Nothing seems to faze Madeline Jordan. Not hurtling across a field on her mare to sail over a downed live oak on her family’s Tallahassee, Florida, farm. Not waiting at the show-ring gate to perform against the top young riders in America. And not recalling her accident, nearly three years ago, when an impaired driver struck her while she was trick-or-treating. That night, she broke her femur and suffered a traumatic brain injury. Doctors told her parents she might never ride again. But the determined Maddie, as she’s known, was back on her pony in less than six months. A little more than a year later, she clinched a first-place finish in the national pony finals. Now, on her new horse, Tribecca, the fourteen-year-old is one of the best young riders in the South. The only thing giving her nerves a little jolt? Starting high school this fall.
Your horse’s name is Tribecca. But you call her something else.
When we got her, they were calling her Becca, and I didn’t think it fit her. So one day at breakfast, I was like, “You know what would be a really cute name for a horse? Bacon. Because everybody loves bacon.”
You got Bacon after the accident. What happened that night?
My friend had invited me to a small neighborhood off one of these beautiful canopy roads. My friend’s parents had a hayride, but none of us were in it because we were out trying to get candy. I went to cross the street, and then I don’t remember anything after that, until I was lying on the ground. My parents were right there. But it was a blur. In the ambulance with my mom and dad, it was obvious my leg was—well, it wasn’t a compound fracture, but the bone—it was obvious it was broken.
How do your injuries affect you now?
When I’m riding, I’m a little loose in my left leg, but I always was anyway. My trainers don’t get mad about my leg. It’s mostly about keeping my heels down.
What was the recovery like?
I did a lot of physical therapy. My pony, Ben, helped me too. My parents would bring him up to the porch so I could pet him. I was in a wheelchair and then a walker and then crutches. Once I got stronger, my physical therapist had me doing bear crawls and lunges, and then things like one-legged squats while throwing a ball—it was insane.
So who decided when you could ride?
We had a doctor’s appointment with my surgeon, and my mom told him she didn’t know about letting me ride. Another surgeon had said he’d never clear me to ride. But the doctor said, “Don’t Bubble Wrap her. You let her ride before—why would she stop now? I mean, she has titanium in her leg—she’s not going to break it.”
What was that first time back like?
I was really excited. We went to a show just planning to watch Ben. But then we decided I could get on. I started by walking, and then trotting, and cantering. My leg was a lot weaker than it had been, but it didn’t hurt. I didn’t feel like I was riding as best as I could, but I was trying. Then I ended up getting fourth place out of twenty ponies. I was like, What in the world? Well, this is awesome. I’m going to have to do this more.
How did the accident affect you otherwise?
Before the accident, I always wanted to win, and if I didn’t win, I felt defeated. But now I know how quickly something can be taken away from you, and so now I can just go out there and not even get a ribbon, and I’m fine. But when we win, it’s amazing.
Are you ever scared of falling off?
Not really. I’ve fallen off of Bacon once or twice. My old pony, Louie, I would fall off of him like every day. When Bacon bucks, it’s nothing. When Louie bucked, it was like I was in a bull-riding competition.
Girl, you’ve got guts.
I like to call myself a brave person, but if there’s, like, a bee near me, I’m going to freak out.
Which women inspire you?
My mom, because she’s really determined and she works really hard. She tells me every day: Whatever you do, do what you love. She was like, You could be the booger-
eating champion of the world and I’d still support you. And I was like, Okay. I don’t want to be that, but whatever.
You’re starting Leon High School soon.
I went to a private school, but it only goes up to middle school. So I’m going to have to make new friends. I try to be nice to everybody. Yesterday, we drove by Leon—they were switching classes—and everybody was coming out of everywhere and I was like, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to survive that! There are sooo many people.
What advice would you give someone going through a challenge like you did?
Just try to be optimistic and enjoy knowing what your life was before and what it will be after. I just had to grasp the fact
that you can’t control things. Yes, if I would have been two minutes late walking across the road, none of this would
have happened. But if this wouldn’t have happened, I probably wouldn’t have gotten Louie, and if I hadn’t gotten Louie, I wouldn’t have won pony finals, and if I hadn’t won pony finals, I wouldn’t have gotten Bacon.
Do you think your attitude helped you recover faster?
Maybe that was part of it. And some really good doctors.