Julia Madigan's Incredible Journey to the Top of the Podium

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If you are attending the horse show at The Royal then you have probably seen this super talented rider leading the victory gallop. Julia and her partner Farf have been besting their competition this summer from Spruce Meadows' International Ring to the NAJYRC podium. Between her academic & QET commitments this remarkable rider shares her journey, the lessons she has learnt and the two riders who have inspired her along the way.
Name:  Julia Madigan
Home Base: I am originally from Vancouver, BC but by home base for riding is in Oxford Mills, ON where I train with Jill Henselwood.
Discipline:  Show Jumping
Horses: Farfelu Du Pringtemps (Fraf) & Vintovara (Vinnie)
Started Riding:  My 6th birthday. I then went into Pony Club, did Prince Phillips Games and competed in Cross Country before starting to enter Jumper competitions at the age of 12.
Recent Highlight of your Riding career: This summer at Spruce Meadows I won several 1.40m Jr/Am competitions and my coach Jill suggested I move up to the International Ring during the North American show. I nervously competed in the U25 Division, debuting in the International Ring, having 4, 8 and then 4 faults in my three rounds. I really wanted to jump clean in that ring, and was disappointed in myself, but I qualified to go to Young Riders (NAJYRC) in July. It was a childhood dream especially since it was my last year of eligibility, as I was turning 21. After Day One, I was in 8th place and felt winning was beyond my reach, my dreams were dashed. I was in a bad mood at dinner and my dad reminded me "do your best, don't give up, be positive and don't forget to smile." He always says that. "Don't forget to smile." By Sunday I had won the Individual Gold Medal and also led Canada to a Team Silver Medal. That was the first time I ever stood on a podium and had the National anthem played for me. I had goose bumps.
I am back at school in 3rd year Mechanical Engineering at Queens University.(Julia is also rides for the Queen's Equestrian Team). I recently qualified for the Royal Winter Fair in the 1.40m and U25 Division so I will be there in early November and am really looking forward to this as its my first time going to The Royal given I grew up in British Columbia.
Last week I got a call informing me that I qualified for the U25 Division Finals in Las Vegas. I called my parents to see if they would allow me to drop out of Engineering and go.  Guess what??...I'M NOT going to Vegas!
Horse that had the most impact on your journey: The horse that has impacted me the most has definitely been Farf. He is my first and only Grand Prix horse at the moment and really taught me how to ride bigger tracks. I know I can always count on him when I go into the ring and can always feel confident that he'll take me to the finish line....and beyond, which is an incredible feeling. I am really lucky to have him.
Update: Julia and Farf won the 1.40m National Championship at The Royal
Most challenging time in your Riding career:  When I was younger I did not realize that every time you move up 10cm in height it requires double the skill. I was jumping 1m or 1.1m and winning, but had some bad habits that were going to limit my success as I moved up. I was not a fan of practising my equitation. As I moved up (1.30, 1.40, 1.50) I soon realized I had to get rid of those bad habits. Those habits would come out instinctively at the worst times during a round, often when I was in a bit of trouble. And quickly they turned into a rail, a stop or a crash. This is where Jill Henselwood helped me the most, getting me to learn that I had to break those habits, and instinctively learn new habits or she would have to"break my arms, twist my elbows, or cut off my toes." I had to start implementing the changes.
What did you learn from this Challenge? I learnt that I should have done more equitation when I was younger and that there are no shortcuts to becoming a better rider. Good skills, perfect practice, great coaching, and hard work makes a good rider. Consistently doing this all the time, makes a GREAT rider.
Most Rewarding Moment: The most rewarding moment of my riding career has been developing my horse Vinnie. We bought Vinnie when I was in Grade 10 and she was 6 years old. It's not something I would recommend everyone do since when you're a Junior you don't really have the skillset to develop a young horse and sometimes innocently teach bad habits. We got really lucky with Vinnie, she is brave, kind and forgiving with a generous mind. I was also fortunate in that I was able to get help from my trainers at the time, Samantha Buirs and Judy Wise to develop her and help keep her honest. I brought Vinnie up to consistently jump at the 1.40 level during my gap year and was able to show her in the Division at Spruce Meadows.
Who has inspired you? Jill has been the biggest influence developing my skills, mindset and guiding my riding career, but Lizzie Gingras and Jaclyn Duff have both inspired me the most as role models. Jill was training them during my gap year and I got to know both of them really well as we all lived above the barn. They were and still are my best role models as they both embody resilience and silent determination. Lizzie has probably had everything you can imagine go wrong...she's broken her back, had a horse tragically pass away after a fatal fall, and yet she keeps persevering as she attempts to reach greater goals. Jaclyn Duff is always smiling no matter what goes wrong in the ring. Her horses are ...well...sometimes kind of known for acting up or doing the unexpected, and even when they disappoint her she is so quick to put it behind her, laugh it off, and look forward to what she can improve on the next day.
Words to Live By: My brother always quotes me "if you ain't first, you're last" from Talladega Nights. I usually go into the ring with a clear understanding of where I can make an inside turn or cut time off on my track in the jump off.  I have a plan and the determination to be on the leaderboard, but it doesn't always pan out.
Looking forward where do you see yourself? Although I am studying at Queen's in the Mechanical Engineering program I'm hesitant to tell people that I have been a regular on the Dean's List (which I honestly don't think I can maintain). I am doing well in school so that my parents will continue to allow me to ride. My parents encouraged me to take Engineering as they said I would learn how to think and solve complex problems. I don't know if I will ever be an Engineer. I only know that I am going to need a great paying job so that I can continue to ride.
Looking back what advice would you give your younger self? If you don't know me, I come across as a pretty serious person. I wish I were a little more relaxed and as I get older I am learning to do this more often. I played competitive soccer through grade school and high school. I think it's important that equestrians make the time and commit to also play a team sport as the equestrian sport can be very individually focused. I believe this helps round us out and maintain other friendships outside of the barn.
Note: We are proud to be partnered with the Queen's University Equestrian Team. Please use code QET2017 when ordering from our website; proceeds from each order will be donated to support this group of amazing girls who are pursing the highest level of academics while continuing their passion for riding.
Photo Credit: Chronicle of the Horse

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