Welcome to EN’s fourth annual Rolex Rookies series! We’re thrilled to be profiling the new faces heading to Rolex this year, and we couldn’t be more excited for these riders taking their first crack at Kentucky. We’ll be bringing you exclusive profiles on each rookie pair, so keep checking back to learn more about the competitors you’ll see at Rolex.
“Ever since I first understood what it was, Rolex has always been my dream,” says Madeline Backus, who at age 21 is gearing up for her four-star debut in April. Her partner is P.S. Arianna, a mare that her farrier bred, her mother Laura started, and Madeline got for her 10th birthday when “Ari” was six.
Fresh off a fourth place finish in the Red Hills CIC3* last weekend, all systems are go for this talented pair. If you’re going to be at the inaugural Exmoor Horse Trials in Ocala this weekend, be sure to stop by Madeline’s bake sale, where she will be selling homemade dog and horse treats as well as bread to help defray the expense of getting to Rolex.
We recently caught up with Madeline for an update!
EN: You and Ariana have come ALL the way up the levels together. Did you ever dream you’d be aiming her at Rolex?
MB: Arianna and I have grown up together, and she has taken on every question I have asked her, and what a learning experience it has been. Yes, I’ve always imagined taking my mighty mare to Rolex, but I don’t think you truly know if a horse is going to make it there until it happens.
In 2011, Ari had an injury that she wasn’t supposed to come back from, but we persevered thanks to all of the amazing vets who have helped Ari heal and stay in top form, and I am grateful for everything she has given me since. Ari loves her job and I believe in her. I’ve also had some fantastic guidance from amazing people to help me reach my goals and dreams.
EN: What does Rolex mean to you? This will be your first time as a rider, but I assume you’ve attended before as a spectator?
MB: I have actually only attended Rolex once when I was 7 years old. I bought my first competition cross country saddle pad there, and I remember spending time with my mom and Kim Walnes near the Gray Goose’s grave, which was special to me because Sylvester was one of my favorite movies at that time.
I am well known for wearing pink on cross country, and that originates back to this saddle pad. Yes, this saddle pad was bright yellow with pink trim and rainbow flowers all over it. Of course as a kid, I wanted ALL of the colors to be my cross country colors, but my mom told me I could only pick three.
I promised myself that I would wear pink when I got to Rolex, and well, here I am! Thank goodness I have toned it down a little since then. You couldn’t miss me on cross country!
Rolex is something I have always had as a long term goal since I first attended at age 7, and I can’t believe it is now a short term goal. It has changed from being one of my dreams, to becoming a reality.
It means that my horse and I have worked hard and are truly partners as we compete at the highest level in the sport. It goes to show that you can never give up. Even though we all know this sport has the highest highs, and lowest lows, you have to keep chasing after your end goals and reaching for your dreams.
I am incredibly lucky to have gotten to where I am, and am so grateful for everyone who has helped and supported me along the way.
EN: Are you getting butterflies when you think about it, or does it feel like just another event in the progression?
MB: Both! It is definitely the next step, and when I actually think about what’s about to happen, there are butterflies in my stomach for sure.
EN: How have your winter/spring preparations been going? Have you been focusing on anything in particular or stepping up her fitness? What is your plan for the next month?
MB: Just coming off of Red Hills, I can say that my winter preparations are going pretty well! I am gradually upping Ari’s fitness to make sure she peaks at Rolex. We are always working on our dressage, so I will be doing as much dressage as I can, hopefully including a dressage show before we head to Chatt Hills to compete at the Advanced there as our final preparation.
I am so thankful for Missy Ransehousen and all of the help she has given me, and everyone at Blue Hill Farm, and I wouldn’t be where I am without my mom Laura Backus and the whole Pendragon Stud Equestrian Center team. It was also very educational to be a part of the Emerging Athletes training session for my second year, and spend time learning from Leslie Law and getting to know all of the other great riders who made the list.
EN: Last but not least, you’ve been busy baking! Tell us about that.
MB: Yes, I really enjoy baking. It’s one of those things that I like to do to help get my mind off of things. Usually those around me don’t complain too much!
My specialty is bread, but I am willing to give any recipe a go. I am going to be bringing a variety of baked goods including horse and dog treats to Richard and Daisy’s Trayfords Exmoor Horse Trials this weekend to sell as a fundraiser for my trip to Rolex.
Best of luck to Madeline and Ari, and keep it locked on EN for all the latest news in the leadup to Rolex 2017!