Story and photos by Anna Purdy
Madison and Kieran Norris grew up on different sides of the Atlantic, but through their love of horses, they found each other, fell head over heels in love and married. They’ve recently created a business together in Middleburg based on their joint passion, Thoroughbreds.
A Kentucky native, Madison grew up going to horse sales like Keeneland with her late father, who was a bloodstock agent. Through these experiences, Madison began to cultivate her eye for horses and now is very skilled at finding promising racehorses. She rode for pleasure growing up, and her love for horses took her to the University of Louisville’s Equine Business Program. Throughout her college tenure she worked with a veterinarian at Churchill Downs, which led her to a job as an assistant trainer to Jimmy Baker.
Kieran grew up on his family’s cattle farm in Waterford, Ireland, a beautiful city known for its glass manufacturing. Though primarily involved with greyhound racing and fox hunting, Kieran’s family dabbled in horse racing. When Kieran got his first pony, a love for horses was planted. He pursued this passion by hunting with the Conna Harriers and West Waterford Foxhounds in Ireland, and he currently hunts with the Piedmont Fox Hounds. Kieran often rode with his neighbor growing up, another stateside jockey, Mark Beecher.
Kieran came to America about 10 years ago to work for trainer Eddie Kenneally, also from Waterford. With Kenneally, Kieran finally got a taste of racing. After travelling to Saratoga, New York, that summer, Kieran vowed he would return. He made good on his vow a couple of years later, and shortly after his return, he met Madison.
Around the time Kieran came back to America, Madison was working in Saratoga as an assistant trainer. As luck would have it, Madison found herself with more than a dozen horses and no exercise rider. Kieran, newly arrived from Ireland, needed a job, and a mutual friend connected Madison with her new exercise rider, Kieran.
Kieran was instantly smitten with her, and he tried hard to impress her. Madison wasn’t interested…initially.
“He was like an annoying 13-year-old boy the first night we went out with a group of people,” she recalls. “He pulled my shoes off and threw them into the street from the patio of a bar and thought that was hilarious.”
“I had to change things up a little,” he says with a smile.
They both agree that persistence won her over. Soon, the two were inseparable.
After the season at Saratoga, Madison went to Maryland to work for the late National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame trainer Tom Voss, and Kieran soon landed a job with Voss as well. Later, Kieran was hired by Virginia trainer Richard Valentine, and the couple moved to Middleburg.
When Kieran decided to propose to Madison, he didn’t have to travel far to find the perfect ring. He sought out local jeweler Tom Hays of Thos. Hays & Son Jewelers, a fixture in the Middleburg community since 1972. Kieran wasn’t able to afford the beautiful ring he’d picked out at first so he worked with Tom to make payments.
“I’d been paying for the ring on installments, and every time I went in he would give me snippets of fatherly advice, a good way to [propose],” recalls Kieran.
Eventually Kieran devised a plan: He would propose to Madison on Ireland’s Cliffs of Moher, a stunning landmark that overlooks the Atlantic. Unfortunately, weather was not cooperative, and he ended up proposing on his family’s farm.
“I brought her down to a special part of the farm and proposed to her. I couldn’t get her out of bed first, then I made up an excuse, then I got her downstairs, and she wanted to have breakfast,” he says with a laugh.
“I didn’t know what was going on!” says Madison. “He told me I needed to come outside. We’re on vacation, and he tells me I need to come outside to help him move wire for the cattle, and I was like, ‘No, I’m not doing that!’ Then he got mad, because I was like, ‘Fine, I’ll help you, but I’m having breakfast first.’ I was being a complete brat. I wouldn’t get out of bed, and finally he dragged me down to the farm.”
“I almost had to carry her down,” he says.
A few minutes later, Kieran was on one knee, asking Madison for her hand in marriage.
“Ten or eleven cattle were in the audience, and a few dogs,” says Kieran, who had arranged for two friends to be waiting nearby with some celebratory champagne.
Madison and Kieran were married on September 9, 2017, at Chestnut Hill in Orange, Virginia. Family and friends, many of whom are fixtures in the steeplechase and fox hunting community, surrounded them at the ceremony. Mark Beecher, Kieran’s childhood neighbor and lifelong friend, was a groomsman.
As a way of paying homage to the horses that have been entwined in their lives, the tables at their wedding were named after horses like New Saloon, who Madison trained and Kieran rode to victory in an allowance race at the 2016 International Gold Cup, and Foyle, a long shot entry on whom Kieran won the 2013 International Gold Cup and 2013 Pennsylvania Hunt Cup. Madison’s grandfather also made a call to the post at the reception in a gorgeous emerald green Bugler’s Jacket that was made by the custom equestrian apparel company her family owned, The Meyers Store.
Fabienne Laveau of Wedding Muse, a skilled wedding planner and florist, helped organize all the intimate details of the wedding so the day was beautiful and had a relaxed atmosphere. Hair and make-up were done by Salon Emage, the cake was made by Bijou’s Sweet Treats, and photography provided by Anna Purdy as well as Tony Gibson. As a surprise to Kieran, Madison arranged to have two dancers from the District Irish Dance Company perform during the reception.
“I feel like our wedding had a lot of personality,” says Madison. “We tried to make it really personalized.”
Kieran most appreciated “the way everyone came together to make it such a good night. Everyone just had fun.”
Madison and Kieran now work together in Middleburg, starting young horses, training horses to race, and finding racing prospects of all ages.
“Kieran does a great job with the young horses, teaching them the ropes,” says Madison. “That’s his specialty, and I do more with the older horses, finding out what makes them tick, treating each one as an individual, figuring out little things you can change to keep them happy and putting them into whatever job is going to make them successful.”
Kieran, who was the National Steeplechase Association’s Rider of the Year in 2016, knows his racing days will eventually come to an end, but when he retires, he and Madison still have their own thriving business.
“I don’t mind the chores around the farm, the heavy lifting,” he says, “but Madison has a better eye for horses and all-around better knowledge of horses. I can ride them, so I’d like to think it works perfectly because where I fall down, Madison picks it back up.”
In business and in marriage, they have become perfect partners. ML