From the Paddock
Story by Cynthia McFarland • Photos by Joshua Jacobs
Making It Look Easy
Freshman Takes Life by the Reins
In an era when most early teen girls are obsessed with social media, appearances, and boys, Madison Rafacz (14) is an anomaly—and a very accomplished one at that. Madison, hailing from Citra, Florida, has won multiple world championships in the highly competitive world of reining.
Since the age of six, Madison has won eight times at the All American Quarter Horse Congress in various reining divisions. She was National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) world champion limited non-pro, in 2019, where she, at the age of 12, competed against adults. She was the number 19 overall non-pro rider in the world that same year. Madison has won world championships in the NRHA and American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) and is a three-time world champion in the National Snaffle Bit Association (NSBA) in ranch riding, ranch trail, and ranch rail.
Madison wasn’t one of those little girls who dreamed about horses and begged to take riding lessons. As the daughter of Mark and Shannon Rafacz, she’s been surrounded by horses as long as she can remember. “Both my parents are reining trainers, so I’ve always been around horses and never really got into anything else,” says Madison, who was just five when she entered her first show.
“The fact that Madison loves the sport and jumped into it the way she did was great for us,” says Madison’s mother Shannon, who also rides professionally. “She could have picked anything, but she loves the horses as much as we do.” Shannon adds that when it comes to competing, her daughter has no fear and takes pride in perfecting her skills.
Madison especially enjoys training her own horse and has learned this talent from her father Mark, who makes a living as a trainer and rider. “She builds relationships with these horses,” says Shannon, “and has incredible bonds with them.”
For a while, Madison toyed with the idea of riding English style and doing some jumping, but she’s found plenty of thrills in a Western saddle, thanks to reining and now ranch riding, which she’s been doing since 2019. Reining is widely known for its dramatic sliding stops and fast spins. Madison loves competing at those high rates of speed and admits the adrenaline of those maneuvers is part of the sport’s appeal.
In both reining and ranch riding, one horse and rider compete at a time, riding a pre-selected pattern. Judges add or deduct points depending on the quality of the horse’s maneuvers. Although different maneuvers are required depending on the pattern and skill level, Madison explains, “it’s all judged on your horse’s movement and how easy you make it look. The goal is to make it look as effortless as possible and that you and your horse are a team—which is really true with all disciplines.”
Peter and Jasmine
Madison has already competed on 15 different horses, including the two she currently owns—Peter and Jasmine. Whizenboonsmal (barn name “Peter the Great”) is the horse Madison has won her reining world championships on thus far. “Peter has very much lived up to his nickname,” says Madison of the 10-year-old chestnut Quarter Horse gelding she’s owned for five years. “He is more of a personality on the ground than a show horse. He’s like a big dog; he’ll follow you around, and he can do tricks like bow and smile.”
Got Twisted in Vegas (barn name “Jasmine”) is a five-year-old Quarter Horse mare Madison bought three years ago. Since then, Madison has done almost all the mare’s training. “Training Jasmine has definitely taught me to be more patient,” says Madison.
Now that Peter is older, there are some reining classes Madison can’t show him in. She plans to compete more with Jasmine in reining and enter ranch riding events with Peter.
School and Showing
School and Showing
Madison is currently a freshman at West Marion High School. “I went to private school for middle school, and they were really cooperative with my showing,’ says Madison. “I enjoy school, but we’re gone quite a bit for showing. Being out of school so much can be challenging, because you miss so much in-person learning. My public school, now, is mostly online, so that works well with my show routine.”
Since adding ranch riding to her repertoire, Madison and her family are on the road about 20 weekends of the year, traveling to compete at shows across the Southeast and as far west as Oklahoma City and Las Vegas.
Although training and showing take up most of her non-school time, Madison is also involved in FFA and is on her school’s horse judging team.
It’s not surprising that most of her friends are also into horses, but she does have a couple friends who don’t ride, although they’re active in FFA with livestock.
As talented as Madison and her horses are, they don’t always win. “You can definitely get knocked into your place. It helps you stay humble and loyal,” says Madison.
Madison is refreshingly down-to-earth, despite her stellar achievements. “Winning can be fun, but it’s definitely not about that,” she says. “The most rewarding part of this is not necessarily to say you’ve won certain things; it’s the relationships you’ve built throughout it all—with your horses and the people you meet.”