North Salem, N.Y., September 17, 2009 -- In March, I spent four days with Frank Madden at the Winter Equestrian Festival, in Wellington, Fla. It's difficult for me to be away from my training and lesson barn for an entire week, so Frank had suggested splitting up the week. To give me as broad an experience as possible, Frank invited me to spend the remainder of my week at the ASPCA Northeast Regional Maclay Championships, hosted by Old Salem Farm in North Salem, N.Y.
I drove from my home in Leesburg, Va., to North Salem and arrived at the show grounds at 2 p.m. Old Salem Farm is a gorgeous facility set in the rolling hills of Westchester County. It has been in existence for a long time, but the upgrades and improvements they have done to the barns, the grounds and the arenas have kept it in tiptop shape.
After I parked, I wandered over to the indoor arena where I ran into Frank. The arena was open for schooling until 4 p.m. Frank has seven riders at this year's Regionals and many of them are familiar faces from my stint with Frank in March.
Three of Frank's riders were working horses. I joined him in the center of the arena and assisted in setting jumps when needed. There were as few as six horses and as many as 15 horses in the ring at any given time. Even though there were many jumps in the ring, only three were set up (the others were just rails and gates leaning on end against the standards, ready for a ring drag).
After that set was finished with their work, they walked back to the stable. Some returned on different mounts, depending on whether their riders could get here today. Several of Frank's riders live further away and won't get to the area until later tonight.
Everyone riding in the ring was very polite and had clearly mastered "eyes in the back of their head" to avoid any collisions. Riders were going in multiple directions and crossing tracks often. Some riders were working on lateral work, some on counter-canter or lead changes, while others were jumping over low obstacles. There were a variety of horses. Many were incredibly well broke, accomplished veterans of this type of final. Others looked new to the game, white-eyed and spooky. Each trainer and rider worked together to determine what was enough to feel prepared for tomorrow.
I asked Frank if his riders felt nervous before such a big event, and he said they all seemed confident, given their extensive preparation at home. He pointed out his horses' strengths and weaknesses and offered pointers to the riders when needed. Today's work was for getting the horses comfortable in the arena and making sure the riders felt relaxed and ready for competition.
The work was very precise, reinforcing straightness toward and away from each jump, sharpening lead changes, getting horses light in the bridle and obedient to the aids. Although some horses can do double-duty in the equitation and hunters, the emphasis here was on steady, even jumps and exquisite rideability between each jump.
By 4 p.m., we were finished and went back to the stable. The horses then were bathed, wrapped and fed. Frank told me to meet him at 7 a.m. tomorrow, and I departed to find my hotel.
The Regional Championship is on Saturday. Tomorrow, several equitation classes will enable the riders to practice over similar courses in the same arena they will ride in on Saturday. Frank's riders will ride in different classes, depending on the riders' ages and how many points they already have toward next year's Finals. Hopefully, everyone will have successful rounds, so they can ride on a high note into the final on Saturday. More to come tomorrow!
Part 2: Day 2 | Part 2: Day 3
Terri Young is Frank Madden's grand-prize winner of the 2008 Week with the Maddens Contest, sponsored by Bates Saddles, Practical Horseman and the Syracuse Invitational Sporthorse Tournament. Terri trains horses and teaches riders of all levels at her stable, Clairvaux LLC, in Leesburg, Va. She specializes in bridging the gap between the local Virginia show circuit and USEF-rated shows. Terri grew up competing in equitation and hunters in New Jersey before spending several years working for top dressage trainers, including Lendon Gray. After graduating with a degree in business management from Syracuse University, she moved to Germany where she trained and showed jumpers before returning stateside to open her own stable. She is a USEF "r" judge and a member of the USHJA Marketing and Communications Committee.