Elizabeth the first

Last year Elizabeth 'Beezie' Madden became the first woman ever to win the Longines King George V Gold Cup. In 2015, she did it again. Hickstead's Press Officer Victoria Spicer caught up with America's first lady of showjumping. 

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It had been more than 50 years since any rider had achieved back-to-back wins in the Longines King George V Gold Cup. It’s a difficult class to win, with fields comprising the very best international riders, huge fences and fearsomely technical lines set across Hickstead’s vast, undulating International Arena. In its 105-year history, only four riders have managed to win this class in consecutive years, and last year Elizabeth ‘Beezie’ Madden became the fifth.

Beezie had already set a record at Hickstead when winning the class for the first time in 2014, becoming the first lady rider to claim this historic title. The class had been restricted to men only until it was opened up to female riders in 2008 – but it took a further six years until Beezie recorded a victory for the fairer sex. Having achieved that record first, she added to her Hickstead laurels in 2015 by becoming the first lady rider to win twice, as well as the first woman ever to score consecutive wins. She was also the first rider ever to win the class twice in a row since the Longines Royal International Horse Show moved to Hickstead in 1992.

Both of Beezie Madden’s wins at Hickstead came courtesy of Cortes C, the striking black gelding Belgian Warmblood that Beezie has partnered since 2012. Some horses relish the open space of the main ring at the All England Jumping Course, and Cortes C is undoubtedly one of them. “Cortes C obviously loves it there. He likes places with a big atmosphere to make him rise to the occasion, and he prefers a good grass arena to jumping on sand,” she adds.

His rider also loves coming here to Hickstead. “It’s among the very top showgrounds in the world, especially since all the improvements were made to the International Arena a few years ago. Hickstead seems to retain a real countryside atmosphere while also modernising and moving with the times,” says Beezie.

In the 2015 Longines King George V Gold Cup, only six riders jumped clear round Kelvin Bywater’s testing 1.60m track, with a tricky double of gates after the water jump causing more than half the field to fault. First to go in the jump-off was The Netherlands’ Jur Vrieling, who went clear in 49.54sec, but Beezie and Cortes C proceeded to knock an impressive 6sec off the time. Theirs was a textbook example of a winning jump-off – perfectly judged tight turns, a strong pace, with the long-striding Cortes C eating up the turf of the International Arena and Beezie allowing the horse his head while maintaining a relentless speed and rhythm.

Their resulting fast clear put pressure on the remaining four riders. France’s Penelope Leprevost was also clear but fractionally slower, while all the other riders each knocked a fence, including 19-year-old Brit Jessica Mendoza, whose unlucky four-faults at the final fence cost her the win. For the second year in a row, Beezie was handed the historic gold trophy. “It was incredible to win there the first time but to do it two years in a row was just amazing,” says Beezie.

Cortes C has won legions of fans thanks to his international successes and his quirky jumping style – if you look closely at photos of him jumping, you’ll see he crosses his forelegs over a fence. But Beezie laughs when you mention this unusual trait. “You actually don’t know he does it until you see photos of him jumping – he feels like he’s really good in his front end over a fence,” she explains.

The horse came from Belgian showjumper Gregory Wathelet, with whom he’d been consistently placed at international competitions. Looking back on his early career, Gregory remembers: “Cortes was always an exceptional horse.” He had taken on the ride when Cortes was seven, and could immediately spot his potential. “He was very stiff, couldn’t change his leads and jumped only up to 1.20m in the ring at this point, but he already possessed all the scope and was very careful.” After one season together, he was so impressed that he persuaded a sponsor to buy him. Less than a year later, aged just eight, Cortes and Wathelet were second in a World Cup class in Malines. “Offers were coming quickly from people interested in buying the horse and it became difficult to refuse,” he said.

Beezie had heard about the horse, and was keen. “Gregory had gone well in some indoor shows with Cortes C, and Johan Heins found out about him and sent us a video,” says Beezie. She arranged to try the then nine-year-old. “I loved him the first day I tried him,” she recalls. “I always try a new horse two days in a row to get to know them, and I almost didn’t want to come back after the first day just in case something went wrong the second time, because I liked him so much.”

While Gregory was sad to see him go, he knew he had gone to a superb home. “My satisfaction came from knowing that he went to such a great rider, thus allowing him to have a fantastic career,” he wrote on his website.

The new partnership gelled quickly, with the pair winning their first Global Champions Tour Grand Prix in Valkenswaard that summer. A number of international wins and placings followed, with Beezie and Cortes C making their Hickstead debut in 2013, where they helped the USA to finish second behind Germany in the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup.

They started the 2014 season with a clutch of wins in the Winter Equestrian Festival, before returning to Hickstead that summer. This time, they produced a phenomenal double, with the USA winning the Nations Cup and Beezie, of course, taking honours in the Longines King George V Gold Cup.

That summer they went to Normandy for the Alltech World Equestrian Games, where the USA won bronze and Beezie reached the famous individual final, when the top four riders all jump one round on the other competitors’ horses. Cortes was the only horse to jump four clear rounds that day, looking as fresh in the final round as he had in the first. He claimed the Best Horse honours that day, while Beezie won an individual bronze medal. “I’ve always loved this horse and thought he would be the championship horse I’ve had and I think he proved that,” said Beezie afterwards.

Then came the 2015 season, and their record second win in the King George at Hickstead. This summer, she won’t be able to return to Hickstead for a third crack at winning, as she has her sights set on a rather important competition – the Rio Olympics.. Beezie has already won two team Olympic golds and individual bronze, and she’ll no doubt be hoping to add to her collection this summer with either Cortes or Simon.

No horse and rider partnership has ever won the Longines King George V Gold Cup three times in a row, and only two have managed the feat of winning it more than twice – Harry Llewelyn and the great Foxhunter and Italy’s Piero d'Inzeo and The Rock, more than 60 years ago. We might have to wait another year to see if Beezie can become the next – but if anyone can do it, Beezie can.

All about Cortes C

Born: 2002

Breeding: Randel Z x Orchidee van de Tombeele

Ironically nicknamed ‘Tiny’ in the stable – he’s a tall, huge, solid horse – Cortes C is equally big in character. “He’s very sweet and loves attention – though he’ll soon let you know if there is something he doesn’t like,” says Beezie.

So what makes him special? “Obviously his scope and carefulness, but his temperament is so super as well. He really wants to please, and do well for you.”

When he’s not on the competition circuit, the Belgian Warmblood splits his time between Beezie’s bases in Cazenovia, New York and Wellington, Florida. He loves turnout, seeking out treats, is super friendly and is often getting into trouble for getting into everything. He’s not keen on other horses, however, and only really tolerates his stablemate Simon.

This article first appeared in July 2016

 

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