After a successful Junior career in the show ring, Maddy Keck had a dilemma: she wasn’t ready to give up on riding, but she also wanted to pursue her other passions. “I realized that I had never quite grown out of my ‘crazy horse girl’ phase,” Maddy confessed. “I wanted to find a way to combine my love of horses with a creative career.”
Luckily, the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) had the unique balance of equestrian and creativity Maddy was after. Just 15 minutes outside of Savannah sits the Ronald C. Waranch Equestrian Center, home to the SCAD Equestrian Team. It was the perfect fit for Maddy to study advertising and branding while joining her fellow student-riders on the equestrian team in pursuing the highest level of athletic performance.
Growing up in Allamuchy, New Jersey, Maddy began riding and never looked back. “I grew up at the barn,” Maddy laughed. “I started riding pretty much as soon as I could walk. I competed in my first lead line class at 6 and won!”
Maddy first began riding ponies with Krista Freundlich at Beacon Hill Show Stables, and then moving to horses with show jumper Brian Walker and Henrik Gundersen for the majority of her teen years. She rode with her brother, Mackenzie, until she was in middle school, when Mackenzie decided to stop competing — which is how Maddy got her all-time favorite horse.
“My favorite horse I’ve ever owned and ridden is, no doubt, my jumper, Sensation,” she said. “My family bought him when he was a 6-year-old stallion for my older brother, Mackenzie, who was 12 at the time. When Mackenzie decided to stop competing and focus on school, Sensation was passed down to me when I was 11. He took both my brother and I from the Children’s Jumpers to the High Juniors. Definitely a horse of a lifetime.”
Maddy continued to ride through middle school and high school, becoming an accomplished rider, earning a long list of awards over the years including the Washington Pony Medal Final Championship, the Foxlair’s Poker Perpetual Trophy and being named the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) champion in multiple categories including Large Green Pony, Children’s Hunter Circuit and Low Junior Jumper Circuit.
“It’s hard for me to pinpoint a most meaningful win as a Junior,” Maddy said. “I think I look at it more as phases or circuits than individual classes. My most meaningful circuit was WEF 2012. My main ride was with my jumper, Sensation, though I competed in the equitation that season as well. It’s the circuit that I look back on and feel so grateful that I was able to share with that horse.”
Each winter, Maddy would leave her school in New Jersey for three or four months to be homeschooled in Wellington. Her tutor would come for a few hours in the morning, and she would be free to ride the rest of the day. “My favorite part about being in Wellington, though, was being able to have my horses in my backyard,” she said. “Waking up and seeing them out my window playing in turnout … it doesn’t get much better than that.”
Continuing in College
Though her horses aren’t right outside her window, Maddy enjoys being able to keep up her riding and her studies. Her time riding as a Junior prepared her to become an integral part of the SCAD Equestrian Team since joining in the winter of 2018.
“In collegiate riding, it’s so important to be able to ride multiple types of horses because you get on and go straight in front of the judge with no warm-up,” Maddy said. “Having a background with catch riding and showing horses that I didn’t have much time to get to know very well before going in the ring has definitely given me the tools to succeed at SCAD.”
During the 2018-2019 season, Maddy finished third at Zone 5 finals in Individual Open Over Fences, only one place off from advancing to Nationals. Maddy also competed in the Collegiate Cup Intermediate Flat division at the IHSA Nationals, earning a national championship title.
“Riding for the SCAD Equestrian Team has helped me not only grow as a rider but has given me life experience that could not be gained anywhere else,” Maddy said. “It has given me so many opportunities, whether it be making life-long connections with other students and staff or allowing me to compete at the national level to represent a university as incredible as SCAD.”
Set for Success
The team, Maddy says, is like a second, albeit large, family who are always there for each other. The SCAD Equestrian Team has a roster of 60 student-athletes, who compete at a variety of IHSA levels.
“I think there’s a common misconception around riding,” Maddy explained. “People don’t realize how much effort goes into it — how you’re not only building relationships with your team members, but also with your horse. So, as a team, we want to go through the season with tenacity and grace, and I think that’s what sets us apart from others.”
Maddy’s drive to succeed transcends her time spent in the Ronald C. Waranch Equestrian Center. Maddy’s ultimate career goal may be in the not-to-distant future and she attributes her success at SCAD.
“Being able to blend my interests in fashion and branding with my love of equestrian is a dream,” Maddy said. “My advertising and branding professors have truly shaped my career path — their immense insight and industry experience has made learning fun and opened my eyes to careers I didn’t know existed.”
For more information, visit www.scad.edu