Wellington, Fla., March 1, 2009 --Today was my last day in Wellington. I'm going to Frank's barn in New York sometime this summer to do the rest of the week. During this portion of my week with Frank, I had a great time, and I learned a lot.
I'm sad to be leaving. Even sadder because I am sitting in an airport hotel because my flight out of Palm Beach International Airport has been cancelled. I was supposed to connect through Atlanta and since a couple of inches of snow can wreak havoc on areas not used to getting snow, they cancelled my flight. Now I have a series of flights tomorrow that will get me home.
Competition-wise, I thought this was the best day to watch. Frank had several riders in each of the two sections of the USEF Medal and ASPCA Maclay. After I walked the course with Frank in the morning, he had to run to another arena to walk a jumper course. I was proud when he told me to stick around so I could walk the course with some of his riders to explain how he wanted it ridden.
When Frank returned before the start of the class, he went over everything again with his riders. Since his first group of riders was going late in the order, Frank left us to watch the early rounds while he went to coach riders at other rings. As more riders went through the course, there were a couple of areas where riders were getting different striding than what Frank had wanted. I watched every trip until his riders were scheduled to go, and I was able to let Frank know where the trouble spots were. I was happy to be able to help out and contribute. Even though a lot of this week was about observing and having a "fly on the wall" perspective, I liked having something specific to do, whether it was setting jumps in the schooling ring or telling a rider that a lot of horses were spooking at jump 8.
One of Frank's riders, Grace Carrucci, won her section of the Maclay. It was very exciting. His riders really worked hard to finish the week strong. Today was incredibly windy: jumps were blown over, many plants were laid out on their sides. The ring crew brought out small sandbags to weight the jump wings. In spite of the weather, the horses were great, and everyone saw improvement from the Friday equitation classes.
On a side note, I watched Beezie Madden warm up for the Grand Prix today. What a fantastic rider. She has an amazing eye and is able to make the horse explode off the ground for the best possible jump. I was in awe.
When I was saying goodbye to Frank, he stressed the fact that the ribbons are great, but it's even more important that each rider accomplishes what she set out to do each round. If a rider has been having trouble with her eyes, and she is able to address that in her next trip, then a missed distance or two doesn't matter as much, since she was successful in working on her eyes at that point. I couldn't agree more.
One of the things that struck me is that even though this is the highest level of competition, it felt warm and approachable. Of course, you need to have a good horse and be able to ride well to be competitive at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF). And having a top trainer helps. But I found all of the people I came across very nice, from Frank to the show staff and vendors. Frank, his staff and his clients were extremely cordial and polite and really made me feel welcome. I truly enjoyed myself.
Frank leads by example. He is a nice person who is upbeat and positive. I think that has to come first, and then the clients and staff follow suit. It sets the tone for the entire facility and working environment. There's a real team feeling throughout his operation, and I believe that contributes to progress and ultimately success.
At one point during the week, Frank made the comment that "what we do here, it's not reality, but it's our reality." I think he meant that those who compete at WEF are very fortunate to be doing so, especially in light of our current economic times. Having the opportunity to compete here raises everyone's game. It makes you appreciate what good riding and good training is. It makes you appreciate horses in general and also highlights the truly spectacular. To have the chance to see the likes of Eric Lamaze's Hickstead and McLain Ward's Sapphire, as well as the top hunter and equitation horses in the world all in one place is awesome and inspiring. I may not have a horse that can stand up to that competition yet, but you'd better believe that this weeked has set my sights higher--and that I'll be back again, even if it's just to watch and learn.
First, thank you to Bates Saddles and Practical Horseman for running this contest. I love the saddle, and I hope my experience will benefit others. I also want to thank Frank Madden for such a great time. I learned so much, both during my conversations where I picked his brain on specific topics, as well as when I simply watched rider after rider and class after class. Also, thanks to his staff, Jen, Jen, Maria, Kevin, the grooms and to his clients who were very nice and made me feel part of the team. I look forward to the second part of our week together--Frank said I'll have the opportunity to ride then, too! Stay tuned for more updates during the summer.
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.