Top Jumper And Sport Horse Sire Judgement ISF Dies At 29

May 14, 2021 - 3:02 PM

The well-known U.S.-bred grand prix jumper and sport horse sire Judgement ISF has died at age 29, Iron Spring Farm announced today.

“From the moment he was born, throughout his incredible international show jumping career with legends Michael Matz and Beezie Madden in the irons, as a breeding stallion producing grand prix winners, and as a retired celebrity, Judgement ISF was special. Last week, just three weeks shy of his 30th birthday, Judgement ISF, Crown, was laid to rest at his birthplace at Iron Spring Farm in Pennsylvania,” a statement from the farm read.

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Judgement, with Beezie Madden up, became the first North American horse to win the $1 million CN International after posting the best performance in a two-horse jump-off. Tricia Booker Photo/Chronicle Archives

He represented Team USA in two FEI World Cup Finals, the FEI World Equestrian Games and 10 Nations’ Cups. He was the only North American-bred horse to win the $1,000,000 CN International at Spruce Meadows Masters in its 44-year history. He also claimed 25 additional international victories at the biggest venues in the world.

“Judgement ISF was an exceptional horse,” said his breeder and owner, Mary Alice Malone. “He gave us so many thrilling moments. Witnessing the magical connection between him and Beezie was the gift of a lifetime.”

We are reprinting this Dec. 3, 2009, story in remembrance of Judgement ISF’s impact on show jumping and sport horse breeding in the United States:


Judgement ISF Has Raised The Standard Of American Breeding

Many world-class athletes often talk about the defining moments of their careers. They reflect back on that short piece of time that changed everything and catapulted them to success. Mary Alice Malone believes differently.

“For me, careers aren’t defined by one moment,” said Malone, owner and founder of Iron Spring Farm in Coatesville, Pa. “They are defined by a succession of positive accomplishments, consistent effort and success. Judgement has always put in huge efforts, and as a result, he’s been successful throughout his career.”

Judgement ISF (Consul—Faletta, Akteur) has been a force in the show jumping world since he burst onto the scene at the International Jumper Futurity East Coast Finals in 1995. He won all three phases of the competition with Olympian Michael Matz in the saddle, and he never stopped winning. With more than $1.5 million in earnings in his career, Judgement has become one of the most successful U.S.-bred sport horses ever.

“He’d have to be one of the best horses I’ve had,” said Beezie Madden, who piloted the stallion to his numerous accolades after taking over the ride from Matz in 2000. “He was one of those horses that you knew could jump everything out there, so it was fun to go into the ring and see what he could do. Especially when it was hard and the other horses would have trouble, he would shine on those days.”

We’ve Got Something Here

But Judgement wasn’t always the sleek, handsome stallion that he is today. In fact, as a 2-year-old, Judgement didn’t turn many heads.

“He was just a funny horse,” said Melvin Dutton, who has trained horses for Malone for the past 35 years. “He was gangly, not the best looking, big and nothing special. My impression of him wasn’t that much.”

With the help of Andrew Young, Iron Spring’s farm manager at the time, Dutton began breaking the young stallion. While the horse was generally well behaved, he had an ornery streak.

“He would bite and kick but never to hurt. He was just proud,” reflected Dutton. “He knew ahead of time what he was going to be.”

While Judgement may have been well aware of his future success, Dutton and Young continued to train him as if he were any other horse. When they began teaching “Judge” how to jump, however, their opinion of the colt drastically changed.

“The first fence we jumped was a little [crossrail],” said Dutton. “He jumped that jump, and I said, ‘We’ve got something here’. No matter what we put up, he would just play over it. One day there was a four-foot single rail [set in the ring]. We went down to that fence, and he stepped over it, and I said again, ‘We’ve got something here!’”

Dutton reported the stallion’s talent to Malone, and they began preparing him for his inspection. Malone, who had been present at Judgement’s birth and believed in him from the moment she saw him move, felt her hopes come to life when she saw him jump.

“I knew he was something special,” she said. “And when I saw him jumping in preparation for his keuring, I knew he had more talent than any horse I’d ever seen.”

Dutton guided the young horse during the jumping phase of his inspection, and he identified it as one of the greatest moments in his life.

“I felt like I was the proudest person in the world that day,” said Dutton with a smile. “I thought I was somebody. He was super, and I have to give Mary Alice the credit for giving me the opportunity to do it. Everything started to flourish after that. My head was in the clouds.  He got better, and we went to Mary Alice and told her to call Michael Matz.”

An Olympian Takes The Reins

Matz saw the stallion’s potential almost immediately.

“He was just a big 3-year-old that looked like he had a lot of scope and ability,” said Matz. “When I went over to see him, Melvin was jumping him over this wall that he jumped about two feet higher than he was supposed to. One minute he’d run out, then he’d run over the flowers around Mary Alice’s ring, and then he’d jump really high. He was green, but he had an awful lot of raw ability that you could see right then and there.”

Judgement moved to Matz’s nearby barn in the late summer of 1994 and traveled to Florida with him that winter. Matz began Judgement in schooling jumper classes and discovered that he often jumped a foot higher than the actual fence height.

Judgement had his coming out party in 1995, when he dominated the International Jumper Futurity Eastern Finals at the American Gold Cup (Pennsylvania).

“A blind man could have judged that class just by the way the crowd reacted when he jumped,” said Madden. “He was heads and tails above the rest, even as a 4-year-old.”

Matz continued to work with Judgement for the next few years, even as his stable of show jumpers began to be replaced by Thoroughbred race horses. By 1999, Matz was down to Judgement and one other jumper. It seemed fitting that one of Matz’s final grand prix victories came on the 30th anniversary of the American Gold Cup, which he won for a fourth time that day. Judgement’s flawless performance was a mere taste of what was to come.

The Water Jump

Madden first rode Judgement at a horse show where he’d competed with Matz in the grand prix but ducked out at the water jump.

“Michael didn’t have time after the class to school him because he had a plane to catch, so he asked me if I would do it,” recalled Madden. “I got on after the show and jumped a couple fences, and I rode over to John [Madden, her husband] and said, ‘We don’t have any horses that feel like this when they jump.’ ”

After the jump school, Judgement went home to Matz, who competed him in the 2000 Olympic Games selection trials. But after placing 18th overall in the trials, Matz retired from the sport.

“I told Mary Alice that Beezie would be the person who would be best for the horse,” said Matz. “Beezie was one of the best riders out there, and I thought between Beezie and John they could make it work. Beezie is a terrific rider, and not much gets by John. When I sent him to them they had a nice horse to continue with, and his best days were still to come.”

Beezie recalled she was slightly nervous about taking over the ride on the strong stallion.

“I didn’t know if I was going to be strong enough, but I learned that I could handle that kind of horse,” she said. “He was powerful, but he wanted to work with you. It opened my eyes to a different set of possibilities.”

Beezie and John took the stallion home to their farm in Cazenovia, N.Y., and spent nearly a year helping Judgement get over his fear of the water jump by using positive reinforcement, or “clicker training.” They showed a few times in the summer before taking him to Florida, where they spent time taking him to different farms and jumping liverpools and water jumps.

“We were just able to concentrate on nothing but getting him confident over the water,” said Beezie. “We were lucky that Mary Alice was patient enough. He was down there the whole time and did maybe two or three classes in Wellington [that winter]. She was good with it; not everyone would do that.”

Malone, who never questioned Judgement’s talent, was content to let the Maddens take their time.

“He’s a big horse, and I knew he would be a late developer,” she said. “It was really important to me that we give him the time he needed to mature.”

Judgement eventually conquered his fear of the water, and Beezie began pointing him toward larger goals. They began winning, and Judgement’s signature jumping style won him legions of fans throughout his travels.

“The first time we went to Spruce Meadows [Calgary, Alberta], I said, ‘I don’t know how this horse will do here because he’s a little afraid of the water, but the crowd will like him because he jumps high,’ ” Beezie said with a laugh. “Sure enough, they all did.”

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Beezie Madden and Judgement celebrate winning the $1 million 2005 CN International, the world’s richest grand prix. Tricia Booker Photo/Chronicle Archives

The CN International

Spruce Meadows became Judgement’s favorite venue over the years he competed there. He was named the Spruce Meadows National Champion four times during his career (2001, 2006-2008) and took home more than $1 million in earnings from that venue alone.

“His biggest asset was the way he handled the atmosphere and the crowds,” said Beezie. “He performed better when he was on stage a little and puffed up in a situation like that.”

At the 2005 Spruce Meadows Masters, Beezie had planned to compete her Olympic mount, Authentic, in the $824,313 CN International, but after contesting a challenging BMO Nations Cup course in the mud, she wasn’t sure that she wanted the horse to run again the following day.

“We had terrible rain that weekend,” said Beezie. “We were driving to Spruce that morning and it was raining again, so we decided to use Judgement. We had kept him really fresh all week just in case.”

The last-minute switch of horses paid off, as Judgement was absolute perfection in the three-round class, leaving every rail in the cups, and bounding through the mud as if it were the best footing he’d ever been on. He became the first U.S.-bred horse to win the CN International.

“He was the best horse in the world that day,” said Beezie with a smile. “It was incredible. Everyone wants to win that grand prix in their lifetime and their career. To have that under my belt is a great feeling, and it was great for the horse. It was a perfect day.”

Raising The Bar

Judgement’s star continued to shine after his win at Spruce Meadows. Over his 14-year career, he represented the United States in 10 Nations Cups, went to the World Equestrian Games in Jerez, Spain, in 2002, competed in all varieties of classes including six bars and derbies, and raised the bar of U.S. breeding by becoming the winningest North American-bred show jumper in history.

“Hopefully, his success will encourage more and more breeding and developing of a system to get the young horses from the breeders to the top riders,” said Beezie. “That’s where we’re a little weak in our country. A lot of top riders can’t afford to have young horses because it’s such a long road.”

But Malone is hopeful that the future of U.S.-bred horses has been strengthened because of Judgement and others’ successes.

“It has taken a long time for people to realize that not only do we have talented horses in this country, but we also have the riders and trainers to bring that talent along,” she said.

Malone plans to stand Judgement at Iron Spring. She said that the foals he’s sired so far have inherited his kind nature and temperament, jumping talent, good conformation and athletic ability.

Malone believes that because Judgement is a big, powerful horse, he’ll cross well with lighter mares. Ideally, she’s looking to breed him to mares with good conformation and movement that have also had successful careers.

“We have several nice Judgement youngsters and have high hopes for them,” said Malone. “Some of the young jumpers look as determined as he was, so I think they show a lot of promise. The fact that Judgement is sound and fit at 18 years old is a true testament to our breeding program. For me, he is what a breeding horse should be.”

More Than Ribbons And Riches

Judgement officially retired from the show ring at a poignant ceremony at the Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournament (New York) at the end of October where he received a standing ovation.

“I think there might have been some horses that won more things in their lives, but everyone appreciates Judgement for the same things we do,” said Beezie. “He was always there for us, had a long career, and was sound and incredibly scopey. We knew each other so well, and he got to know his job so well. He was old reliable at the end. We’re a little spoiled, and we’re going to miss him.”

While Judgement’s success in the ring and now in the breeding shed has been special for Malone, she’s grateful for the people who helped to mold him, as well.

“What has been really special are the relationships I’ve had with the people who have trained Judgement,” said Malone. “Not only are they talented, but they also truly took care of him as a special horse. This has been a really cool [journey].”

Judgement’s days in the show ring are over, but his offspring look to be following in the path he blazed with his gutsy determination and flamboyant style. It’s hard to imagine, however, another horse quite like him.

“In my lifetime, I don’t want to see another horse better than Judgement,” said Dutton with a smile. “It makes me feel so proud when I see my name next to his and so special to have had the opportunity. Even though [my part] in it was years ago, for him to be around for so long and to see him be so successful, you feel like you’re a part of it. He just made me think I was somebody. It was a great feeling.”

Judgement’s Career Highlights

•    First U.S.–born and U.S.–bred stallion to earn NA/WPN approval; awarded Crown Predicate by KWPN.
•    Named the 2005 Show Jumping Horse of the Year by The Chronicle of the Horse.

2009—$53,362 ESSO Challenge, Canada
2008—$93,787 EnCana Cup, Canada,
2008—$32,825 Finning Welcome Stakes, Canada
2008, 2007—$173,025 Nexen Cup Derby, Canada
2008, 2007—$101,898 CN Performance Grand Prix, Canada
2006, 2008—$50,000 Animal Planet Sport Horse Cup (New York)
2007—Samsung Super League Hickstead Nations Cup, England
2006—$147,270 Shell Cup Derby, Canada
2004, 2006—$27,750 ATB Financial Cup, Canada
2005—$824,313 CN International, Canada
2005—CSIO La Baule Nations Cup, France
2005—CSIO St. Gallen 1.5-meter, Switzerland
2005—Lafarge Cup, Canada
2005—Dublin Six Bar, Ireland
2004—Olympic Selection Trials (sixth place overall)
2004—$150,000 Charlotte Jumper Classic Grand Prix (North Carolina)
2004—Valkenswaard Grand Prix Qualifier, the Netherlands
2003—$100,000 Cosequin US Open Jumper Championship (Florida)
2003—$75,000 Idle Dice Classic (Florida)
2002—$60,000 Budweiser Prix de Penn National (Pennsylvania)
2000—Olympic Selection Trials (18th place overall)

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If you enjoyed this article and would like to read more like it, consider subscribing to The Chronicle Of The Horse. “Judgement ISF Has Raised The Standard Of American Breeding” ran in the December 4, 2009, issue. 

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