Kong," she said. As it turned out, they received a bye and did not have to compete.

Their selection marked the start of eight weeks of fitness training -- two rides a day, time daily on the walking machine and turnout. "He was almost never in his stall," she said.

Month in Europe

The Maddens spent a month in Europe prior to the start of the Olympics. Authentic finished fourth in the Rolex Grand Prix of Aachen (Germany) and turned in a clear round in the Samsung Super League Nation's Cup.

Quarantine began the first week in June. "We wanted to be able to train the way we wanted, when we wanted, so we decided to quarantine at a small farm in Holland. The owners had to take all their horses away, and their neighbors had to remove their horses. We had to move our horses while we stripped the stalls, disinfected and rebedded everything to begin quarantine. From June 1 through the Olympics in August, all the horses had 'whereabout' papers, and their every movement was recorded. No new horses or equipment could be brought in. There were foot baths and hand washing stations, daily nose swabs and daily vet visits."

Team coach George Morris organized a training session at a small nearby horse show. The organizers brought in new footing for the event and ten thousand people showed up to watch. "George was able to set the exact course to sharpen them. It was like being at a horse show but you could walk if you needed to or repeat something if you wanted," Beezie said.

The day after the show the team was officially approved to leave for Hong Kong.

"The guy sent to pick up our equipment spoke no English, but eventually he made it known that every piece of equipment had to be labeled and numbered. We had to have a final count of pieces of equipment and we had to be under a certain weight limit," Beezie said.

Hong Kong Typhoon

Everyone -- from horses to vets to USEF staff -- was to take one 12-hour KLM flight from Holland to Hong Kong. The plane was a regular 747 with about 40 rows of seats and the back section converted to cargo. The passengers could reach the horses via a door.

Just before takeoff the pilot reported that a typhoon in Hong Kong might result in the flight being diverted to Taipei. The horses could potentially be on the plane for 24 hours.

"George ordered the horses, the grooms and me off the plane," John said. "I didn't even have time to tell Beezie I was leaving. We stayed behind with the horses and everyone else went on." The passengers landed safely in the typhoon, the horses followed the next day.

More credit from John -- "KLM is one of the premier shippers of animals. We've shipped horses that were next to elephants and giraffes. That plane flew without the cargo and the airline took a hit, and they did it out of concern for the horses."

The first days of competition just nine days away, the next hurdle became credentials. "Just four credentials were issued for each horse -- two for the owners, one for the rider and one for staff so we had to be very creative to get access for our support people," Beezie said.

Five days out, McLain Ward's horse, Sapphire, developed heat rash on her barrel. Medication was forbidden and Ward could not ride the mare for several days.

Stabled Together

The US eventing, dressage and show jumping teams were all stabled in one aisle and the riders and staff, whose paths rarely if ever intersect, enjoyed getting to know one another. The eventing team asked the show jumpers to walk the course with them and contribute their expertise.

The team chose to stay at a Sheraton rather than the Olympic village so that family and staff could stay with them. They had their own doctor, as riders as well as horses are under anti-doping regulations. The vet and the MD supervised the respective drug testings. The Americans were also accompanied by a representative from the State Department and one from the FBI, who provided security.

The first day of competition did not count toward medals but was to qualify the top 35 horse and rider combinations to compete as individuals. All four members of the US team qualified.

After two days off, it was back in the ring for the first day of team competition over a course that was 'not as big as Athens but tricky,' Beezie said. On their way to a clear round, Authentic began furiously shaking his head and ran past the triple. "He didn't even see it. When he did jump it he was still shaking his head and holding it down."

Cost the Lead

The error cost Beezie 11 faults and the team the lead. Her score was dropped and the US tied Switzerland for first place with four faults. "It was bittersweet because without the head shaking we would have been alone in first place. We were a little deflated," Beezie said.

Authentic continued to shake his head all the way to the barn. "He wears a bonnet and we thought some condensation or sweat may have gotten in his ear. We eliminated the bonnet but the head shaking continued somewhat. Later we flushed his sinuses and he was perfect after that."

Tied for first with Canada after the first round of the second day, the Americans found themselves in a jump off for the team gold medal. Clear rounds from teammates McLain Ward, Laura Kraut and Will Simpson meant Beezie did not have to jump. 2008 Olympic gold -- the US. Olympic silver -- Canada.

"It was like another day at Spruce Meadows," Beezie said. "The Europeans think they dominate equestrian sports, and here it was all North America on the podium. The crowd stayed and it was really exciting."

Jump Off for Bronze

Two days later, the individual finals began. The first round yielded ten clears from 35 riders. The second course, for clears and four faulters -- McLain Ward and Beezie among them -- was harder, Beezie said. With a rail down, she figured she was out of luck. But with two double clears and seven riders with four faults, a jump off for bronze ensued.

"It was a fun jump off for the crowd because everyone was at full tilt," she said. "McLain had the idea to jump a bush for a short cut -- it was the only way to win. He wiped out the last fence, but he showed me the way to win.

"We were together for a long time, we all got along great, and winning was a real team effort. All the US horses came out great, they're home and healthy. Authentic is turned out with his shoes off and we're starting the preparation for the World Equestrian Games next year."

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