Madeline Backus and P.S. Arianna (Shannon Brinkman Photo)
Madeline Backus and P.S. Arianna are first-time competitors this year at the Rolex Kentucky Three-Day Event presented by Land Rover, but their partnership goes back years.
“My mom’s farrier, Dennis Ackerman at Pendragon Stud in Colorado, actually bred her,” Backus said of the Anglo-Trakehner mare. “So I’ve known her for her whole life. It’s been quite an adventure.”
Backus, whose mother Laura co-owns Pendragon in Larkspur, Colo., first heard P.S. Arianna’s name when she was about seven or eight, right around the time she had attended her first Rolex event as a spectator and knew that that was where she wanted to ride someday. Little did anyone know that P.S. Arianna was the horse that would take Backus there.
“Back then, she was just a young horse at our barn,” Backus said recently of P.S. Arianna, who was foaled in 2001. “As the years went on, my mom started riding her as a young horse, and then she gave me the ride. I was really grateful for that. I was probably about nine or 10, and Ari would have been five or six years old. I was so young! She was my next horse after my first pony, and it has been incredible growing up with her. She’s answered every question we’ve given her, and it’s been great.”
Over the last decade, Backus and Ari have climbed the levels from beginner novice to CCI3*, and now they’re poised to fulfill Backus’s lifelong dream of competing at Rolex. Along the way, Backus earned her “A” rating from Pony Club, and, riding Ari, was on the gold medal-winning team at the Adequan/FEI North American Junior and Young Rider Championships presented by Gotham North CICY2* last year. Together, she and Ari also were chosen for the US Equestrian Federation’s Emerging Athlete Eventing 25 program in 2016 and 2017.
“I think we’ve both changed over time,” Backus said. “There are the different phases of each level, and you hit a certain point and your horse gets a lot fitter. She definitely changed: she got fitter and more aware of everything. So I had to learn to ride that side of her, because as a young kid with a young horse, she had been so calm. I have pictures of me going around with a loopy rein. Now she’s a lot fitter and there’s a lot more horse there! She’s a fiery little one, but I love her.”
These days, Backus works for Missy Ransehousen in Florida and in Pennsylvania. And while she’s been preparing for her Rolex debut, she’s also been baking. That’s not just a hobby; it’s also been a fundraiser to help get her and Ari to Rolex.
“A lot of people do a GoFundMe, and I set one of those up, because people were asking me about that,” Backus said. “But I also wanted to give back a little, so the baking was kind of my way to do that. I much prefer getting to see the people who are supporting me. It was wonderful and very heartwarming, because people would come up and say such nice things.
“The first time, I did it for two days at Richard and Daisy Trayford’s Exmoor Horse Trials, and then Rocking Horse also let me do it at their Winter III competition. I pretty much sold out both times. I love bread, and the cheese garlic bread was everybody’s favorite. I also did a cinnamon bread that was pretty good. My mom’s group also helped me make an assortment of cookies, and I did horse treats and dog treats, too.”
Backus says she’s grateful to everyone who has helped get her to Kentucky – and to Ari.
“It’s very special,” Backus said of her long relationship with her Rolex mount. “We’re kind of like siblings; we know each other so well. I would be lucky to have anything like that ever again. Having that bond and connection over 10 or 11 years is pretty incredible. It’s a bit of a fairytale, isn’t it?”
By Glenye Oakford, US Equestrian Communications Department