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No Horsing Around
Frank, Ralph Caristo (chef d' equipe), and Brianne Goutal
Frank Madden, top equestrian trainer of young and developing show jumpers in the United States
Colts Neck: the very name is a giveaway as to the integral relationship between our town and the world of horses. Nothing subtle there, but once you're involved in that world, there are layers and levels of complexity and involvement that can only be attributed to the fundamental and ancient bond between humans and these four-legged wonders. The equestrian arts developed over centuries – indeed, millennia – and its latest flourishing, sees one of our own pointed toward the very top of one of the sports world's prime events: the Olympics.
Each year the United States Olympic Committee nominates five candidates for Coach of the Year from among the dozens of top coaches selected for each Olympic sport; for the first time ever in its 113-year history, an equestrian riding coach was named as a candidate. His name? Frank Madden of Colts Neck.
Twice(!) a past winner of the Equestrian Coach of the Year, in 2004 and 2006, Frank and his wife Stacia own and operate the famed Beacon Hill Show Stables, and are active in numerous phases of the sport, not the least of which is training some of the top young American riders. As can be gleaned from this interview, his influence extends to more than just the physical rigors of the sport, exerting a positive and lasting influence on developing personalities and inner lives as well.LICN sat down with Frank to congratulate him on his accomplishments and find out more about him and his fascinating world.
LICN: How long have you been involved in equestrian activities?
FM: Since I was 4 years old… My family in Massachusetts was never involved with horses, but we had this pine grove, and as a young kid I always had this dream of being in this pine grove with a horse. On a Sunday drive I saw a sign for horseback riding lessons; one lesson turned to two, then it went from riding once a week to twice a week, and it grew from there. It's gone from that level to now being recognized as one of the leading riding trainers by the USOC. My brother, John, is very respected in the sport along with his wife Beezie, who's been in the Olympic Games, so it's turned into quite a horse family.
LICN: Were you involved with any other ventures before you got involved professionally with horses?
FM: Really not…anything I've ever done in my life professionally has been connected with the horse business. When I was 19 years old I spent about 9 months working with a horse transportation company based in California. I loved trucks; I loved the idea, at that age, of seeing as much of the country as I could. I knew a lot about horses, so I figured that it would be a nice stage of my life to try to fulfill some of those dreams. It was a lot of work, it was a tough life, but I learned a lot. I'm pretty well versed in our sport from the ground on up, and it's been a huge help to me.
LICN: Is there a particular aspect that you'd call a favorite?
FM: It's changed as I've changed as a person. Initially it was just the love of the horse, then it became the love of the horse in the competition, then I would say it turned from the love of the competition to winning some of the more prestigious events – not only for myself, but more with students and different horses. I'd say that my favorite thing to do at the stage I'm at right now is working with young kids – from the age of 12 to 19 or 20 years old – and just really help them develop as better riders and better people. I really find that a lot of them become much more confident people as they become more competent dealing with the problems they encounter in the horse world: dealing with a lame horse, dealing with the frustration of training a horse, dealing with the success of winning big events, the grueling day-to-day routine and discipline of dealing with horses and the discipline of dealing with their own shortcomings of trying to become a better rider. One of our real great professionals in the sport, George Morris, who I worked for for about 8 years – I would say he was a true mentor to me. His big comment to me oftentimes was, "Frank, you're not making riders; you're making people."
FM: I would say that's how, hopefully, other people than George let me be that way, and I think that's why we've got quite a strong customer base…that the tutelage that they get from myself and the people that work here with me are trying to do that: give them values…so that's where I'm at in this stage. I guess in addition to that, what makes me tick is bringing along young professionals. I've got some great assistants…I consider myself a little bit of a modest person and I felt a little bit embarrassed getting that award from the USOC, because if it wasn't for all the people that I have working for me and with me it wouldn't have been possible. So I personally receive that recognition looking at myself more as a football coach instead of someone's personal trainer. This is more of a team sport than people realize. It takes a whole staff of people and a real organization.
LICN: You have many notable accomplishments in the field; please tell us about some of them.
FM: This award for sure, personally, was huge for me… I've got a student who's won all four of the major equitation awards in the last 2 years. Her name is Brianne Goutal. She's the first rider to ever win all four of these national equitation finals.
LICN: Do you find new challenges in your continuing interest in the sport?
FM: Yes, absolutely. One of my new ventures has been running our horse show [that's held here in Colts Neck] every June; that's been a whole new dimension of the sport that I've gone into. I'm also very involved with helping my brother John run the Syracuse Invitational Sport Horse Tournament in New York. It is a charity event for the Virtua Foundation, which helps screening for newborn babies.
LICN: What other ventures have you been involved with?
FM: I just got done doing the color commentary out in Las Vegas for the World Cup Finals with Tim Ryan, who's a notable sports person…he and I first worked together doing the color commentary for the Animal Planet Sport Horse Cup, which was at the Syracuse Horse Show; so after that they asked me to do the World Cup Finals, which was huge. It was aired on May 12th. I was also in "Horse Power: Road to the Maclay," a reality TV series with our stable and some of our top riders competing against another stable. TV's been something new; my true interest in being involved with the television is trying to get more TV time for our sport.
LICN: In watching the Olympics on TV, for example, there doesn't seem to be much coverage of equestrian events. It seems minimal, or even non-existent.
FM: Yes…my brother John and I have created a pretty strong link with the people at Animal Planet. The ratings have been excellent; they're very happy about that. What we're trying to do right now is get them some sponsorship and advertising dollars so it can make financial sense to them…so those are some new things that are kind of exciting for me.
LICN: Maybe with the current concern about the environment and ecology and conservation of species there'll be more interest in horses, as well as other animals, and that'll help your cause?!
FM: For sure! It'll give a way bigger picture…a broader base.
LICN: Since there are a number of other people in the area – particularly Colts Neck (for instance, the Thompsons at Quiet Winter Farm) –also dedicated to the sport, are there some friendly rivalries that exist? Is there camaraderie…competition…both?
FM: I would say that Carol and Willard Thompson are great friends; actually, Carol Thompson is who got me to Colts Neck.
FM: Yes. There was a farm next door to her that was quite new at the time, back in 1988. Between 1983 and 1988 I was renting part of a big facility in Westchester, New York. It was a nice area, it just wasn't for me; I just never felt really at home there, and it was quite expensive to run a business there. I was talking to Carol – and this is how unselfish she is – and she said, "Frank, there's a brand new place sitting empty, next door to me. You should look into it." I did, and immediately struck a lease deal with a group of doctors who had owned it. I moved my whole business down here. Some people followed us, some didn't. I just fell in love with the area right away. I love the location of New Jersey for travel reasons – it makes it very easy to commute to the different horse shows, access to Newark Airport, New York City…I wouldn't say there are any huge rivalries; I would like to think that most of our peers in the area are happy that we're here…we've got a nice farm, we run the horse show. I've let this Monmouth group who runs the August horse show host a clinic here at our facility every year for free…other clinicians come in…and give a 2- or 3-day clinic; they run usually three 2-hour groups with different levels of riding. I've donated the facilities to them for the past 5 years…so I've tried locally to not come across as any sort of threat to people [laughs]…I've really tried hard to have us come across as a place where people are welcome.
LICN: Is there cooperation between the different stables? Do you guys get involved with doing things together?
FM: Yes…actually, last year when they called me to see if they could use the facility, I said no problem and asked them who was going to be the clinician. They said "Well, actually, that's the other thing – we wanted to know if you would be the clinician," which was a kind of an unusual request. Usually local professionals like to have people from outside the area; it's a little less threatening I think. So to be asked for the use of my facility and time made me feel quite good…as a matter of fact, tonight we're going over to the Colts Neck Inn and we're getting together with the people that run the Monmouth Horse Show (late August) at East Freehold Park. It's a big local show, and they asked Stacia (my wife) and me if we wanted to become part of their planning. We're happy to donate our time and whatever energy we can to try to do whatever's best for the sport. That's most important…I think whatever rivalries there are, it's all healthy and only good for our local community.
LICN: Are you involved with horse breeding at all?
FM: A slight amount of breeding…I've had quite a bit of involvement with breeders in South America…my wife's ex-Grand Prix horse, Lady Belle, who won the Monmouth County Grand Prix…we bred her a few years ago, and we have a 2-year-old who's just starting to get trained.
LICN: How do the competitions work, as far as the Olympics – is it a geographical aspect, taking riders from different parts of the country? Or do they just select the best, from wherever?
FM: There are three major world class finals: the Olympic Games, every other year the World Equestrian Games [the "WEG"], and every year the World Cup Finals. This past April the World Cup Finals were held in Las Vegas; next year they'll be held in Gothenburg, Sweden. They get delegated, just like the Olympic Games; the Olympics in 2004 were held in Athens, Greece, the next Olympics will be held in Beijing, China…so those are your three major events. And the way that the riders are chosen for them are based on their rankings during the year.
LICN: From smaller events?
FM: From other events, correct…we have our national rankings, which are accumulated by smaller national horse shows, and then you have your world rankings, which are accumulated by competing around the world…like my sister-in-law Beezie – she's been ranked as high as #3 in the world; but she spends a lot of time showing in Europe, a little bit of showing here in the States, a lot of time showing in Calgary, Canada, which is a big circuit; but this developmental award that I've got is really recognizing coaches who are dealing with what we call "young" riders – 21 and under – trying to groom these junior riders to then become the next potential Olympic show-jumping contenders…so we're kind of building the platform for these riders to do that. In fact, Brianne Goutal is leaving next Monday for a tour of Europe…it's just really giving the future of our sport a chance to get the experience needed to become competitive in those three world class events that I mentioned.
LICN: Do some or all of these events earn cash prizes?
FM: Your week-to-week international Grand Prix and national Grand Prix do have pretty good prize money involved, usually ranging anywhere from $50,000 up to $300,000…and now there are, throughout the world, some million dollar Grand Prix; those are the kind of classes that are going to attract the best in the sport, your #1 world-ranked rider, #2 world-ranked rider…last week at the Garden State Horse Show, which is held in Sussex County at the fair grounds, Brianne won a $50,000 Grand Prix, which is a nice notch on her belt as an 18-year-old rider; it's decent prize money.
LICN: $50,000 for the grand prize?
FM: It's a total amount of $50,000; so the winner brings home I think $15,000.
LICN: The sport must require quite an outlay of money, just being involved with horses!
FM: As a young participant in the sport, there's a huge outlay of money and very little return. Not only the initial cost of the horse can be expensive, but the upkeep…and lessons, and vet bills, and transportation costs…it adds up. It's an expensive hobby; but as you get into it, there are lots of ways – if you've got a competitive horse and you're a successful rider – to help offset a lot of those costs. The unfortunate thing that happens is the only real way you can offset your expenses in a real business sense that if you're lucky enough to come across a horse of any real significant talent, you're going to need to sell that horse. If you're a competitive rider, and you're fortunate enough to find one of those special animals, you don't want to sell that horse.
LICN: I guess you could also breed the horse.
FM: We've done that…but usually a horse's most competitive years are probably between the ages of 8 and 14. If they're not having any major sport injuries – you've got to look at them just like athletes – then they can stay quite healthy and compete at a very high level to the age of, say, 14.
LICN: And horses generally live to about 25 or so?
FM: Yes; my brother John just had to euthanize a really great horse, named Northern Magic; he was 29 and in relatively good health. Horses are just like people, as far as athletes go; you've got your chronic baseball injuries, football injuries, basketball inquiries, and we have thesame issues with show jumpers. If you're fortunate enough to have a horse that has a knack for the sport – the attitude and the aptitude for it – then you're always wondering what kind of sports injuries are going to catch up to him. So there's a lot of strategy involved with what we do.
LICN: And it's usually not the same horses that would be used for racing, right?
FM: No, I would say 90% or 95% of the horses that compete in the discipline that we're involved with are called sport horses; it's some sort of mix of European breeding with a distant breeding of thoroughbred in them. Dutch Warmblood would be one of them; Holstein is another one; Belgian Warmblood…but the models amongst the world are becoming similar, as far as what type of athleticism we're all looking for in a horse.
LICN: Are there different muscle groups?
FM: Yes…up until the mid 1970's thoroughbreds were our main source that show jumping people used, and we would get horses that weren't competitive horses at the racetrack and try and convert them into show jumpers; we had a lot of successful ones…but then in the mid 70's there became a trend to go shopping in Europe. And now Europe, South America…people shop for horses all over the world. I would say the bloodlines that you find in Europe are the most successful in our sport; so I would say since the mid 70's to current day most of our horses come from some sort of European bloodline.
LICN: For some of our readers who are unfamiliar with the sport, can you clarify some of the terms, such as a definition of dressage?
FM: There's no jumping involved with dressage; there's a lot of discipline for a horse and rider in dressage, but it's demonstrating more a horse's movement in different gaits just on the flat. It's very precise; it's almost like compulsories in figure skating or in gymnastics.
LICN: Are you involved in that too?
FM: Just for the horse's basic training. That's where your fundamental flatwork for show jumping is all based – on the fundamentals used in dressage; there are certain compulsory things that we look for in a horse's discipline in their flatwork before we even consider advancing to jumping, so I would say show jumping, to the blue collar guy, is a little bit more like motocross, or arena cross, with motorcycles. There's no set standard placement of the jumps from week to week. It's all created by a course designer and the problems from week to week change drastically, the footings can change drastically, and the size of the outdoor or indoor arena might change drastically…so you're always adapting.
LICN: Is this primarily a youth-dominated sport? Is it necessary to start young?
FM: No, it sure isn't…I would say if a person has aspirations early on to hopefully be some sort of contender to ride on an international level I would say yes, it's pretty mandatory to start early, at a young age; and when I say "young age" ten or younger would be great.
LICN: But the sport as a whole has a range of all ages?
FM: It ranges from children doing lead line at the age of 2 up to people riding in their 70's and still competing; so I've seen an explosion of competitive recreational riding for people who start into the sport at a later age; when you see an adult rider who takes up the sport in their 30's or later, they certainly improve in their riding, but they don't have that elasticity that you see with someone who starts at a young age.
LICN: So it's more natural if they've been doing it all their lives?
FM: Yes, the muscle memory and the confidence are so much greater…but it's been terrific to see the explosion of it having a little bit more of a recreational yet somewhat competitive hobby for people.
LICN: Would you say that you're primarily involved in equestrian events for the competition, or do you just find it exciting?
FM: I would say I like all aspects of the sport and business.
LICN: How long have you lived in Colts Neck?
FM: Since 1988…almost 20 years.
LICN: What do you like about Colts Neck?
FM: For starters, Colts Neck is absolutely perfect footing for horses; you can't get better than that. The natural soil has very few rocks. I love the seasons here, I've always enjoyed living near the ocean, and I love the people of New Jersey. My wife Stacia and I say people from New Jersey, especially here in Monmouth County, have "rude affection" – people are often so comfortable when they meet you they can be casual. It's a very comfortable affection. It's certainly not stuffy.
LICN: Which countries would you say are preeminent in the sport?
FM: The U.S. is strong, Germans are very strong…I would say most of your Western European countries are strong. A Swiss rider named Beat Manley just won the World Cup Finals in Las Vegas. What you have to look at is this: it's not just the horses per capita, what it really is, is the quality of horse shows the riders can go to and push each other, week to week…so Europe, especially Western Europe, has some excellent horse shows; they've got some heritage, and it attracts all the top Western European riders, and those riders keep pushing one another. That's why we end up having to send tours to Europe, where we can get beaten up enough times that we become competitive with the best.
LICN: Can you tell us a bit about the American team for the next Olympics, or have they not selected it yet?
FM: Right now they have a team that's competing in Europe, and all of our top riders are part of that team. Each team consists of five riders; four compete and there's one alternative. The next pretty big thing coming up is going to be the Pan American Games, and that's going to be in Rio de Janeiro. Next year is the Olympics, but that team won't be chosen probably until about 2 or 3 months before the event; it's not something that you want to forecast too far out, in case you want to make changes.
LICN: So what would you estimate the American chances to be in the next Olympic event? Are we one of the favorites?
FM: Germans are historically the favorites. In the last major events the U.S. has usually been either 1st or 2nd. In the last Olympics the U.S. won the team gold; so that was big.
LICN: Finally, do you find when something like that happens that it gives an impetus to the popularity of the sport?
FM: Yes, it really does…I've been told by the USOC that it really helps fundraising for the sport, to help send teams to Europe and around the world. People who've donated money in the past begin to see that the money's gone to good use.
our own cooking
Favorite musical artist:
Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Three people who I would like to dine with:
my grandmother (my mother's mom, a Polish immigrant – really tough but kind-hearted);
Photo GalleryClick here for Slideshow. You can also click on any of the photos to start slideshow.
When they're not living and breathing horses the Maddens like to ski. John, Beezie [Gold medalist in the 2004 Athens Olympics], Stacia and Frank. John and Beezie own and operate John Madden Sales in Cazenovia, NY, which is also home to Cazenovia College,
Frank, Ralph Caristo (chef d' equipe), and Brianne Goutal
Frank at age 30, mounted on Another Legend, at the Winter Equestrian Festival, also in West Palm Beach.
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