Meet Badminton first-timers: Madeline Backus and the horse who was her 10th birthday present — ‘we’ve had quite an adventure’

  • At just 22-years-old, U.S eventer Madeline Backus is one of the youngest competitors in the field at this week’s Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trials.

    She arrived in the UK, basing herself at Austin O’Connor’s Attington Stud in Oxfordshire, in the first week of March with a four-star and one-star horse, thanks to some hefty funding.

    “I was awarded two grants last year, which, put together, have enabled me to come to England to event for a season,” explains Madeline. “It has been very special for me and I’m so grateful.”

    Those two grants were the $10,000 Rebecca Broussard National Developing Rider Grant and the inaugural $45,000 Wilton Fair Grant, which is given to a rider 29 and under who has not yet ridden for a senior U.S. team. These combined gave Madeline $55,000 in funding and made not only a trip to the UK possible, but also the opportunity to compete at Badminton.

    “To be based at Austin’s wonderful facility is brilliant,” says Madeline. “Although I’ve visited the U.K before, this is my first time with horses here and everyone is so gracious.”

    Madeline comes from an equestrian family in Larkspur, Colorado. Her mother Laura is a rider and trainer there running the Pendragon Equestrian Centre where she also breeds horses for eventing.

    The young rider’s Badminton mount is the 15.3hh, 17-year-old Anglo-Trakehner, P.S Arianna (or ‘Ari’ as she is known at home), and their partnership begun some years ago.

    “Ari was bred by our family farrier, Denis Ackerman, at our stables,” she explains. “She then came into the yard as a yearling and was started by my mother. Ari was gifted to me on my 10th birthday when she was five — we’ve had quite an adventure together.”

    With Ari, Madeline has risen all the way from the Pony Club ranks and junior one-star eventing to the top level, culminating in finishing 20th with a clear cross-country round at their first four-star in Kentucky in 2017.

    “Air is a very special horse, she is so sweet on the ground but can be fiery to ride — I think it’s the thoroughbred in her that makes her tense in the dressage sometimes,” says Madeline, who has enjoyed training sessions with Leslie Law back in the States. “She is a total machine across country though.”

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    Madeline has never been to Badminton before, but says it is “a dream come true”.

    “I don’t have any super-high expectations for Badminton but we will do our absolute best to complete. There is a little bit of added pressure being young and with the funding people have put behind me, but I’m climbing the ladder and I’m here for the love of the sport.”

    Read the full Badminton preview in Horse & Hound magazine, out now

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