Madeline Backus, 21, completed her first four-star at the Kentucky Three-Day Event last April, funding her trip to Lexington in a unique way—by holding bake sales. Since finishing 20th in the competition, Madeline and her 16-year-old homebred mare, PS Arianna, have by no means been slacking off. “My next big goal would be to do a CCI*** or possibly even a CCI**** overseas,” Madeline said.
Until the pair finds their way across the ocean, Madeline and “Ari” are busy at home and finished second in the CIC*** at The Event at Rebecca Farm in Kalispell, Montana, in July. Madeline also earned the Guinness Award for highest-placed young rider. “I was very happy with Ari. I thought she put in some great trot work. Leslie Law, the USEF Eventing Emerging Athlete coach, schooled us before dressage, so that really helped.”
Despite Ari’s age, Madeline has no issues keeping the mare in shape and credits an interval-training program developed by her mother, Laura. The program focuses on trot sets completed on hills with nine minutes of trot and seven minutes of canter followed by nine minutes of trot with a one-minute walk break before starting the next set. The set is completed three times. (For Novice and below the set is timed at three, five, three. Training level requires sets of five, three, five. CCI* events require sets of seven, five, seven.) “Ari does have that Thoroughbred fire in her, so I think that really helps. It’s easier to keep them fit I think. The heart is a muscle, so you want to stress that muscle and then let it relax and that’s how you build the muscle,” Madeline said.
But with a fitter horse comes more horse to ride as Madeline discovered during her progress up the levels. “She enters this state of mind where she becomes this focused, amazing athlete. But when we were very young she used to go around on a loopy rein,” Madeline said. “When she got to this level of fitness for the three- and the four-star, she just turned into a different horse. She gets very excited about the possibility of jumping or galloping and can get tense in dressage. But Ari is such a cross-country machine. I have learned to ride that fit eventing horse.”
While Madeline is focusing on the next move in her riding career, she never forgets that her horse’s happiness comes first and is a factor in Ari’s overall health. “Keeping her happy for as long as possible is so important. I spend a lot of time taking care of her,” Madeline said. “After jumping we ice, wrap, poultice, liniment. I figure that anything we can use to help is not going to hurt. I always spend so much time taking care of the legs—always making sure that health comes first. And I think that plays into a horse’s longevity.”
Madeline and Ari have been working hard, but their relationship is not without its fun and silly moments. Back at the barn, Ari is relaxed and prone to give a “cookie face” when she requests treats. Not only is she a cookie monster, she loves to be groomed, too. “I was a kid when I raised her, so we grew up together. She’s always been so sweet. She loves to cuddle and loves treats. If you scratch her she’ll reach around and start grooming you back,” Madeline explained.
Madeline had one piece of advice for any young rider wanting to follow in her footsteps: Stay positive. Madeline never gave up hope and attributes her success to her upbeat attitude. “I’ve definitely had some ups and downs, that’s part of the sport, and it isn’t easy,” Madeline said. “Ari was off for two years due to an injury [in 2011]. Getting through that was definitely a challenge, but I think staying positive and keeping a great support crew is really essential. Through the good and the bad, that support is super important.”
They may not know where they are off to yet, but hopefully this young up-and-coming rider and her opinionated little mare will be overseas next season, complete with a positive and supportive crew.
This article was originally published in the November 2017 issue of Practical Horseman.