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March 30, 2006

Show Jumping Horse of the Year: Judgement ISF

Driving to the Spruce Meadows show grounds in Calgary, Alta., on a wet, rainy Sunday morning, Beezie and John Madden made a tough decision: To jump Judgement ISF in the $824,313 ($1 million CAN) CN International grand prix that day.

"Originally, we planned on showing Authentic," Beezie said. "But Authentic had already done one round of the Nations Cup in pretty difficult, muddy going, and it was still raining. We decided that Authentic shouldn't go again, and Judgement had only shown in one class, so he was a lot fresher."

The decision paid off in spades when Judgement jumped two flawless rounds over one of the biggest courses in the world, and then came back to jump off faultlessly--and faster than Arko and Nick Skelton--to claim the big victory. Judgement was the first American-bred horse to win in the class' 25-year history. "He's always been good there, even in the mud. When it gets sticky, he kind of gets mad and really fights harder through it," Beezie said.

It's a moment that Beezie ranks as her highlight of the year, and which U.S. Chef d'Equipe George Morris remembers well. "That horse isn't the easiest over water, and there was a big, spooky double of liverpools and a big water fence on the course," he said. "I was very apprehensive, but Beezie rode it just to perfection. That was a brilliant day for her as a rider. The horse was the best he's ever been, and she gave him that chance."

The day also stands out for owner and breeder Mary Alice Malone. "Judgement has a wonderful work ethic and temperament, and he's certainly there for Beezie when she asks him to go all out for her. What can I say--he's just really special," she said.

It was a victory that seemed a long way off when Beezie took over the ride in 2000. Then, the big stallion had gotten off to a promising start under superstar Michael Matz, winning the International Jumper Futurity East Coast Finals (Pa.) in 1995, and the $60,000 American Gold Cup (Pa.) in 1999.

"Judgement had a basic education that included dressage, but from the beginning he was an amazing jumper," said Malone, who's trained five horses to Grand Prix-level dressage. "Melvin Dutton started him, and you could really see that the horse could jump. Any horse that's very athletic can do both dressage and jumping. But Judgement just seemed to want to jump, and it made him exuberant."

Still, he developed a reputation for disliking water jumps, a reputation of which Beezie and John were well aware.

"The first time I ever sat on Judgement was when Michael still had him," Beezie recalled. "Judgement stopped at the water--the last fence in the grand prix. Michael had a flight to catch to get out of there, so he arranged that we could school him over the water. I wasn't so excited about that. But I jumped a few warm-up fences, and I rode up to John and said, 'We don't have any horses that feel like this.' You could immediately feel how much power he has--it's a great feeling off the ground. And I did get him over the water that day."

But it wasn't until after the 2000 Olympic trials that Beezie and Judgement would reunite. The Maddens were disappointed that Beezie and Cockney hadn't made the cut for the U.S. team. "But that day, Michael said he wanted to send Judgement to us. I remember that it turned from my worst day to my best day," John said. "All of a sudden, I didn't care about the Olympics. Vintage Farm and Michael, when they were competing, were probably the No. 1 organization that we emulated. That was the biggest compliment we could get."

At first, Beezie had some trepidation about riding Judgement. "It was a little intimidating that he came from Michael, because I have a lot of respect for Michael," she said. "We felt like if we hadn't done a good job, we would have been letting him down too. But it was more so because the horse had a reputation of being a big, strong stallion, and I didn't know if the match would work."

Beezie and John knew they'd have to conquer Judgement's water jump phobia to realize his full potential. "But the water issue wasn't so much that he was trying to work against the rider--it was that he had a genuine fear of it. If you walked him up next to the water, his heart would pound," Beezie said. They used positive reinforcement training--"clicker" training--to assure Judgement that water wasn't to be feared. They didn't show him for the whole first year they had him in their barn, while working on getting him confident about water jumps.

Judgement first showed with Beezie at the summer series in Spruce Meadows in 2001, where water jumps were frequently on courses. Their patience paid off, and Judgement tackled the water jumps and liverpools without problem. While they occasionally refresh Judgement's clicker training, he's become a reliable water jumper.

They traveled to Jerez, Spain, in 2002 as the reserves for the U.S. team, but ended up competing when Molly Ashe's Kroon Gravin was injured. It was Beezie's first time on a championship team. And in 2004, they ended up sixth in the standings to qualify for the Athens Olympic team.

But Judgement isn't just a grand prix horse--"He's an extraordinarily capable horse--he can jump any fence you can build," said John. "He can win every kind of class. He's won six-bar classes, speed, derbies, Nations Cups, and the biggest grand prix in the world."

In between his competitions, Judgement spends between six and eight weeks each winter breeding at Iron Spring. "We didn't start breeding him until fairly late because we wanted him to concentrate on jumping, so his oldest foals are just 3 years old," said Malone. "His babies are lovely, well-proportioned, good-moving, big horses that have shown a lot of scope and correct form over fences."

Personal Profile
Description: 1991 American-bred Dutch Warmblood, dark bay stallion, 17 hands, by Consul--Faletta, Akteur.
Breeder and Owner: Iron Spring Farm, Coatesville, Pa., owned by Mary Alice Malone.
Rider: Beezie Madden.
Honors: First American-born and -bred stallion to earn NA/WPN approval; awarded Crown Predicate by KWPN.
Homes: John Madden Sales, Cazenovia, N.Y., and Iron Spring Farm, Coatesville, Pa.
Biggest Fan: Meghan de Garay, Iron Spring breeding manager.
Type: "To ride, he's much more sensitive than you'd think from watching him. He's not a cold horse. We've been able to quicken him up a little bit and make him even lighter to ride, because that's more my style. But really, I didn't have to adjust to him much," said Beezie.
From The Beginning: "Judgement was born an athlete," said Malone. "But even though he was special, it's all of the people who have ridden, showed, groomed and taken care of him who have helped him reach his potential. There are two things you must do when you have a talented horse: 1) You must realize you have something special, and 2) You have to put him with the right people."

2005 competitive highlights
1st--$824,313 CN International (Spruce Meadows, Calgary, Alt.)
1st (tie)--Irish Field Six-Bar (Dublin, Ireland)
2nd--$137,468 Shell Cup Derby (Spruce Meadows, Calgary, Alt.)
2nd--$25,000 WEF Challenge Cup round 7 (Tampa, Fla.)
2nd--$25,000 WEF Challenge Cup round 8 (Wellington, Fla.)
Member winning U.S. team at Samsung Super League Nations Cup in La Baule, France.
 
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