Trick Riding Phenom
Madison MacDonald-Thomas

Madison MacDonald-Thomas of Magic In Motion Trick Riding has performed at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo 10 times.

PHOTOS BY DAN LESOVSKY, WEASEL LOADER

Sparkling at Speed

Harrowing Stunts and Adventurous World of Trick Riding Phenom Madison MacDonald-Thomas;
Riding Into Her 11th WNFR Performance

Chances are, if you’ve attended a big-name rodeo in the last decade, you’ve been captivated by a petite brunette carrying the American flag while flying around the arena standing atop her horse. The scene is a shining and patriotic symbol of the rodeo world’s love for its country and flare for action. While most of us actively avoid being underneath our horses at a full gallop, Madison MacDonald-Thomas welcomes it as part of her trick riding act that opens rodeos across the country, keeping crowds on the edge of their seats, as she awes fans with spectacular gymnastics at high speed.

Hailing from Alberta, Canada, Maddie — as she’s known — is truly an example of the American dream. The daughter of a mother who not only rode horses but also worked for the Calgary Stampede and produced Wild West shows, you could say that Maddie’s future career performing stunts on horseback was a pre-determined destiny. Maddie began trick riding lessons at just 6 years old, sealing her fate and the trajectory of her career. In tandem with her budding passion for trick riding, Maddie found a love for reining horses and worked her way up the ranks in high school rodeo running barrels, tying goats and throwing a rope in the breakaway and team roping. Now 28, Maddie and her act are a fixture at major rodeos across the U.S. and a constant presence at the annual Wrangler National Finals Rodeo where she stirs the crowd inside the Thomas & Mack.

“You’ve got to trust them, and they have to trust you. We’re doing a lot of things that make horses uncomfortable. They have to be pretty broke, know how to pick up their ribs and move their shoulder — everything that it takes to support me hanging off of their side while they run. I have to know that they’ll use their body weight at the right time to counteract mine.”
— Madison MacDonald-Thomas, 10-time Wrangler NFR Trick Rider, 3-time PRCA Act of the Year

Total Trust

Proud of her Canadian roots, Maddie’s heart, soul and address are on American soil. After a time in Texas, she and her husband — an equine massage therapist and chiropractor — have made the move north to Montana’s Big Sky country where they train tomorrow’s superstar trick riding horses. To Maddie, trust is paramount in a sport that requires both horse and rider to anticipate each other’s movements and lend themselves fully to the task at hand. “You’ve got to trust them, and they have to trust you,” says Maddie. “We’re doing a lot of things that make horses uncomfortable. They have to be pretty broke, know how to pick up their ribs and move their shoulder — everything that it takes to support me hanging off of their side while they run. I have to know that they’ll use their body weight at the right time to counteract mine.” It’s an immensely-deep partnership shared between Maddie and the horses in her trailer. One that has taken years and innumerable miles to build. “I can get on, put the reins down and trust that regardless of the arena I ride into, regardless of whether my horse has been there before or it’s our first time, he’s going to do his job. He won’t spook at the pyrotechnics, and we’ll take care of each other,” she says with every confidence in the loyalty and steadfastness of her mounts.

Aged to Perfection

Training a trick riding horse, as you can imagine, isn’t an overnight phenomenon. The practice takes long days, months and years to bond horse with rider and ensure that confidence is built from repetitive action. Bottom line, Maddie has to know that when she rides into an arena with the noise of the crowd, the bustle of the bucking shoots and the boom of the announcer’s voice, her horses are going to perform as expected. “They’re going to do their job. I don’t have to worry about them,” she says with rock solid confidence. She and her horses know each other well and have formed a bond that’s only possible after years together. “The horses in my trailer right now are 21-, 14- and 12-years-old, with the latter being my new guy. It’s a whole new experience for him, but he’s out there with us getting seasoned.” Her horses are special and the cornerstone of her career under the big lights. Their worth isn’t lost on Maddie. They’re invaluable, and she knows it. “I realize how amazing my horses are to put up with this lifestyle that we lead. They don’t even think twice. I can run them into any arena, and they go their hardest for me for two and a half minutes. That’s a long time in comparison to a barrel horse who runs an 18-second pattern. That’s asking a lot.” Couple that with all of the miles on the road, and it’s clear why Maddie is so focused on recovery, conditioning, nutrition and bringing it all together for the sake of longevity. “The moment they stop wanting to work is the moment I’ll retire them, but until then, we’re a team and we love this life.”

They are, in fact, a team that brings excitement and entertainment to thousands of people each rodeo season and almost always without fail. “When you watch my shows, nine times out of 10 you’ll never see half of the things that go wrong. I’m constantly amazed by how my body can pull off positions, pull off tricks, just from sheer muscle memory. If my straps and my stirrups aren’t just right, especially considering the speed, I can’t adjust or fix things on the fly.” Maddie continues to pull off tricks that we love to watch, but sometimes with some sacrifice. “I’ve done tricks and dove into positions just kind of praying that my body can catch me. Sometimes I don’t find the stirrup to push off of or I can’t find my strap to grab. I've come out of the arena more times than I can count amazed that we pulled it off.” She’s tough, no question, and this fiery little brunette is unquestionably in control of her world when on top of a horse. You won’t find her in glitter outside of the arena, but when the costumes and shimmer come out, both she and her horses know it’s go time. “Together, we transform before a show. They know when it’s time, and they’re completely different in terms of their focus and demeanor than they are in the practice pen.”

“I realize how amazing my horses are to put up with this lifestyle that we lead. They don’t even think twice. I can run them into any arena, and they go their hardest for me for two and a half minutes. That’s a long time in comparison to a barrel horse who runs an 18-second pattern, that’s asking a lot.”
— Madison MacDonald-Thomas, 10-time Wrangler NFR Trick Rider, 3-time PRCA Act of the Year

Back from the Brink

Madison MacDonald-Thomas is so much more than the sparkle and shine of her act. She loves it, of course, but what really stirs her are the horses themselves. In her soul, she’s a horsewoman and the trainer that nearly every trick rider in the industry has turned to for themselves or their horses. Though she never needs reminding of just how special her horses are to her, she was nonetheless shown their value again when she came close to losing her coveted 21-year-old buckskin this past year — “Number One Chex,” or “Numby,” as she calls him. “I was on the road in Texas when the woman taking care of our place back in Montana called and said that something wasn’t right with Numby. My heart sank. I’ve had him for over 16 years; we’ve been through it all. I know him, and this was way out of the norm.” Having just moved to Montana with Maddie, Numby was 2,000 miles from his usual care team — long-time Brazos Valley Equine veterinarians Drs. Charlie Buchanan and Ricky Osterloh. The decision was made to transport her beloved buckskin to Montana Equine to establish a diagnosis and determine the next steps. With Numby going downhill quickly, Maddie was helpless and relying on new veterinarians to keep her informed as to what could be done. “He was in bad shape, and when they got him to Montana Equine, they went to work on him. They didn’t know me or who I was. They didn’t know what this horse meant to me or what he did for a living, but they saw more than a 21-year-old horse. We had to save him, and he was in good hands.” Dr. Peter Heidmann, Dr. Al Flint and their team quickly connected with Dr. Osterloh and the team at Brazos Valley Equine to establish Numby’s history, then confirmed a diagnosis of Potomac Fever. “It was all hands on deck to save this horse. He stayed at Montana Equine for nearly three weeks, and I ended up flying home as fast as I could. I know it sounds crazy, but I knew he would recover faster once he saw me. We have that kind of relationship.” It was during Numby’s recovery at Montana Equine that Maddie was introduced to Platinum Performance®. “That incident is what really got me hooked. Platinum was the first thing that they put him on when we were in the veterinary hospital and could get him to eat. We were diligent with it, and it was wild to see his coat and his health come back. More than that it was supporting his gut after Potomac Fever turned into colitis and a fight against laminitis. We had to have six feedings a day of alfalfa where we had removed the stems, plus Platinum twice a day.”

Numby bounced back quickly, a shocking feat for any horse but particularly one with 21 years behind him. He’s now back in Maddie’s trailer and traveled over 8,000 miles with her this past season. “No one could believe it. He kept his weight, he recovered so well and I didn't push him. He did it on his own, and we just made sure he had everything he needed.” Numby got a second chance at the sport he loves, and Maddie got her boy back; the one she’s loved since she was 12-years-old. “Truthfully, he looks better than he ever has. I haven’t seen his coat and coloring get this much black in it for over 10 years, but since getting him on the Platinum, he looks amazing.”

“I would not be where I am if it wasn't for the horsepower that I've had, so these horses come first. They get the best, and I owe them everything.”
— Madison MacDonald-Thomas, 10-time Wrangler NFR Trick Rider, 3-time PRCA Act of the Year

The Show Goes On

This year when you lean forward in your seat at the Thomas & Mack, or watch in anticipation from home, you’ll know the shining woman with the flag a little bit more personally. She’s an instant friend to anyone who meets her, and when you see Old Glory fly by in her hand, atop her charging horse, know that that flag and the audience watching have both captured her heart. “We give this life everything we have all year. We go hard up and down the road and what makes it all worth it is when the crowd loves it and I can feel the energy,” says Maddie of the fans she loves to entertain. Really though, in the end, she’s a girl from Canada who found the American spirit inside her and holds a deep admiration and boundless love for the horses that have taken her on the adventure of a lifetime. “I would not be where I am if it wasn’t for the horsepower that I’ve had, so these horses come first. They get the best, and I owe them everything.”

Jessie Bengoa

by Jessie Bengoa,
Platinum Performance®