The Art of Equestrian Strategy

‘Strategic Planning On the Way to True North’ 

“A compass, I learned when I was surveying, it’ll point you True North from where you’re standing, but it’s got no advice about the swamps and deserts and chasms that you’ll encounter along the way. If in pursuit of your destination, you plunge ahead, heedless of obstacles, and achieve nothing more than to sink in a swamp… What’s the use of knowing True North?” -Abraham Lincoln

TJ O’Mara, Brian Moggre, Coco Fath, Taylor St. Jacques, Cooper Dean and Madison Goetzmann riding in Beezie Madden’s clinic

Heeding the Advice

As the notable U.S. President, statesman, and circuit rider Abraham Lincloln points out, a compass is only as good as its user accounts for. It lines us up with and declares a destination. However, it has no ability to let us know what challenges we might face on our journey. And if we gallop ahead in pursuit of reaching a goal marked ‘destination,’ without a strategy, without knowing what’s between us and ‘true north,’ what’s the point of having that goal?

On foot or on board, we are equestrians in motion, forever goal-oriented and destination bound. To ride with skill and the ability to adjust, we seek the advice of coaches, mentors and leaders. Teaching us to strategically plan, to practice and prepare, we are better able to navigate trappy combinations, swampy chasms and desert-like footing.

Let’s see what 2022 Show Jumping Hall of Fame Inductee, Beezie Madden, has to say about ‘true north,’ being prepared, the psychology behind mid-course changes and what her ‘strategic’ advice is for young riders.

John and Beezie Madden 2020 Olympic Team Final course walk | World of

1. As an equestrian rider, trainer and competitor, in pursuit of your destination and goals, what is your strategy and advice for staying out of the proverbial ‘swamp?’   

My key to staying out of the “proverbial swamp” is to have goals set for each horse and rider at least one year ahead of time. Then I work backwards from the end goal to determine goals and benchmarks along the way. Most important is to always do things the way that has worked for you in the past and to always do what is best for the horses. Our goals are important to us, but the horses and students will tell you along the way if those goals are achievable. I might have to adjust that goal as we go. With horses, you always need to be ready to evolve with them. Maybe they will even exceed your expectations and your goals may change because of that.

2. What is the most important benefit of being prepared and studying all aspects of an arena or course?  

The most important benefit of being prepared is actually knowing what you will be facing when you get to the competition as far as what type of venue you have and knowing what the prize list and draft schedule have for what kind of competitions and how to qualify for the end competitions. I never want to be caught with my pants down or be surprised by anything. Once I’m there, I like to make sure all my equipment that I need in my ring bag is there, and to have a schedule the night before for what each horse will do to be prepared and when they will compete. This all helps my mind be cleared for what I need to concentrate on. When walking a course, I make a plan for how I think it will go best for my horse. Then I need to be ready to adapt.

3. How do you psychologically adapt during mid-course changes of strategy?

I think that adjusting to mid-course changes in strategy has to become an instinct. I practice making the horses as adjustable as I can so that I can have the confidence to change my plan as needed. I think confidence to change the plan is the key element. With novice students, I don’t give them the option of changing the plan, but as they get more skilled and more educated as to what works best, they can then have the option to think on their feet on the course.

4. What strategic advice would you give young riders about navigating their ‘True North’ equestrian journey?  

The advice I would give young riders to navigate their “True North” is the same advice I gave in the first question. Try to determine your goals or True North and work towards them. Always try to learn from the best people available, and remember that your passion is for the horses and what is best for them. Be ready to adjust along the way because you might find a passion for an aspect of the horse industry that you didn’t know you would have. There are so many opportunities to make a living now in this industry, so stay open minded.

Phelps Sports’ True North – A Renaissance Equestrian 

Beezie’s advice about remaining open minded to multiple opportunities, making a living and contributing to the equestrian industry is exemplified in the heart, soul, spirit, leadership and legacy of the founder of Phelps Media Group, Phelps Sports and PS Dressage. It goes without saying that her fellow 2022 Show Jumping Hall of Fame Inductee, Mason Phelps, was this publication’s jubilant ‘true north.’

Mason Phelps, Photo courtesy of 2016 Wellington the Magazine

As a professional equestrian, judge, board member and governance advisor, founder, media executive and philanthropist, without a doubt, Mason’s ‘true north’ was making a positive contribution to all arenas of the equestrian industry.

Defining the epitome of what it meant to be a ‘renaissance equestrian,’ Mason carried a torch for all aspects of our sport. Professional rider, trainer, and Olympic team competitor, raising millions for worthy causes and the bar on producing equestrian events, he knew no bounds when it came to supporting the horses and sport he devoted his life to.

Always the pioneer with a big vision, an idea to innovate and improve, Mason developed a strategic plan to tackle proverbial swamps, deserts and chasms with skill and gusto. Inspiring all to be inclusive, he revolutionized organizations, event planning and sports promotion. Mason left us a legacy and a bright orange ‘true north’ star to guide us.

Beezie Madden, Photo courtesy of John Madden Sales

Beezie continues to carry the torch in a starring lead, exemplifying the epitome of talented athleticism, sportsmanship, hard work, strategic planning, dedication and above all, the love of the horse.

Personally, I’m grateful for Mason’s belief in me – that I had a worthy contribution to support our equestrian life, to share my experiences and expertise through this column. And hats off to Beezie Madden, an exemplary equestrian. Much gratitude for her willingness to keep advising us with strategic planning tips and horse philosophies! May we walk and ride our courses with purpose on our own journey toward ‘true north.’

Well done Mason and Beezie!

This column is brought to you by Warioto Farm Inc. For more information, visit

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