Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024

Let’s All Work Proudly To Improve Our Sport

Our columnist sees a gold-medal opportunity for the show jumping community to propel the sport forward.

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Our columnist sees a gold-medal opportunity for the show jumping community to propel the sport forward.

Most of us are proud to be American, and I’ve always thought this to be true.

I know I’ve always been proud, and I have always thought being proud of something meant criticizing, scrutinizing, examining every aspect to detect flaws, to strengthen weaknesses and stretch limitations.

My wife Beezie and I are proud to be Americans, and every person from every country of the world should be just as proud of their heritage, but what is each of us going to do to cherish, nurture and develop this pride?

Americans are a bit competitive, which is a good thing, as it drives us to improve. America winning means our team winning, but we’re not against the other team.

We, in our hearts, want them to do their absolute best too. We want them to use their best horsemanship, with integrity, honor and empathy for the horse, and we want them to have the performance of a lifetime. Then, we want to do it just a little bit better.

We’re tired of hearing “show jumping is a European sport.” This is our sport, yours, and mine, all of ours. We must use the momentum of recent successes to further this point. We’re the reigning and defending Olympic champions. For eight years, no one in the world can say they are better than us.

What must happen now is for us to exercise the responsibility that goes with ownership. It’s far too easy to allow this to be a Euro-centric sport, to let them do the heavy lifting, guiding, promoting, marketing and leading.

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Let’s admit to ourselves our place in the world of show jumping. We are winners, and we need to concentrate on improving our sport’s recognition in North America. The United States and Canada are forces to be reckoned with, and we’re the powerhouses in our hemisphere.

In the past two World Equestrian Games (2002 and 2006) and Olympic Games (2004 and 2008), our record is fantastic, starting with Peter Wylde’s individual bronze medal aboard Fein Cera at the 2002 WEG in Jerez, Spain, followed by the Athens Olympic Games team gold medal and Chris Kappler’s individual silver medal with Royal Kaliber. The 2006 WEG in Aachen, Germany, also went extremely well with the team silver and individual silver for Beezie and Authentic. And the team successfully defended their Olympic gold in Hong Kong—with the individual bronze for Beezie and Authentic—and Canada earned team silver and individual gold for Eric Lamaze and Hickstead.

One of the most important aspects of this record comes after the medals are awarded. With such an accomplishment comes responsibility. It would be easy to slip into the notion that it is a Euro-centric sport, and we can’t do anything to control it. I feel that this is a cop out! Let’s be proud of being winners. To have pride in something you must be an active participant.

We’ve already won, so how can you be an active participant? Easy! Take part in being the best winner you can be. Whatever you do, do it your best.

If you are a kid with a pony, a recreational rider, or however you partake in our sport, learn more. Read, study and enjoy your horse.

Individuals can support local, national and international events simply by attending. If you want to be more involved, work with local groups—4H, Pony Clubs, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and beyond. Schools are always looking for activities, so offer tours and educational activities for these groups. What may seem normal to you can be a great experience for non-horse people. As cities encroach and people have less contact with animals, these experiences can be very special.

You should also pay attention to what our industry is doing. If a show jumping event is to be televised, e-mail your friends and family, get them all to watch. If we get TV coverage, comment to the network. Support the sponsors that support us and let them know via letter or e-mail that you appreciate what they do. Let your local and state governments know that you are involved with the horse industry every chance you get.

Volunteer for any type of horse activity that you can. Go to a clinic as a rider or as an auditor. Whatever your background or involvement in this industry, there should be nothing holding you back from engaging further. When you stay static you don’t improve.

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Remember, we’re all just pieces of a bigger puzzle, and we can all be part of a bigger dream. Each of us has talents; use yours.

In an effort to make the best tournament we can at the Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournament and National Horse Show this year,  we have everyone from college art students volunteering to paint jumps to our Olympic team making public appearances and everything in between. We have construction workers and truck drivers working diligently and volunteers leading hundreds of elementary students on tours. All of these people are taking pride in an endeavor of excellence, a small piece of meeting our responsibility as a nation of winners.

I hear so many people say, “But what can I do? I’m not a big-name trainer or rider.” I don’t think nationwide recognition in our sport is a necessity for lending a hand toward improvements. Look at our sport and lend your talents to it. We need people in every aspect of life to further our sport’s development.

Sponsor an event, buy a horse, volunteer at a show or barn, serve on a committee, buy a ticket to a show, write a letter, help a competitor, watch on a TV or computer, read a book, lend expertise, do a school project, spread the world to family friends and community. Every small step puts us one step closer to a real improvement in our sport.

Love, cherish, honor, respect the horse, represent our winning team with pride. Don’t wait to be asked—be creative. 

There’s no room for fear of failure.

Our team, under the leadership of George Morris, has thrust us into a position of great responsibility. Let’s rise to the challenge!

John Madden


John Madden, Cazenovia, N.Y., is married to international grand prix rider Beezie Madden. Together, they operate John Madden Sales Inc., where they train horses and riders. The horse business has encompassed John’s entire life, and in addition to his business he’s the Organizing Committee Chairman for the Syracuse Sporthorse Tournament (N.Y.) and on the USEF High Performance Show Jumping Computer List Task Force. He began contributing to Between Rounds in 2008.

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