This week I’m chatting with the young talented American FEI dressage rider, Madeleine Perry. Read on to discover more about Madeleine, her horses, ambitions, and top tips for success.
Tell us about you and your horses
My name is Madeleine Perry, and I am a U.S. based eighteen year-old dressage rider from Manchester, Michigan.
I’ve been training in dressage for nearly ten years, and have been partnered with my current horse, Smile, for four years. Together with Smile, I earned my United States Dressage Federation Bronze and Silver medals, and we have started our young rider career.
Back home in Michigan, I have 2 retired Welsh Cob ponies and one Arabian that kept me very busy when I was younger as a Hunter rider. My situation is unique in that I left home at age thirteen to be a working student so I could train and learn all that I could from the top professionals in the industry. As a working student, juggling school and work full-time was a challenge, but I was happy to graduate high school at fifteen years old, and have taken the last three years to focus on my training. I’ll be starting college soon, and I feel that it’s not only important to have a degree that can be used in all avenues, but a degree that compliments the equine profession.
How did your horses come into your life?
My primary horse, Smile, or “Eb,” was donated to me four years ago through a program called the Dressage4kids organization, or D4K, founded and run by Olympian Lendon Gray. D4K is a non-profit organization that provides educational and competitive opportunities for youth riders.
When I was fourteen, I outgrew my pony that I had hoped to compete on in the FEI Pony division. Since I was a long-time member of D4K, I reached out to Lendon to learn more about the horse donation program. These donation horses typically aren’t “sellable,” as in they have old surgical histories or lameness issues. When Eb came to me, he had his fair share of ailments in the past. It can be stressful at times trying to manage his well-being to keep him healthy and sound, but I wouldn’t trade the last four years with him for anything. I am forever grateful to Lendon and the entire D4K program for giving me this opportunity to learn and grow with Eb.
How long have you been riding?
I started riding when I was five years old, so it has been thirteen years.
When and where do you ride?
I split my time between Wellington, Florida and Haymarket, Virginia, training with Olivia LaGoy-Weltz. I usually ride my personal horse in the late afternoon/evenings, whenever it fits in the schedule with all the other horses. I am very lucky because I get to escape the cold winters while I’m in Florida!
How did you start riding?
I started riding simply because I loved horses and thought they were really cool, like a lot of five-year-old girls. My parents supported me and took me to a local Hunter/Jumper barn for lessons, and the rest is history.
What are you and your horses currently working on?
We are currently schooling all of the movements from the Intermediare 1 level and competing in the Young Riders, but really focusing every day on channeling the forward energy through straightness, as the issues with movements present themselves when we don’t achieve that. I also find it very important to work the horses on the ground, in what some might call “liberty” work, but really just asking your horse a lot of different questions and moving their bodies around, keeping them tuned into you 100% of the time.
What do you love about riding?
I love the perfectionism that comes with being really good at dressage, and I like the constant challenges and attention to detail. I am a very competitive person, and this sport scratches that itch! I also love going for hacks and just spending time with my horse, without trying to be “perfect.” That’s when I get a lot of my “ah ha!” moments that I take into the schooling ring the next day.
What would you like to be doing in the future and do you have any goals?
In the future I see myself being a Grand Prix rider enveloped in the top International competitions. It is my dream to ride for the United States on a senior Elite team. I think that counts as a goal, but another current goal of mine is to continue holding myself accountable for my riding. I cannot expect my horse to continue to grow and change if I cannot keep up with him.
Have you ever had to deal with nerves in riding?
Yes, for competition riding and riding in front of new clinicians.
How do you deal with them?
I was very lucky to begin working with a sports psychologist, and she gave me tools to keep my thoughts focused on the task at hand – just trying to ride as well as I can. When I do that, everything else that I worry about quickly dissipates when I stop trying to prove myself and impress everyone around me. Now I ride and compete for myself.
While I wish it was a foolproof solution, I will say that at times my nerves creep back in for big competitions. But I’m happy that I now have better methods to cope with my nerves.
Your Top Tip
My top tip is to prioritize your relationship with your horse as a friendship first. I don’t mean treat them like a puppy and ruin their ground manners. But there has to be a mutual respect and appreciation for each other in order to compete at the higher levels. I enjoy just sitting in my horse’s stall or paddock, watching and being around him. He “checks in” with me and comes for pets, scratches and snuggles and will then wander away to do his own thing. I hardly give him treats. I want him to want to be around me for me, not because of something I could provide him. I will never force his attention either. Just like people, they need more space from us some days as opposed to others. Being able to recognize that on the ground helps me to know what version of my horse I have on a specific day, and how I need to approach the training differently.
Down The Centre Line
Who would be your dream horse to ride?
Valegro, hands down!
Who is your equestrian hero?
I wouldn’t say that I have a “hero” but I look up to quite a few riders. I’ve always admired Carl Hester and how many different types of horses he has brought to the top of the International sport. To me that represents a very consistent and correct way of training.
If you could have five people to dinner who would they be?
While it would be a diverse group of people, I’d love to sit down with Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin, Col. Alois Podhajsky, who was at one time the Director of the Spanish Riding School, Author and Olympian; Chris Hemsworth, the actor who plays Thor in the Marvel movies, and Tom Holland who we all know as Spiderman.
Favorite colour horse?
Favorite horse event?
Festival of Champions
Tough call between sushi and ice cream.
Favorite way to relax?
A bit of self-care, and cuddling up in cozy clothing with a good book with the aroma of a candle. Oh, and snacks too!
Keeping with the theme of horses, Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron. My favorite non-horse movie is Hidden Figures.
If you enjoyed meeting Madeleine you might like to view more dressage rider chatting with interviews here You can keep up with Madeleine’s progress and check out her instagram page here