When the famous show jumper Authentic wants something, he knows who to talk to: Clark Shipley.
“If Authentic is in his stall and wants to go out in the paddock, every time he sees Clark he screams at him. He knows Clark is the one who takes care of him, and Clark makes sure he’s happy,” said grand prix rider Beezie Madden, who rode Authentic to team gold at the 2004 and 2008 Olympic Games, team and individual silver at the 2006 World Equestrian Games, and individual bronze at the 2008 Olympic Games.
“The best thing is that every time you went somewhere, you felt like you had a chance to win, and not everyone can say that about a horse,” said Shipley of Authentic. “And his personality made it ever more fun—he’s a cocky little thing!”
In 18 years of working for John and Beezie Madden, Shipley has traveled the world and taken care of some of the best horses. Through it all, his quiet confidence and easy affability have helped Beezie become one of the best in the world. “He's always supportive of me, and he's 100 percent wanting to do what's best for the horse and for me. That's his strongest asset,” Beezie said.
An Unexpected Offer
Shipley has horses in his blood but not jumpers. He grew up in rural Iowa in a family immersed in the world of harness racing. His uncle, Mike Arnold, is in the Iowa Harness Racing Hall of Fame. Shipley started out working for his uncle, apprenticing under him, but he eventually branched out on his own and drove and trained Standardbreds until his early 30s.
When he was 34, John Madden offered Shipley a job, even though he’d only ever seen one small horse show. John knew Shipley’s girlfriend, Sue Schlegel. She was working on the track, where she met Shipley, but she had experience in the jumper world.
“What I tell people is that they wanted Sue so bad, they took me. I was the ‘player to be named later’ in the baseball trade,” Shipley joked.
“I told John that I didn't know how I was going to do it, that I didn't even know how to put a saddle on, and he said, 'They're just horses.' And basically it is a lot of the same with taking care of them in the barn. Some things are a lot different with longer hours and international travel, but I caught on fairly fast,” he continued.
Today, Shipley and Schlegel are still together and are both still working for the Maddens. “We've worked together for 23 years between the racetrack and here. I probably drive her crazy, but she won't admit it!” Shipley said.
“Our organization is a little different than a lot of others, because we don't really have a barn manager,” said Beezie. “They all find their niche of what they like to do and are good at. We have Clark and Sue, and Amy DeVisser, who has been with us even longer than them and likes to stay home. Clark kind of does all the things that girls don't like to do, like the heavy lifting.
“He has a lot of experience with horses and a real sense of responsibility about them. He's the one who's always there when there's something difficult to do. He can take the pressure of going to the Olympic Games, whereas some people don't want that kind of pressure,” she continued.
Shipley’s common-sense personality and even-keel nature fit in well with the Maddens’ approach. “Beezie is very dedicated and works hard. So, you don't mind getting up early in the morning and working hard yourself. And John's always got 1,400 things going on at the same time, but that's just John. We're used to it. They're both very good to be around,” Shipley said.
He Gets Around
Shipley doesn’t get to spend much time at home in Cazenovia, N.Y., the base for the John Madden Sales team. From January to April this year he lived in Wellington, Fla., then jetted off to Europe for the FEI Show Jumping World Cup Final in Leipzig, Germany. In June he began a six-week stay in Calgary, Alta., Canada, for the Spruce Meadows summer series. He left straight from Calgary to fly to Europe for the Aachen CHIO (Germany), and will be in Europe for the next two months.
“We have seven horses here, and it’s Sue and I and Emily [Gailis] taking care of them. We’re all heading in different directions. They're staying here at our base [at Johan Heins’s farm in the Netherlands], and I'm heading to a show in France. Then Sue's heading to Hickstead, and I'm bringing some horses to Dublin and meeting her there. It’s a bit hectic, but that's our life, so we're used to it,” Shipley said.
In Aachen, Shipley’s day started at 7 a.m., and sometimes didn’t finish until 11 p.m. And while he gets a big thrill out of watching his charges go, he has a deep appreciation for the quieter moments out of the spotlight.
“I like to get to the barn early before everyone else, when it's quiet. I'll muck a few stalls, maybe have a coffee or read the paper while the horses eat. When there's no one else there buzzing around, I like that. It doesn't take long for the action to heat up!” he said.
In late August, Shipley will fly back to Spruce Meadows, and then the pace slows a bit. “If we're home for three months, that's a long time, but we get to do that in the winter, until we go to Florida in January. And even then, we'll be doing indoor shows,” he said. Shipley flies with the Maddens’ horses whenever they leave the ground. “I’ve gotten to where I’d rather fly with horses than fly commercial!” he said.
It’s when they’re en route to the next destination that Shipley worries the most. “They're very expensive horses, and it's a lot of responsibility to make sure they're healthy,” he said. “Lots of times, it's just you and them traveling, so it's really on you to make sure they're safe and happy. It gets to be second nature, but you do know that it's a lot of responsibility. The horses depend on you.”
A World Traveler
While the schedule might seem grinding and relentless to some, Shipley thoroughly enjoys his life on the road. “I've seen more of the world than I ever would have if I hadn't done this. I really like to travel, even though it's not like we're going there as tourists. We're usually just seeing a horse show and a hotel! There have been some places where we've had a little bit of time and have been able to go and see some sights, but not all the time,” he said.
During the awards ceremony for the team competition at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong, Shipley stood holding Authentic quietly as Beezie climbed the podium for her gold medal. He patted Authentic, then whipped out a camera and snapped a few pictures of the moment.
“Both of the Olympics Games were pretty amazing. To stand in the middle of the awards ceremonies and hear our national anthem play is pretty cool,” he said.
Shipley carried the lessons he learned in the harness racing world to the show jumping rings, and after almost two decades at the top levels, you’d think he would’ve seen it all. But he’s always got his eyes open. “You meet a lot of people and see a lot of different things and ways of doing things everywhere you go. If you ever think you know everything, you're in trouble. You can always learn something,” he said.
The one thing he hasn’t learned, however, is riding. He careened around on some ponies as a kid, and he’s occasionally swung a leg over a horse at the Maddens’. But he keeps his feet firmly on the ground for the most part. “My job is to make sure they're sound, happy and fit and let Beezie worry about all the rest,” he said.
This is the third article in a weekly series about barn managers and grooms . Every Wednesday in July we'll publish a story about one of these invaluable behind-the-scenes employees. Learn more about what it takes to get top professionals into the show ring while everything runs smoothly at home.