The Florida equestrian community comes together to helpa hardworking young rider after a tragic accident.
Madison Myers experienced the holiday spirit of giving in spades this year after a tragic car accident took her horse’s life in October.
Myers considered the big bay gelding her horse of a lifetime, and she’d purchased him with her own money just a year earlier. After Holden On (“Holden”) was killed, in the midst of dark clouds, a silver lining emerged as several equine professionals banded together to help Myers, donating their time, skills, equipment and even a horse.
Now Myers, Valkaria, Fla., is looking toward the future with her new mount, though her recent loss still weighs heavily on her mind.
A Horse Called Holden
Myers, 16, started riding almost 11 years ago and bought her first horse in 2002 to do 4-H and local shows. By early 2007, she realized she’d gone as far as she could with him and had a desire to do bigger equitation
classes. By working as an assistant barn manager at a local farm, she saved around $15,000. She started horse shopping but hadn’t found the perfect horse after a year of looking.
In June of 2008, she looked at another prospect. That one didn’t work, but the trainer offered to let her try a
second horse, even though he was more than she could pay.
“As soon as I sat on Holden, I said, ‘Yes, this is it,’ ” Myers remembered. “He was perfect. Even though he was way out of my price range, the economy helped me out. I made the trainer the only offer I could make, and he took it.”
Though it was love at first sight for Myers, her trainer Bridget Imparato, based at Showtime Horse Sales in Beverly Hills, Fla., initially didn’t feel the same way about the Holsteiner gelding.
“At first I thought she quite overpaid for him,” Imparato said. “His feet were in such bad shape that he couldn’t wear shoes for a year. But she patiently did flat work and fed him well and waited for him to get healthy enough.”
Per her farrier’s request, Myers left shoes off of the horse for a full year, allowing him to grow enough hoof wall to properly hold a nail again. After a year of flat work, Myers started work on their jumping, only to find another issue with Holden—he was a stopper.
“I think he’d just been in a bad management program,” Imparato said. “I think they’d been jumping him on those bad feet, and he learned to be a little uncooperative.”
However, Myers persevered and soon had Holden comfortably and confidently jumping around 3'3" courses at home and showing in the 2'6" and 2'9" classes. The pair competed at a few local shows, earning ribbons in equitation and hunter classes.
“He was really going well,” Imparato said. “They were looking forward to doing more medal classes next season and [U.S. Equestrian Federation] rated shows.”
With her horse finally going the way she wanted, Myers applied to the U.S. Hunter Jumper Association Emerging Athletes Program, a series of training sessions held with Olympic Games gold medalist Melanie Smith Taylor. She barely missed making the cut and decided to participate in a Melanie Smith Taylor clinic, Oct. 3-4 at Heritage Horse Shows (Fla.), to help her chances of being accepted in the future.
After two days of excellent instruction, Myers and her mother, Marion, packed up their truck and trailer to make the drive back home to the Orlando area.
“The clinic went extremely well,” Imparato said. “I met Madison and her mother there, and Melanie just adored her.”
A Change Of Plans
On the way home from the clinic, about 10 minutes from their destination, another car clipped the back of the Myers’ trailer, causing the truck and trailer to flip repeatedly. Marion and Madison were airlifted to a hospital from the scene of the accident while Holden received veterinary care.
Madison escaped with bad bruises and deep scratches on one hand while Marion suffered a fracture in her neck and severed tendons in one wrist. Holden initially appeared to just have surface cuts but died of internal injuries two days later.
“I didn’t hear about the accident until several days later,” Imparato said. “I’d been leaving all these uplifting messages on her voicemail about how impressed Melanie was by her and Holden, and I didn’t know her horse was dead.”
Madison was devastated. Though her thoughts were consumed by grief and her time spent first by visiting her mother in the hospital and then by driving her to doctor appointments, she immediately began thinking about her riding career again. She put word out that she was seeking an inexpensive horse.
She called Imparato and told her to look for anything that could be suitable. When Imparato spoke with Bonnie Navin, who organized the Taylor clinic at Heritage and had been impressed by Madison’s work ethic and riding ability, she also started looking for solutions. She called her friend Evelyn Frei at European Warmblood Stallion Zentrum, a sales facility with locations in Ocala, Fla., and London, Ont.
“Bonnie Navin told me the story and asked if we would have anything,” said Frei. “We happened to have a horse down here, and I said we could probably do something. I checked with my son and after talking said, ‘This girl probably deserves a horse and needs a horse.’ We came to the conclusion to donate one of ours.”
The horse Frei decided to donate was Le Carlos (Le Comte II—Aspin), a 4-year-old chestnut Holsteiner listed for sale at $25,000.
“Le Carlos was what we had available right now in Florida and what we thought would suit her best,” Frei said. “She needed something kid friendly and uncomplicated with a good temperament. My understanding was that she didn’t need an Olympic horse—she just needed a best buddy to help her get over the horse she lost. That’s kind of how we decided to give her the horse. I have five kids myself, and anytime anything happened to one of their horses it was just devastating.”
Though Le Carlos was a little greener than Holden had been, he was everything Madison could have wanted in a new partner. Though Frei didn’t know it, Carlos is distantly related to Holden, and the two share similar characteristics.
“He has the exact same personality as Holden,” Madison said. “I really, really like him. He’s super cute over fences and goes right up to the base of everything. He’s not spooky at all, which is actually a nice change for me.”
Imparato echoed the sentiment that Madison and Carlos are turning out to be an excellent team.
“He was going a little already,” said Imparato. “He was at least walking, trotting, cantering and going over
small jumps. The horse came here first, and we test rode him to make sure it was suitable. Madison spent a long
weekend with us and got on the right track. It seemed like a very good match.”
Carlos wasn’t the only gift Madison was given. As part of her recovery package she also received a free
camp session and show training with Imparato, transportation for Le Carlos from EquestrianCollegeRecruiter.com, a tack trunk and equipment from Denna Johnson at College Bound Invitational, a gift certificate for tack from Missy McNeill of Ocala, Fla., $100 worth of photos from Jack Mancini of Wellington, Fla., a custom horse hair pottery vase from BatesPottery.com in Holden’s memory, a custom crystal browband from Stallion Stones, custom artwork of Holden from Eric Smith, a free two-day clinic at Heritage Horse Shows from Butch and Lauren Medlin, and insurance for Le Carlos from Jane McGuire, Navin, Lorraine and Renee Roe of Showboat Stables. She also received gift certificates for lessons from top trainers Frank Madden, Harold Chopping, Jennifer Johnston, Scott Stewart, Josee and Jack Stedding and Jennifer Papiernik.
Madison couldn’t be more thankful for how the community rallied around her during her time of need.
“I was completely shocked and so grateful,” an emotional Madison said. “I couldn’t even believe it. There’s no way I can ever thank anybody enough.”
Frei insisted no thanks are necessary. “That was kind of the purpose of this, to just help get her over this devastation, especially with her mother being injured,” said Frei. “They’re very vulnerable at that age, and if you have the means it doesn’t hurt to give something back. I hope they’re going to do well together, and at least she has a best friend. It was really no big deal. She needed a horse, and we had one available.”
Madison, who is home schooled and enrolled in classes at a local community college, is a high school junior and has already started visiting colleges. Her goal is to double major in equine science and graphic design. She’s still active in 4-H, especially in horse show judging, and was the 2009 Individual Florida State Champion in 4-H horse judging. She would like to apply for her learner judge’s license with USEF when she turns 21.
And now that Madison again has a suitable horse, she’s looking forward to the 2010 show season. She taught Le Carlos lead changes a few weeks ago, and they are jumping around small courses at home. Her truck and trailer were totaled, so she’ll have to rely on rides to shows and lessons for a while but has already had several offers of help. She’s also aiming for the 2010 Developing Riders sessions and is working with Alana French at Atlantic Crossing Stables in Vero Beach, Fla.
“We’ll just stick with little show series this year,” Madison said. “I might try to qualify him for the Marshall & Sterling Bit O’ Straw Finals. Hopefully next year we’ll be ready to do more.”
Though she’ll never forget Holden, Madison intends to make the best of her situation by enjoying her time with Carlos. A few weeks ago, she had the opportunity to meet and personally thank one of her benefactors, something she was thrilled to do.
“We had an open house here, and her family came out,” Frei said. “She’s a very, very nice girl. We are not sorry at all that she has one of our horses. She sends pictures from time to time and posts updates on Facebook. I guess they are in love.”