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Beezie and John Madden’s retirement facility: “Together with other horses they find love, comfort and calmness”

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Authentic, Simon, Cortes, Via Volo and HH Carlos: They are just some of the super stars enjoying their retirement at Beezie and John Madden’s farm in Cazenovia, New York. “Every horse is the same though, famous or not,” John Madden says about the lucky inhabitants at the Madden’s retirement facility.

Nothing has been left to coincidence for the retirees at Madden’s farm. A lot of thought, research and experimenting has been put into what the Maddens today can offer to those horses that are finished with their sports career.

“We bought the farm here in 1988,” John tells. “Back then we had a couple of fields, and a few sheds for shelter outside – and a capacity for about ten horses. After a while when planning to expand, we started experimenting: How many horses are ideal in one herd, how big should the fields be for each herd, how long should the horses be in one field before changing to another, what fencing is the best, what buildings are ideal and so on. We studied different breeding farms, looked to what they did – and improved our own facilities accordingly. In our next phase, we expanded our capacity to twenty horses.”

“In our latest phase, we have added another 120 acres, which means each horse there has two acres each to move on. Our capacity is sixty horses, and we have divided them into four groups with fifteen in each group which works very well,” Madden explains.

The retirement program all started out of the Madden’s own philosophy of giving back to their horses. “We have been blessed and lucky to have some really good horses, as well as very good owners, throughout life,” John says. “Together with our owners and those that work with us, we always believed in giving back to the horses after their sports career came to an end. We believe that the horses deserve love and respect, especially after they have given us as much as our horses have,” John explains.

“We did not want our horses to live their retirement in their boxes. During their sports career, we do everything we can to duplicate what the horses have in nature to make their life as healthy as possible and so we want them to live a very healthy and happy life after they retire too. Horses are herd animals, and hard wired – together with other horses they find love, comfort and calmness. It is natural for them, outside they move and eat all day long – just as in nature,” John says. 

Transitioning from a sports career to retired life outside in a herd might sound tough, but as Madden explains that is mostly not the case at all. “The sport horses adjust very easy to their new life. It is not difficult for them at all,” John tells. “There are a few things you have to take care of though. The most important thing in the beginning is to take care of their feet. When we take their shoes off for the first time, we give them a kind of half-shoe made of rubber that we call ‘flip-flops’ to make the transitioning less hard on the feet. After a while we take it off completely so the horses are barefoot, but it is very important to follow up on this with a good farrier. Secondly, we make sure to put compatible horses together in one herd and of course to introduce them to grass slowly. For the winter, they of course have to grow hair to keep warm but that does not take long.”

“The first one to two weeks are the most difficult for the horses, after four to six weeks they are normally completely adjusted and if you try to take them in on their own they usually get upset. They love it outside!” John says.

The Maddens also take good care that the horses have fresh fields all year around. “During the hard times of summer, we switch the different herds around. Usually they spend a couple weeks in one field before being moved to a new one. This way you keep perfect grass for the horses. Even in summer we feed hay next to the grass, so that the horses have a choice of what they would like to eat.”

The Maddens location has proved to offer the perfect environment for outdoor-life for four-legged friends, and the horses enjoy both summer and winter season. “The horses always have access to shelter. In the summer, they like to go inside when it’s really hot – but normally it is never that warm here. With the different seasons here, the horses are seven months of the year on grass while for approximately five months they have winter. We are lucky here, it gets dry-cold and not wet-cold. It transitions quickly from autumn to winter, we don’t have a lot of wet and ice in between – which is the most dangerous for the horses when they live outside. In the wet-cold the horses cannot really stay warm, but the dry-cold actually does them good and is also healthy for their blood circulation. Snow also provides good footing for the horses’ feet, and the horses like the snow – it acts as a kind of insulation on their backs and protects them from the wind. They love it, really! For those that think it is too cold, they can always go into the barns – we have one with heating and one without,” Madden explains. 

The horses can sometimes act different in a heard than what they used to in sport life, John explains. “Simon was always a forward going type, Authentic was brave and confident while Carlos on the other hand always needed a bit of inspiration and encouragement from McLain. However, here in the herd where they all go together Carlos instantly became the boss!”

It is not always that the herd life fits though, and there is an exception to the rule at the Maddens’ too. “Cortes is the only one so far that does not live with a herd. He has his own field and comes in at night, he does not seem to like the attention from the other horses that much,” John explains.

Next to the retirees, the Maddens have done a bit of breeding with their best mares as well as rehabilitation for injured horses. “The latter has been very interesting and satisfactory,” John says. “Our experience is that mother nature is the best for the horses when recuperating: Staying out 24 hours in the field without shoes, being brought back to what they are has turned out to be very successful when it comes to getting the horses sound again. They get strong this way, and it gives a good indication if they also will be strong enough for the sport again.”

“In relationships with our vets we check on their progress regularly, and when the injuries have healed we bring the horses slowly back to work – but still they stay in the field. That means the horses perhaps are ridden 30 minutes, and for the rest they are free to move 23 and ½ hours outside so they are never forced to stand still. It also means that when you ride them they are normally never too fresh, so you avoid accidents or new injuries when putting them back to work,” John explains.

The Maddens have thought about everything, also to make sure what they offer is affordable for owners who would like to give their horses a safe and happy retirement. “We have invested a lot in a good infrastructure, so we can do everything efficient. This way it is also not too expensive, we can keep the costs low but still financially sustainable so that the horses are treated well by a professional staff,” John says.   

“In a way, it is a luxury retirement – but in the way the horses would like it more than how the humans want it. Here everything is according to what is best for the horse. If you want to love your horses, treat them like a horse,” John concludes.


Text © World of Showjumping // Pictures © John Madden Sales, Inc


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