Using sound Judgement in the Ring

BILL LAYE -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:08 AM ET

The roar of the crowd is as much an adrenaline boost for the horses as it is for their riders, says seasoned trainer John Madden.

"He loves it here at Spruce Meadows and one of the reasons is when there's 50,000 in the stands he rises to the occasion," Madden said, motioning to the steed named Judgement his wife, competitor Beezie Madden, was taking through a warmup run yesterday.

"On an evening or an afternoon when there's not too many people -- or at a smaller venue -- he can sometimes be a little bit uninspired, but when the music comes up and the fans are cheering, he really knows it."

And steering thousands of dollars worth of sheer energy through an obstacle course is as much a mental process as it is a physical one -- for both horse and rider, he added.

"Like golf, it's a mental game ... you would think for the rider it's like golf but it's also that way for the horse," Madden said.

"All these horses can jump all these obstacles very easily, but the course designer puts different turns and distance problems together with the jumps in bad places ... so the horse has to be very willing to listen and very willing to obey what the rider wants him to do."

Keeping horses like Judgement, a 15-year-old stallion with an impressive list of wins, in prime condition at home and on the road involves hours and hours of work, said Madden, adding one groom will care for a maximum three horses.

"That's a better patient ratio than doctors-to-people," he said. "These are people who are completely dedicated to the animal and they take care of their every need ... the emotional investment is huge."

While Judgement felt good at the warmup, yesterday he knocked down his first barricade during the qualifying heat of the $30,000 Gunnar Office Furnishings Cup in the International Ring.


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