Q&A with Madelyn Bricken of @theblondeandthebay_
What is your name and where are you from?
-Hello, Paint Me Dappled blog, so lovely to be here! My name is Maddie and I am from the Texas Hill Country. Yay, Region 9 dressage!
At what age did you ride your first horse?
-I started riding at the age of 3; I am now 26 years old. My mom passed me her love and passion for horses, all stemming from the many times she would lead me around on her Hanoverian gelding far before my legs ever passed the saddle flaps! From those special moments, I was hooked, and she graciously enrolled me in weekly riding lessons. I never looked back; this certainly was not a phase! I’ve now been riding competitive dressage for 14 years after making the switch from the Hunters in 2004.
Tell us about Leah!
-Leah, officially known as Ulfilia DG, is a coming-18 year old Dutch Warmblood mare, bred by DG Bar Ranch in Hanford, California. She is my biggest blessing and the light of my life. Standing at 16.3 hands, I believe she oozes elegance combined with confidence. Her brain is my by far favorite aspect; she is sensitive yet sensible, patient, and willing. Peppermint puff candies and sliced watermelon are her treats of choice, but crisp apples or fresh carrots will happily suffice. From nature, Leah is not “in your pocket” or overly affectionate… she is a woman who knows her worth and asks you respect her space! However, over the last 6 years, I’ve watched her come into her own, both physically and mentally, which has allowed her to let down a few walls. I trust this mare with my entire life, as she has not one dangerous bone in her body. At the competitions, she is a seasoned professional, always reliable and usually never bothered by her surroundings. I always joke that this mare has spoiled me in so many ways… there will never be another Leah.
Fun fact? Her sire is Wolfgang and her dam is Olympia, both known for producing show jumpers! Leah is bred to jump, but here we are, navigating dressage together. I’m not quite sure she would ever be hot enough to show jump, either! Oh well, I’m glad she found her niche elsewhere.
How did you first meet Leah?
-Leah picked me to be her human in August of 2013 during a trip to W Farms in Chino Hills, California. For those who read my “Experiencing Fear” post via my blog, you’ll know that I was suffering from crippling fear and a total lost in overall riding confidence caused by a handful of unfortunate, and dangerous, events. When I traveled to W Farms, my initial reasoning for the experience was not to seek my next horse, but after spending the week with Leah, I knew I wouldn’t be returning to Texas without her. She chose me just as much as I chose her.
What person has been the most influential in the horse aspect of your life? Why?
-Hands down, my mother, Elizabeth, followed by a close second, my trainer, Eva Oldenbroek.
I have been riding for 23 out of 26 years, and my mother has provided unwavering support each and every day. She is the true example of what a “horse show mom” should epitomize, always there to wipe my tears, encourage, help, and guide without adding the pressure to perform or excel. In the 14 years of competitive dressage, she has only missed one competition due to my grandfather being in hospice, two years ago; otherwise, she is always with me. Show weekends have always been our thing we love to share, and she’s the first one out of bed once the alarm rings promptly at 5:30AM. I don’t think I’ve ever heard her complain once! She is my largest advocate and cheerleader; she has made most ambitious dressage dreams come to fruition. A simple “thank you” could never adequately express my gratitude. Before I get all sorts of emotional, I’ll just say that I love you, mom!
My journey under Eva’s diligent guidance has molded me into the dressage rider I only ever aspired to be. Flashback to an awkward 17-year-old Maddie, yearning to get back into performance dressage after a two to three year hiatus: a horsey friend suggested I give Eva a call and schedule a lesson with my mom’s Trakehner gelding, Henry. Eva happily agreed to said lesson, and the following week, she was teaching me in the field behind the barn on our property. I had absolutely no idea what on earth a half-halt was, nor did I understand the biomechanics of riding a horse from back to front. Needless to say, my road to a well-rounded dressage rider was going to be longer than originally thought…
Fast forward nearly 10 years later, Eva and her husband, Joshua, have transformed my riding abilities for the absolute better. They’ve provided so many wonderful opportunities to excel, learn, and grow, pouring countless hours into my skill development. Their training program has taken my partnership with Leah to the next level, and I am so grateful to have their talent at my fingertips on a daily basis! They are more than just my trainers; they’ve become family.
What horse has taught you the most about yourself?
-I’m lucky in that I’ve had the wonderful chance to ride many different horses along my journey, all imparting invaluable, yet different, pieces of knowledge into my Rolodex. If I had to pick one that has taught me the most about myself, it would be Leah, there’s no doubt in my mind. She has taught me the importance of owning who you are as a woman and to never apologize for your blessings, your shortcomings, or your flaws. She has calmed insecurities and instilled confidence in areas where I needed it the most. My self-esteem has flourished, and I know my worth as a person. She’s taught me to speak kinder, listen acutely, and appreciate the littlest of things, because in the grand scheme of life, those matter the very most.
What horse has taught you the most about riding?
-If you guessed Leah yet again, you are absolutely correct. It’s easy to see Leah’s talent in the things I post via Instagram, but what people don’t understand is the amount of strength, finesse, tact and patience Leah requires. I continually shed light on the fact that she is not an easy ride, regardless of the level in which we compete. Leah is the type of horse that will only offer the bare minimum unless you tap into her true capabilities. She is a physical horse, not light, airy, or soft in the bridle. I’ve worked tirelessly to master her ways, and it’s been quite the learning experience.
She has taught me the importance of patience, and the equal importance of asking properly. This mare gives nothing away for free… I get out what I put in. She makes me work for every point once we are in the competition arena, but she too tries incredibly hard to please. Who needs a gym when you have a powerhouse like L? Leah has channeled my awareness for timing of the aids, and she has developed my feel over the course of navigating the FEI levels. My finesse level has too strengthened, striving to make a more difficult and rigid horse appear soft and agile.
What is your most memorable moment with a horse?
-Most distinctively, riding down centerline with Leah last year at the 2018 US Dressage Finals in Lexington, Kentucky. We earned an invitation through winning our Intermediate I AA Championship in 2017, but declined due to devastating damage on our home during Hurricane Harvey. My goal for 2018 was to make the trip to The Kentucky Horse Park, and that’s exactly what we did for our Intermediate I Freestyle. This experience was the ultimate dream come true. I cried after our test with tears of happiness; it was a surreal feeling. We did not ribbon, missing 10th place just barely, and our dance was riddled with small errors, but for our first time to attend a competition of this magnitude, I was nothing but wholeheartedly proud of our accomplishment. This will forever be my most memorable moment.
Does anyone else in your family ride?
-My mom does not ride so much anymore after tearing her rotator cuff in her left shoulder years ago. She enjoys the sideline gig and occasionally hops on Leah after I’ve finished a lesson. My stepdad too used to ride, but more along the lines of ranch/cattle work. Barrett, my boyfriend, is a competitive team roper.
What is your favorite part about horses?
-My favorite part about horses would be what they teach us about ourselves, and the core values they imprint onto our individual lives. Horses have taught me responsibility from a young age, compassion, patience, kindness, bravery, the list could spew on and on. They are a wonderful equalizer, not caring about physical appearance, disabilities, race, origin; what matters the most is how we humans make them feel. These animals are living, breathing, pure souls with thoughts and opinions of their own. It is truly a privilege to work alongside such creatures, but one of my favorite aspects of being an equestrian is gaining the horse’s trust and respect. When you’ve successfully established a connection with a 1300lbs equine, there really isn’t anything better.
Secondly, horses have always been a staple throughout my life, from family illness, to death, to moves, to breakups and makeups, through tears, smiles, laughs; they have been the one factor that has always remained steady. I’ve said many times that Leah is my rock, and I couldn’t think of a truer statement.
What are your biggest achievements?
-Undoubtedly, my biggest achievement was curbing my fear and moving forward with my riding career, not letting anyone stand in my way of succeeding. Leah brought me to this point, along with my parents and trainers. I’ll forever be thankful for the time it took to overcome my obstacles.
Aside from this major milestone, I earned my USDF Bronze Medal as a junior, which I followed with securing my USDF Silver Medal in 2017 during my Prix St George debut with Leah. That year, we won the Southwest Dressage Championships I-1 AA championship, and a few days later, took home the tri-colored sash for the GAIG/Region 9 I-1 AA championship. In 2018, we competed in our first CDI against the professionals, debut an I-1 Freestyle, and lastly, competed in the Alltech Arena at US Dressage Finals; all goals I set out to achieve early on in my FEI career.
It’s been a helluva ride.
Any advice for beginner riders?
-Know that the slower you go, the faster you reach your goals. You cannot rush the process in order to compete at a certain level, or jump a specific height. Equestrianism is a marathon, not a sprint, and when you take steps to skip basic lessons, it only hinders your development as a rider. Love your journey hard, appreciate it, and understand that each of our paths to success is unique. That is what makes the horse industry so diverse! Fight the hankering to compare your abilities of those around you, or what you see on social media. There is always going to be another rider with a “fancier” horse, better quality tack, multiple medals next to their name… all you can do is focus on yourself, your growth, and your horse.
What is one piece of knowledge that you feel should be passed along to every equestrian?
-That’s simple: never resort to viewing your horse as a machine. They are our partners, our confidants, and ultimately, our friends. Awards, ribbons, medals and titles are glorious, but nothing can compare to the bond we create between horse and rider. When we begin to use our equines as tools to achieve great success, we lose sight of what this sport conclusively embodies – the relationship, the dance, and the passion.
A massive thank you to Madelyn for sharing her story and progress! You can go see more of her and Leah on @theblondeandthebay_ or her blog!
-Paint Me Dappled