TALLAHASSEE — As Madeline (Maddie) Jordan headed toward the last line of brightly-colored jumps, a hush settled over the large crowd of spectators gathered for the United States Equestrian Federation Pony Finals in Lexington, Kentucky.
It was so silent, it made the 13-year-old Tallahassee native nervous.
She worried if her pony so much as brushed one of the jumps, everyone would hear and she would lose precious points.
It was like the crowd was holding its collective breath, somehow knowing that this wasn’t just another spectacular ride at one of the most prestigious riding competitions in the country. This was a miracle in the making.
You see, just two years earlier, Maddie was told she’d never ride again.
On Halloween in 2015, Maddie, at that time a sixth-grader at Holy Comforter Episcopal School, was trick-or-treating with friends in a neighborhood off Miccosukee Road. An impaired driver crashed a car into Maddie, so hard, it reportedly knocked her right out of her shoes.
Maddie, the only child of Monica and Grady Jordan, was severely injured, with a broken femur and traumatic brain injury.
Doctors told her parents she wouldn’t ride again.
Less than six months later, she proved them wrong. Not only was she riding again, she was better than ever.
Last week, Maddie found herself sitting in 13th place out of 66 riders at the beginning of the final round of the Pony Finals. As she and her pony, Shamrock, cleared the final jump, the crowd exploded into rowdy cheers and applause.
So much so, it startled the usually stoic pony, causing him to perk his ears as if asking what’s all the fuss was about.
Not only had Maddie and Shamrock had a clear round, they ended up winning the Medium Green Pony division of the Pony Finals.
As Maddie’s victory was announced, her mother reportedly wiped away her tears and said, “It’s just … it’s overwhelming. We never thought we’d be here. We never thought we’d be back.”
Monica said it wasn’t just a victory for Maddie and the Jordan family. It was a victory for all the folks back in Tallahassee who had worked so hard to support the Jordans and help Maddie recover.
Now back home, sitting in her living room, cuddling with her caramel-colored poodle, Elvis, Maddie seemed almost as amazed by all the fuss as her pony had been.
Her blond-streaked braids bounced and she grinned as she talked about Louie (the barn name for Shamrock) and winning last weekend.
She said, “When we came out of the ring, I heard my scores and figured we were in first place, but I had to sit in the stands with my friends and watch until the last riders rode. “
She said the leading rider was having a “really, really good course,” but missed the lead change at the last jump.
“It’s really sad to say, but I was very happy,” she said with a mischievous smile.
When asked about her accident and being told she wouldn’t ride again, she shrugged, “I always hoped I’d ride again. I just focused on other things, like my friends and on learning how to walk again.”
After 11 days in the hospital following the car crash, Maddie underwent months of physical therapy.
Monica said the physical therapist at Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare’s Rehab center, Chris Stavres, worked tirelessly with the determined and tenacious Maddie.
She said Tallahassee’s horse community and everyone, in general, were all eager to jump on Team Jordan after her accident, and assisted the family in every way possible.
“The outpouring of support was just phenomenal,” Monica said.
In March 2016, the day finally came that her orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Hank Hutchinson, cleared Maddie to ride again. He told her very nervous mother, “You can’t bubble-wrap her. You gotta let her be.”
For a while, she even rode with a long rod still in her leg, but nothing held her back.
In Nov. 2016, Louie was Reserve Champion Horse of the Year, Zone 4 in the 2016 Children’s Pony Division. He was then eligible for the Medium Green Pony Division in December.
Their first show together in the new division was in Pensacola. They won, and qualified for Pony Finals.
They spent the rest of the year winning, with Louie and Maddie taking Champion or Reserve Champion at every show.
Monica calls Louie a “unicorn” and says he is the pony of a lifetime for her precious daughter.
The entire experience has been very humbling for the Jordans.
Maddie’s father said, “We’re a very blessed family, from being where we were after the car crash to now. It could have been so much worse. We are blessed Maddie recovered as quickly and as well as she did. Everybody says luck had something to do with it, and there is some luck involved, but you gotta work hard to get to where the luck can affect that outcome.”
Grady continued, “God has blessed our family tremendously with her still being here. The fact that she won is just an example of God’s grace and blessing on families.”
Grady said he talked with Maddie the night before the Pony Finals. “I told her, ‘We’re just happy we’re here. Enjoy it. Enjoy the ride. Enjoy the moment and just have fun, because we almost weren’t here.’”
Winning, the Jordans said, was just icing on the cake.