It all began so humbly when Michael’s do-whatever-is-asked attitude. During the summers while growing up he worked with his plumber father and helped a neighbor mow lawns on weekends. Then, the neighbor bought a few horses and Michael started to ride on weekends, eventually teaching the horses to jump over some repurposed telephone poles. Pony Club rally and local horse shows were soon to follow. Smitten by the horse bug, a star was born..
Upon high school graduation, Michael went to work for Bernie Traurig at Bloodstock Farm in nearby New Hope, PA. Feeding and grooming at first, eventually Bernie gave him the nod to ride a few with some instruction. One thing led to another and he got to show at a few little shows. The young Michael worked his way around the country, rapidly rising up the show jumping ranks. By the age of 21, he had made a name for himself both at home and abroad. Ten years after that first summer with his neighbor’s horses, Michael made his Olympic debut in Montreal. What a difference a decade makes..
Pan American Games Gold with Mighty Ruler in 1975 and Jet Run in 1979, World Cup Gold with Jet Run in 1981, Pan American Gold with Chef in 1983, World Championships Gold with Chef in 1986, Pan American Gold with The General in 1995, and Olympic Team Silver with The General in 1996, a true legend is born. “Winning a Gold Medal in Aachen was a highlight because the team was a good mixture of both experienced and green riders- and everybody made a good contribution for the team. We all worked so well together.” Michael was referring to team members Conrad Homfeld, Katie Monahan, and Katherine Burdsall..
The Silver Medal they won in Atlanta, in their own country when they weren’t expected to get a medal, was another top moment. That year Michael was chosen to carry the American flag in the closing ceremonies at the Games. It was a nod to his heroism outside of horse sports when he and his then fiancée, D.D. Alexander, survived a devastating plane crash in 1989 outside of Sioux City, Iowa. Risking is own life, Michael returned to the plane twice and saved the lives of four children who had flown alone that day. Poignantly, two out of the four children he saved attended Barbaro’s Kentucky Derby triumph..
Now on the sidelines of the jumper ring, Matz enjoys watching his daughter, Lucy, and his sons, Alex and Robert, compete. Youngest son, Arthur, prefers to ride western and spends his time in other sporting pursuits such as fishing. Michael says he helps his equestrian kids when asked, but his wife D.D. is their day-to-day coach along with other professionals at the shows. Asked how things have changed since he last competed, Matz responds, “The horses are a lot more expensive, that’s for sure! The fences look awfully big and the material is a lotmore delicate now.”.
Today Michael Matz is almost as revered on the racetrack as he was in the show ring, and still getting the best out of his horses. So far, he has found Triple Crown glory twice – Barbaro in the 2006 Kentucky Derby and Union Rags in the 2012 Belmont. Now in his sixties, winning is still a part of Michaels everyday vernacular. From the oval of the show ring to the oval of the racetrack, Michael Matz gets there first.