Wellington, Fla., February 27, 2009 -- I arrived at the show grounds at around 6:20 a.m. this morning. Frank said to meet him at 7 a.m., so after stopping by his stable, I walked down to the rings to watch horses being prepared for the day's events. It was a strange feeling, being at a show so early and not having to run around with a bunch of things to do. The first 30 minutes were mine to explore more of the show grounds and watch riders readying their mounts.
When I met Frank, we walked the USEF Talent Search course together. Each time we got to the end of a related distance, he would quiz me on what I thought the striding should be. Sometimes I came up with another number from the one Frank wanted done, and he would explain why he wanted the riders to execute it a specific way. After the course walk, nearly all of my day was spent ringside watching the USEF Talent Search and the WIHS Jumper and Hunter Phases. I was always close to wherever Frank was, setting jumps in the schooling area, watching rounds with him at the end of the ring and listening to him critiquing each rider's rounds. Having such a vantage point was a rare and interesting treat.
When warming up for a class, Frank grouped his riders in threes. Sometimes they all warmed up over jumps together (one after another). At other times, he would have one sit out while he alternated two riders as a pair and would then work with the third rider by herself. There was a nice order to how he warmed his riders up, so it was efficient and stress-free and each rider got the attention she needed to go to the ring as confidently as possible.
Frank always had a positive energy, which seemed to intensify when it got close to show time. His riders also fed off this energy. When a rider had a good trip, Frank was exuberant. He wasn't stingy when it came to praise, and he was quick with his signature "whoop" when a rider wrapped up an especially good trip. When a rider messed up, Frank doled out an even mix of understanding and toughness, depending on what that particular rider needed. Each of his riders seemed eager to do a good job, both for themselves and for Frank. It would be so easy for Frank to be serious and intimidating--he's in the business of producing winners, which is a serious job--but that's not at all how he is. He's approachable and even-tempered; just a really nice guy.
Frank encourages his riders to plan ahead, so they can make changes in stride earlier in a line, instead of close in to each jump. He wants his riders to be good decision makers and trusts them to execute the plan. There's a self-sufficiency in Frank's riders. Each is capable of walking a course before he does so with them. They know they can change things on the fly if something goes wrong on course. At the same time, Frank addresses seemingly small details, like whether to carry a crop, or how high spurs are worn on a particular horse, which can make a difference between a good or bad round.
When beginning a course, Frank wants his riders to start from a forward energy and then make adjustments from within that pace as they go. I noticed when a rider would set up for a tighter distance, they would go forward, sometimes even with a cluck. This resulted in more impulsion and power at the base of the jump, so the horse could still make an athletic effort, even from the snug distance. In the end, this meant better flow to the course overall, and it virtually eliminated the risk of having a weak jump.
It's easy to teach people how to ride; it's a lot harder to teach them how to win, and that's what I am most interested in observing. Frank's riders are nice, polite and seem eager to learn from him. He often asked questions about their performance and what they could have done differently to improve a round. At the end of the day, he wants his riders to strive to improve and to have a positive attitude. If he can send them away from the ring with a smile, that's even better.
Later, when the classes were done, I went with Frank back to his practice ring so he could teach a couple more lessons. This time, the rider was a junior jumper rider preparing for classes tomorrow. Frank worked on turning exercises to shape the horse's body better along a specific track. These involved raised cavalletti on an arc, and then adding jumps to the exercise to keep the horse balanced and adjustable. Once he had worked the rider on both her horses, we made our way back to his stable.
The day was done and I went to the International Arena to watch the Nations' Cup. I sat in the Canada section (I had a free ticket, so I didn't really have a preference for where I sat, I was just glad to be there.) Wow--Canada was awesome. It all came down to the final rider for Ireland, Darragh Kerins on Night Train. With a clean round, Ireland would clinch the win. Otherwise the win would go to Canada. When jump 8 came down, there was a huge cry of excitement from the crowd all around me. I admit that I waved a small Canadian flag at a couple of points during the evening, even though I was one of the most enthusiastic clappers in my section for the U.S. team.?What a fun event to watch. The weather was gorgeous, the crowd was enthusiastic, and the horses and riders were phenomenal. It was a great end to a wonderful day. Until tomorrow...
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.