Wellington, Fla., February 28, 2009 --Today there were no 3'6" equitation classes, so I tried to see as many other classes for which Frank was preparing riders as I could. From junior jumpers to low adult jumpers, junior hunters to the medium pony hunters, I followed Frank across the entire show grounds, several times.
Yesterday, I met John Madden, Frank's brother and the husband of Olympic medalist Beezie Madden. Frank introduced us briefly at the DeNemethy (Jumper) Ring and John kindly offered to lend me a bike if I needed one. Frank rides a bicycle everywhere on the show grounds. I spent Friday following behind on foot, and since I stayed at Ring 6 for most of the day watching the equitation classes, I didn't see a need for the bike. But this morning, once I knew how spread out the classes would be, with about half the classes at the main location and the other half at the South Grounds (the old Littlewood), I decided to take John up on the offer.
Frank gave me instructions on how to find John and Beezie's farm, located in Grand Prix Village. I drove past some amazing farms: immaculately groomed grounds, 12-foot plus hedges hiding beautiful stables, walking machines, huge arenas with fabulous jumps. I pulled into their driveway and found a nice girl to help me. As I was riding the bike down the driveway, Beezie drove up in her golf cart and looked at me quizzically. There I was, an unfamiliar face riding her bike off her property. I'm sure it must have looked strange. I quickly introduced myself and explained John's offer, and she graciously asked if there was enough air in the tires and warned me about the gears. So my meeting with Beezie, as it had been with John, was a brief one, but it was nice to make her acquaintance and have the chance to see their beautiful facility. Thank you, John and Beezie Madden, for making my life easier as I tried to keep up with the ever-moving Frank.
Prior to retrieving the bike, I went with Frank to his practice arena where some of the ponies were warming up. One of them was a little spooky to an early jump and needed a firm reminder that his behavior wasn't acceptable. Once the brief episode was over, the pony went on to school beautifully. Frank said that even when you have to discipline a horse, he always needs to know that you're on his side. By gaining the horse's trust, he'll work harder for you.
Something else he emphasized was the correct use of the stick. Of course, smacking a horse behind the leg is the place to use a crop, but correct timing is also important. The key is to go forward and then use the crop, since you want the horse to move forward from your leg and your crop emphasizes that. If you stop the horse and then use the crop, the horse can't go forward and may learn to rear instead.
Frank had so many riders in so many different classes, and one thing that I noticed was that all of his riders have an accurate eye for a distance. I asked him if he used specific exercises for them to develop their eye or if it was something that came naturally for his riders. He said all of his flat and gymnastic exercises will work to help a rider's eye.
Frank likes to set two cavalletti on an arc, three canter strides apart. As the rider calmly circles through the exercise, she has to work on the horse's balance and track to make sure he is absolutely adjustable. It's also a great way to hone in on a horse's stiff side and soften him. Frank said if you know exactly where your horse is underneath you, whether he's a little in front or a little behind, or if he's directly underneath you and on the outside rein, that's all you need to find your distances. Your eye will develop naturally at that point.
During the morning and early afternoon, I spent some time watching Frank's assistants working with clients. Frank tries to watch every student go into the ring, but sometimes there are conflicts and when that happens, Frank's assistant trainers step in to prepare the riders and critique their performance. In every case, they emphasized the same things: think ahead, commit to a plan and pay attention to details. Each one (Maria, Jen and Kevin) was as encouraging and positive as Frank, while noting areas for improvement.
I mentioned to Frank that it was nice to see such a cohesive team; that the message seemed so unified. He was pleased to hear that and said that was really important to him. He's been at his new location in East Norwich, Long Island since April of last year, so putting together a team that works well together in a short amount of time was a challenge, but it has resulted in a great outcome.
Tomorrow the USEF Medal and ASPCA Maclay classes will run. I love watching these classes, especially when they are chock full of the country's best junior riders. Bright and early to meet Frank tomorrow, I'm excited to see how his riders perform. Until then...
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.