North Salem, N.Y., September 18, 2009 -- Today I met Frank at 7 a.m. at the showgrounds. A couple of his riders were taking advantage of the open ring before the start of the show to make certain their horses felt comfortable. All seven of his students were entered in the Open Equitation Class. Their performance in that class determined whether they showed in one or more classes later in the day. Some of his riders are aging out at the end of this season, so not every one of his riders was eligible for each class today.
Overall, the seven rounds went smoothly. Some horses were a little fresh; it was a cool, foggy morning, which didn't help things. One of the horses was spooky and some over-jumped a good deal. In some cases, another class was needed, for others, 15 minutes on the longe line was good enough.
One of Frank's students, Danielle Cooper, placed fourth in the PHA Medal Final. Emma Johnson won that class. The course included a halt, then counter canter to a jump, as well as a trot jump away from the in-gate as part of a broken line. The top rounds were very good, but there were also some weak trips. Cantering the last jump or not getting the counter canter ended several riders' hopes of pinning.
I asked Frank about exercises to help horses that tend to swap off the lead within a broken line, since many of the courses today involved several bending lines. Frank said it's something that needs to be addressed each time the horse jumps. If the horse wants to drift in the air or dive to the side of a jump, which can often go hand-in-hand with swapping in a line, he'll have the rider change their track when practicing, so they are constantly steering to correct the issue. I noticed that his riders frequently steered in the air over jumps, even when jumping single jumps on a straight track in the warm-up ring. They always seemed conscious of their horse's tendencies on the way to and over each jump.
Frank is always upbeat. He discusses both positive and negative points of each course with riders when they come out of the ring. Sometimes a turn wasn't ridden correctly, and a rider had an awkward distance to the next jump. Sometimes the horse over-jumped or landed in a heap into a line, and the rider needed to react quicker to help the horse get out of the line correctly. Whatever the issues were, Frank was always swift to give positive feedback on where things went right on course.
During each course walk, Frank gave general instructions regarding striding or challenging approaches, but he expected each rider to know their horse and what his tendencies are. Whether a horse likes to cut in to the right or he has trouble with a certain lead change, those specifics might be touched on right before the rider entered the ring. However, this was not the time to work on little issues; they have been addressed over the last few weeks' worth of preparation. It was more important that each rider make good decisions while on course and come out feeling well prepared for tomorrow.
The courses were challenging without being tricky. The lines walked well and then rode well. There were some tight turns, but nothing you wouldn't expect at a show of this caliber. It was enough to separate the better riders from the others. Frank's riders did two or three classes each. He made sure each student finished the day strong and it looks like everyone feels ready.
The jump order for the championship was posted and Frank's riders are spread out throughout the 84 competitors, in groups of two or three. There's a feeling of excitement in the air. All the trainers look a bit edgy; tomorrow's class will punctuate the season. For some, this will be the last final as their junior careers draw to a close. Frank said he believes each one of his riders in tomorrow's class is capable of making it to the Final in Syracuse. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. Based on today's rounds, it looks like a real possibility. Until then...
Part 2: Day 1 | 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.