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Mathieson's Courageous Fight Comes To An End


by Bob Funkhouser

Like numerous trainers, Todd Mathieson had many different addresses throughout his career. However, every stop proved to be a school room for both horses and people. He was passionate about developing young horses and he possessed an uncanny ability to attract people from all walks of life. With that combination he put many new owners into the business, whether it was investing in a prospect or just learning to ride as adults.

The Saddlebred industry suffered a huge loss with his passing at the end of February. Mathieson, with his wife Diane and many great friends and customers by his side, had been battling severe medical problems over the past few years stemming from kidney failure. Despite losing both legs he never complained, never said “why me?”

“We're really going to miss him,” said Donnie Holmes, a lifelong friend and someone with whom Mathieson bought and sold a lot of horses over the years. “He was a great person as well as a horseman. He's been a pied piper his entire life. People were naturally drawn to him.”

“People in the community were drawn to Todd,” said Sharon Ellingwood who, along with her husband Nicholas Villa, worked for Mathieson. “Nicholas and I were fortunate enough to see the community aspect. It was amazing to see the different types of people who loved Todd. He had so many people riding that never dreamed they could. He could inspire horses and people like no one I've ever seen.”

Mathieson was raised in New England. His family had a farm and he and his older brother rode equitation as youngsters. It was at Margaret and Neil Patnaude's Red Oak Farm in North Andover, Mass., that Mathieson met some others who would also remain in the Saddle Horse business. He was riding at Red Oak Farm along with Judy Howard (Cox) and Cheryl Innis. Years later Cox would be a customer of Mathieson's when he convinced her to buy a youngster who went on to be a grand gaited horse, Bartles and James.

“He was a kind and wonderful person,” said Cox. “Todd would go out of his way to work with people who couldn't afford it. He would make it where they could participate if they really loved it and wanted to do it.”

He was born to be a horseman and Mathieson wanted to learn all he could. One of his early jobs was with the highly respected New England trainer Jack McGrane. He learned a lot from this noted horseman and then went on to open a stable for himself before moving on to Tony Autorino's Double A Farm in Somers, Conn. A few of his early stars were Flaming Town and Derby Town.

Then he was sought out by Mary Helen Richardson to train her string of world's champions. While working for the Richardson family Mathieson had such greats as Sparkling Delight Again, Roman Spring, Broad Street, Bubbling Brown Sugar, City Kitty, and Banachek.

Like many trainers with talent, he had the urge to hang out his sign in Kentucky. And like others, that wasn't necessarily the best choice. While he managed to produce some nice horses, his personal life fell apart. Always one to come back strong though, Mathieson put it together. It was during his Kentucky experiences that he had Two-Year-Old Five-Gaited World's Champion Spumanti Man, Bartles and James, Mountjoy's Snapshot, Wing's Casablanca, Fortunate Commander, Starina and many others.

Mathieson returned to New England for a short time and set up shop in North Stonington, Ct. It was there that he had champions Well Chosen and Jewel Of Dawn. Another stop would be the Missouri/Kansas area. One of his jobs was with Cheryl Manahan's Wichita Riding Academy. He was also associated with Brian O'Shaughnessy and future Amateur Five-Gaited World's Champion of Champions Top Spool. He also had a short stint in California with both Dr. Gene Scott and Michele Macfarlane.

Again returning to Connecticut, he met the love of his life, Diane. Todd and Diane Mathieson opened The Stable and had a great business. Todd continued to develop young stock, many of them by the Jamestown stallion, Five Minutes Til Midnight: Midnight Memory Maker, Five Minutes More, Midnight True Blue, Midnight Spice and Black On Black were among them. He and Diane would also give lessons and trail rides. They were surrounded by people who loved the American Saddlebred. Diane's daughter Nikole Joseph was also coming up the ranks as a walk and trot equitation star. Todd was so proud of her and soon had her riding everything.

Mathieson was a fierce competitor in the ring. There was no end to him, especially when he was on a gaited horse. Chomping on gum and racking and trotting past everyone, he won championship after championship and UPHA Classic after UPHA Classic.

He was scheduled to be inducted into UPHA Chapter 14's Hall Of Fame this April at the UPHA Spring Premiere Horse Show. It was an honor for which the chapter unanimously voted.

Mathieson was a Hall of Famer in all walks of life. Besides being an extremely talented horseman and a loving father and husband, he was an avid tennis player, snow skier and gourmet cook. He and Diane also shared a love of scuba diving. It was no wonder he was so good with people in the local communities in which he lived. He could actually talk about something other than training horses, although that was a topic he loved.

“Todd watched everybody. He noticed the things they did right,” said Sharon Ellingwood. “H was a wonderful horseman and a wonderful person,” added Nicholas Villa. “We had a lot of fun and I learned a lot from him.”

Mathieson had his problems, rose above them and then found a wonderful person to spend his life with. When presented with physical problems he knew would one day be fatal, he did what any champion would do, tightened the curb chain and worked that much harder.

Even more so than the champions he developed it was Mathieson's way with people and the love they returned to him that made his family the proudest. The following was part of a note Diane received from a very established lady who just in the past few years learned to ride with Todd. It pretty much says it all.

“Dear Diane. Sharon has just written me the news of Todd's death. I am so sorry. It's been a long struggle for all of you with an unwanted finality. For me, it's as if a signpost in my life was removed.

“That may sound peculiar because as you know I was--and am--probably the most cowardly person who ever got on a horse or even looked at such a four-legged animal without fear. It was Todd who dissipated much of that for me. He gave me confidence--one might even say hope--that riding could be fun, if not fearless. And he did this, even as many of his own physical powers were decreasing, with an unusual force of will and good spirits. He wasn't only my teacher, but became a partner in riding, thereby allaying my fears when I sat atop a thousand pound beast. Todd was at my side on his steed, urging me on and in the process teaching me the beginnings of the art of equestrian life. In all this, he was always patient and kind. Todd will always be my very favorite teacher and unique person.”

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