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All The Pretty Horses
01/30/2005 - By Jeffrey Moser
Jeffrey Moser interviews Frank and Stacia Madden, owners of Beacon Hill Stables in Colts Neck.
In an ever-growing Monmouth County, Colts Neck has been able to avoid-for the most part- being just another place teeming with strip malls and heavy traffic. The town’s probably got as many horses as it does people, and it’s this dedication to remaining as rural a community as possible that’s so appealing. With all of these horses and horse farms, if you’re not in the know it may be impossible to decipher what each farm actually does with these animals. Horses don’t just stand around and eat grass; each farm has its area(s) of specialty, be it breeding, boarding, or many other equine activities. But when it comes to horse and rider training, Beacon Hill Stables is at the top of its game; owners and husband-and-wife team Frank and Stacia Madden both have decades of experience in the field and are in the top tier of trainers in the country.
Both Frank and Stacia’s families don’t have the rich equestrian heritage you would expect from a couple who are at the apex in their field. Frank grew up in
, and on a family drive one afternoon when he was four or five he spied a sign advertising riding lessons, and it just grew from there. “For me it was a simple dream as a young child,” Frank recalled, “it was a romantic ideal for me to be in the field on a horse.” Stacia’s family was also not involved in horses, but from a young age she was riding and competing in her home state of
and all over the country. “I knew as a young rider that I would always be involved in the horse business in some way,” she said, the pair met, worked together for a while, and were married in 1997.
is quite a hub for “horse people”, Frank pointed out, more than many of us realize. George Morris, Frank’s mentor and a nationally known trainer, had raised horses in Hunterdon county for years. The United States Equestrian Team is in
. And many of the big shows are within a day’s drive from central
. “It was really attractive to me, this area,” Frank said, and Stacia added, “Colts Neck is very horse friendly, and it’s accessible to many areas of the country that we need to travel to for competitions.” Another aspect of Colts Neck that is so appealing is the soil. Frank explains; “The soil is so good (here). It provides excellent footing for the working horses. There’s no rocks; it’s really terrific for horses.” Frank moved his business here in 1988, first renting a farm on
. It was in 1996 when he bought the property that would become
The 21-acre facility at
Beacon Hillis stunning. There seems to habitually be a flurry of activity, but the place runs like a well-oiled machine. And the stables really kick it into high gear in the spring. Its 31 permanent stalls are filled, and space is so valuable that its cavernous indoor training facility is converted into stables.
Beacon Hill’s affiliate barn, Synergy Stables, provides more space for horses; between the two farms they have about 80. It takes a large crew to keep the stable running smoothly. Two trainers, two assistant trainers, 12-14 groomers, a transportation crew, and various scores of others ensure the success of the stables and its riders.
The types of training that
Beacon Hillspecializes in fall into three categories, or divisions: Hunter, Hunter-Equitation, and Show Jumping. They have some common aspects, but each is a highly specialized sport that requires steadfast training, steady nerves, and strong desire and commitment by the riders.
The Hunter Division has the horse and rider encountering things they would generally come across in hunt fields and jumping over more natural types of obstacles, such as gates and stone walls. “It is (a) very refined type of riding,” Frank said. Competition is judged by the horses’ style of jumping and how smoothly horse and rider can negotiate a course over about eight jumps. In the Hunter Division, its all about the style and fluency.
There are more jumps- somewhere in the range of 8 to 15 per event- in the Hunter-Equitation Division. The obstacles might be gates or other types of artificial jumps. This competition is judged on the riders’ ability to ride the horse well and execute the course. Finally, the horses that you would see in the Olympic games or a World Championship are considered Show Jumpers. For this competition, penalties are incurred by knocking a rail down, or, unique to this division, exceeding the time allowed. A course is usually between 10 and 15 jumps. If two or more horses are tied with an equal score, it goes to a jump-off on a shorter course.
Commitment from these riders is a must. “We have the opportunity to impact a lot of young riders,” Stacia shared. “It’s a pretty unique sport and it has so many aspects to it. You have to be very dedicated to training and there’s also the variable that you’re dealing with an animal at the same time.” Riders generally begin to train five to ten hours per week, and if they’re serious everything else has to squeeze in around a training schedule that may have them in the saddle six hours a day and competing almost every week of the year.
Similarly to running the stables, there’s a big team that goes into managing a horse-rider combination. A lot of time is spent by the training crew performing tasks that have nothing to do with riding. Just getting to the different horse shows- some riders may compete up to 40-50 weeks a year- it is so time-consuming that is just becomes a lifestyle. Frank used the analogy of a NASCAR pit crew to the job his team performs: “We’re the crew that makes sure the (horse) is tuned up and safely prepared. We prep the driver to be ready for the race and help him with his driving techniques. We’re involved in the day-to-day maintenance of the race car and getting it to the next town where they’re competing. We do this so that the people who are actually competing are able to continue with their day-to-day work life, family life, or schooling.” For Frank, Stacia, and the crew, the job is really 24/7.
All of their hard work has paid off in a myriad of ways, and will be highlighted at the
Beacon Hill3rd Annual Grand Prix. This charity event (to benefit Virtua Health Foundation) is held June 17-19, and is now a United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) recognized event, which guarantees top riders will attend. The weekend centers around a world-class equestrian show-jumping competition, featuring accomplished international and Olympic riders. “It’s our first year running as a recognized event by our national governing body (and) under the federation’s guidelines,” Stacia shared. “It’s pretty exciting.” The Grand Prix race also contributes to the rider’s ranking on the US Show jumper’s computer list; it’s a very important event to the professional riders on the circuit. The Maddens expect a few hundred competitors and a few thousand spectators. Frank commented on the event: “The first two years people came to it simply because it was a nice event. This year they’ll be coming not only (for) a nice event but (for) the points value.”
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