Eighteen-year-old Emerson Madonia is already a World Champion with plenty of show miles under her belt buckle. She and her sorrel mare This Chic Is Dreamy, (barn name Maggie, aka Maggie Macaroni) hold the 2021 Limited Non Pro World Reining Championship for money won in the National Reining Horse Association. Madonia’s trainer Sam Schaffhauser, in Tennessee, helped her find her “super sassy” mare. 

“Maggie gives everything when she is working; she is definitely my heart horse. Every single ride I make sure to thank her. She is a powerhouse — I would never be able to sell her. The running joke in my family is that my father is going to start riding her.” (This is a joke because no one else in the family has horse experience.) “My favorite thing has to be the sliding stops. She loves them —she sounds like a freight train: the build and build and then she just drops her haunch in the dirt and it is an amazing feeling.”

Madonia’s family moved to Lincolnton, North Carolina when she was 4 years old. There was an old barn behind their new house, and she begged her parents for a horse for years until they finally broke. Emerson started out riding English with the trainer Carone Stucky, but switched to Western when she was 12, after attending a rodeo at The Ponderosa in Lincolnton.  

“Mommy, I want my spurs to jingle” she said, after she saw the flashy boots and spurs. 

Emerson trained with Roy Blanton in Morganton until she began to focus on reining, which took her to Huntersville to train with Kevin Shaw. Madonia credits Shaw with taking her all the way to Youth Worlds, and helping her to find a horse named Lena’s Best Gun, also known as Yogurt, as well as a horse named Electric Performance with whom she qualified for the FEIs. Emerson moved on to work with another trainer, Peter DeFreitas who she says taught her the mechanics of reining. 

“I am so thankful for all of the trainers that I have had. They taught me so much, and I still talk to all of them today.” In addition to her NRHA showing, Madonia won Intermediate Reining as part of the 2017 National Champion Interscholastic Equestrian Association (IEA) Team with trainer Jenny King, and in 2018, was the Individual National IEA Champion in Intermediate Reining. 

Emerson has committed to attending University of South Carolina in the fall and will be riding on the USC NCAA Equestrian Team. While she hasn’t really decided what she wants to study, maybe physical therapy, accounting, sports management… she hopes to become a horse trainer someday herself.

Emerson Madonia and Maggie. Photography by Reba Ellen Hicks




Winter 2024

Our Winter 2024 edition features Steeplechasing in the Carolinas, Aiken, the fascinating Equus-Soma Bone Room and much more!

Polo in the Carolinas

Today, Aiken is the undisputed center of polo in the Carolinas. There are no fewer than six polo clubs recognized by the United States Polo Association (USPA) in the Aiken area, including at least four that hold regular tournaments and matches open to spectators.

Under 21: Gigi Phillips

When asked about other plans, Gigi Phillips laughs. “I am very competitive and I really enjoy the various divisions and moving up the ranks. Also, I just love being around the animals. I kind of decided what I liked from a young age and I just have been ‘all-in’ with horses.”

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