As the daughter of top trainers Frank Madden and Jennifer Madden, 18-year-old Taylor Griffiths-Madden has been competing in the country’s most coveted equitation championships since she was just 12 years old. Following her second place finish in the 2020 North American Junior Equitation Championship at the Capital Challenge Horse Show, Griffiths-Madden was hungry for more as she made the trip to the Pennsylvania National Horse Show hosted at the Tryon International Equestrian Center. After six years of attempting to place in the Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final, Griffiths-Madden has forever etched her name in history by taking home the championship title for the 2020 Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final. Phelps Sports sat down with Griffiths-Madden to recap her memorable win.
What was it like leading up to the 2020 Dover Saddlery/USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final this year?
I was a little nervous because they canceled The Devon Horse Show, The Hampton Classic and the Equitation Championship at WEF, so I was a little sad to not be able to do that. My dad Frank [Madden] is on the board for most of the equitation finals, so I got a little bit of the inside scoop and knew that Medal Finals would probably not take place in Pennsylvania, but that they were trying to make them happen somewhere because it is important for the sport for those finals to continue. Usually, the [Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals] would have been first, but this year I did Capital Challenge first then came here [to Tryon, North Carolina]. It was good practice for the last minute changes in-between the two finals.
How does it feel to be the 2020 USEF Medal Finals Champion?
It is a very special feeling and I never thought I could actually win a final. I remember I did my first Medal Finals when I was 12 years old back in 2015 and I was not great! I never thought I could make it to this point. It is also just special to be able to do this with my parents.
How did you prepare for the first round?
I watched the first few go, but since it was raining and we were maintaining social distancing it was hard to watch. I usually go around and look at every possible angle of the ring, but this year that was difficult so I went back to the barn and did homework to try and not focus on it too much. Sometimes when you watch too many people go you start to get in your head.
How did it feel being called back in the second position for the second round?
People always say not to be called back on top – I guess because it is very nerve-racking to be on top. Being in second, I felt like I still had some space to move up.
How did you prepare for that second round, especially with it being on a different day?
Since it was raining on the first day all of my stuff was soaking wet, so my reins were slipping and my gloves were soaking wet. I was lucky enough to go home to wash and dry my gloves and make sure everything was prepared for the next day. I actually brought an extra saddle, reins and gloves with me to school in so that I could switch into them once I got into the covered ring. Of course then it didn’t rain the second day and I didn’t need to use it!
It was nice for my horse and I to get a good night sleep in-between the two rounds, especially because the first round ended around 4:00 p.m. the first day, which is late enough. It also started at a decent time so we only had to be at the show at 5:30 a.m. rather than 3:30 a.m., which was nice! I think it was nice for the horses because they could rest and we could ice them or pack their feet, whatever we needed to do to make them comfortable. For me, it was nice to go home and rest, but it was also nerve-racking to go home knowing that Medal Finals wasn’t over yet. I kept thinking ‘Usually we know who the winner is by now!’
What was your plan for the test?
When I was called back on top for the test it was very nerve-racking and a lot of pressure to keep that top spot. I knew the first line was going to be really steady since it was originally five strides and we had to do seven for the test. [Mac One III’s] stride is massive and it is difficult to come from a line up to the first line, so I kept circling so that I had some form of rhythm to the first jump. After the hand gallop I think everyone’s plan was to do nine strides because eight strides was stretching it since it was a 10-stride line. My plan was to not land the counter canter after the hand gallop jump because my horse prefers the left lead. I just allowed him to land the left lead and then gave myself room to make the flying change. I know some people tried to land the counter canter, but personally, I think it is difficult to do that with a tight turn coming up. After the trot jump I landed the counter canter because I was already at a slower pace with enough time to turn back to that last jump.
As they were announcing the test, all of us were talking in the line up about how long the test was! We didn’t know when it was going to end, but we knew they had to do that because it is Medal Finals. We are all friends, so it was nice to be able to talk to each other. The people that went before me were able to tell me how things were riding. It was nice to have each other.
What is your partnership with Mac One III? What do you think his best qualities were in his performances?
I have had Mac for three years now. He is a really special horse with a big personality. He was new to the equitation when he started with me – he was doing the jumpers before. It took some work for us to get in the flow with each other and for him to learn how to be an equitation horse. It was really nice for us to be able to get a win under our belts like that after working so hard together over the past few years.
The first round had that forward four-stride line that some kids were struggling to get down and I was able to come in on a nice rhythm and have him just walk that line. In the second round the first line was a forward five and he just walked it. For me, it was nice to have a horse with such a big stride and adjustability that could then just melt into that double ad line.
How do you remain so calm throughout the high-pressure moments?
Internally, I am not calm! I kind of psych myself out sometimes. I thought ‘Oh my god, I am on top and I could win Medal Finals right now, or I could mess it up really badly!’ I try to work on my breathing and just stay focused. I watched the other kids but I was focusing on my own plan while I was in the line up.
What were your trainer’s final words to you before walking into the arena for the test?
My parents mainly train me, but Missy Clark helps here and there too. Before going into the ring, Frank told me he believes in me so much. He told me good luck and that I can do this. The night before he told me that I could win it and that he believed in me. He said to just do my best and that he was proud no matter what the outcome was. It was a big moment for us.
What were their first word to you when they joined you for prize giving?
He has these little hand signals and he does this fist pump motion, like a “cha-ching!” whenever I have a good round. He did that as soon as he came in the ring and saw me. My parents just came up to me and said they would be proud of me no matter what the results were.
Is there anything you would have changed about your rides? If so, what?
In the first and second round I landed the wrong lead once in each round. Going back, I think I could have tried a little harder to land both of those so that it was a bit smoother – it isn’t the biggest deal though.
What are your plans moving forward?
I am doing Mac in the [Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals] and then we stay another week here for the [Washington Equitation Championship], which I will be finding another horse for so that he can have a week off. Then we will go to Kentucky for the ASPCA Maclay Finals. I just hope to get a ribbon at each one, which is a lot to ask for. I have placed in the Talent Search but not the Washington Equitation Championship or the ASPCA Maclay.
What advice do you have for other riders?
Hard work does payoff in the end. This is my sixth year competing in Medal Finals and each year I have never placed until this year. I would say to just keep working at it and working on your weaknesses – that is a big part of it. Also, being in the barn and having a connection with your horse is really important.