How Top Equitation Trainer Stacia Klein Madden Plans Out The Year For Her Students
By Riesa Lakin
March 30, 2020
Stacia Klein Madden is a household name in the equitation, show jumping, and hunter world. Her experience as a professional trainer, rider, judge, and clinician precedes her. After a successful junior career, including winning the ASPCA Maclay Finals, Stacia has become one of the most sought-after trainers, helping to develop riders of all levels, across all three areas of the sport. I had the privilege to train with Stacia at her own Beacon Hill Show Stables for seven years in the hunter and jumper divisions. I joined her program as an amateur, so equitation was never in the cards for me. However, I got a front row seat watching her develop many talented young riders and received some incredible lessons, especially on the flat, that have changed my riding for the better!
While it doesn’t seem like a lot of time between the equitation finals and their first horse shows at Wellington Equestrian Festival (WEF), there is quite a bit of planning and preparation that goes into developing a program and strategy for each rider at Beacon Hill. For many of Stacia’s equitation students, their goal is to qualify and receive top ribbons at the major equitation finals, including the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals, the Dover Saddlery USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final, the WIHS Equitation Final, and the ASPCA Maclay Finals. For others, the goal may be to move up from 3’3” equitation classes to qualify for their first 3’6” final, or maybe they’re looking to become competitive in the 3’3” equitation division.
I recently sat down with Stacia to get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into creating a custom program for each of her riders and horses, and walked away with some great tips that can be implemented in any barn or training program to help you achieve your goals for 2020.
Getting ready for 2020 with Stacia Klein Madden
Photo courtesy of Phelps Media Group
With the new show year starting December 1st and WEF starting early in January, can you tell me about what your process is with your clients and horses to get them ready for the year ahead?
The first thing we have to do is look at any potential rule changes that have changed for the next competition year. There are many different categories of classes: hunter, jumper and equitation. Classes in these categories each have different qualifications that may have different qualification deadlines and use different point charts or money won earnings. Before our team can sit down and talk to the clients about their goals to strategize for the upcoming year, we brush up on our rules to make sure that we are current and understand the class specifications.
The next step would be to establish short- and long-term goals for each rider. Our team will make a tentative schedule with the Winter Equestrian Festival show schedule in mind and try to facilitate those goals. I feel that making a spreadsheet that incorporates all the potential show weeks and all of the horses entered helps visualize making a four-month plan. Once the prize list has been released, we will make notes of some of the key differences that might be offered on certain weeks. In 2020, the Winter Equestrian Finals Championship is offered on Week 11, so we would work backwards and make a show schedule that tried to qualify the riders for this week and have the horses in peak performance. Knowing a rider’s yearly schedule ahead of time will help us with the short-term scheduling, especially if a rider has plans to be away for part of the summer—showing at places such as Spruce Meadows or Europe. With the circuit being 12 weeks long with both pre- and post-circuit shows being offered, keeping an organized schedule becomes important. For instance, in the equitation division, the Medal and Maclay have a rule that once you have shown in 14 shows and are qualified based on your region, you cannot show in those particular classes the rest of the show year. I would not want my riders to be ineligible to compete in any Medal and Maclay classes after WEF is over. In this example, we want to be able to maximize the long-term goals by being able to show in the balance of the 2020 show year.
When you’re a rider showing in the 3’3 and 3’6 classes, you need to be aware of the qualification process, so you don’t become ineligible for the shows that have qualification restrictions. Not every rider has aspirations of showing at year-end shows that you have to qualify for. They may have aspirations to show at eight premier shows during the year, so we act as managers for the riders to help them with their goals and show locations during the year.
Photo courtesy of Phelps Media Group
How do the horses’ fitness level come into play coming off of indoors and then having a quick turnaround before getting ready for the new show season?
Our horses that compete at the indoor shows actually get let down a little bit after indoors. Typically, the horses will receive a week off and then the majority of them start working lightly every other day for a couple of weeks. Our seasoned horses most likely will not jump at our home base in New Jersey and will start when we get down to Florida. Our horses arrive in Florida in time to get fit, working outside. I believe it is difficult to get horses properly fit, working in an indoor ring when you are preparing to show for a circuit that is all outdoor rings.
A new horse or a horse that is green may continue to work normal through the winter months as their background has not yet been established and they require more training. Once the horses arrive in Florida at least two weeks before their scheduled competition and are assessed to be healthy, they work under tack for one week, and then most horses will jump at least three times prior to their first show competition.
Photo by Corro
"Using cavalettis is a great way to start getting the horses fit and working on an open stride without the toll of the extra concussion of jumping."
What are some of your favorite exercises to get ready for the new show season?
Once the horses arrive in Florida, they’re typically not super jumping-fit. I tend to use cavalettis as a way to introduce jumping again. An instructor can do so much with the raised cavalettis by continually changing the distances between two or three cavalettis. I brought four raised cavalettis down here and they are pretty much in the ring all the time. Today, I had a one-stride to a five-stride to a one-stride set up. I made them just long enough that you could also do it in a two-stride to a six-stride to a two-stride. Raised cavalettis give you the ability to work on striding, adjustability, and rideability without jumping fences. Using cavalettis is a great way to start getting the horses fit and working on an open stride without the toll of the extra concussion of jumping.
Photo by Corro
What type of products do you like to use on your horses to get them show ready—whether it’s during the show season or just keeping them healthy while going from the cold weather up north to the warm weather down in Florida?
Our feed program is pretty complex. I think because we're really trying to treat all of our horses like athletes. We're always open-minded to our recommendations from our vets and farrier, but there’s not one fancy trick that we use straight across the board. The team is constantly monitoring each horse and following recommendations and changing their diet accordingly. Always being considered are things like making sure that their feet are healthy, their metabolism is good, and that they stay hydrated. I'm also big on the horses having salt blocks in their stalls when we're on the road, as well as at home.
Beacon hill has a feed chart, a supplement chart, and a show medication chart because every horse is treated as an individual. I don't think that there's a standard, but there are probably some barns that have a standard formula that works for a great number of horses. I just look at each horse has an individual. There is really only one supplement that we give all of our horses—Total Control by Finish Line. Total control is an all-in-one supplement that contains Apple-A-Day, Feet First Coat 2nd, Fluid Action HA, Iron Power, U-7 Gastric Aid, so it has electrolytes and key supplements for our horses’ coats, feet, stomach and more. We also like to use some of the Equine Elixir products and some of the Perfect Prep products.
Photo by Corro
In the electronic age, the riders of today could really utilize some of the platforms that are accessible now...Today, you can get beautiful coverage watching it online and having a commentator to educate you along the way.
What’s some advice that you have for equitation riders or aspiring equitation riders?
You know, there's so much access now with video streaming. A young rider can watch the top horse shows, International horse shows, and clinics. All these exercises are being posted on great sites like Noel Floyd, USEF, and equestriancoach.com. I would just say to give yourself as much access as possible without muddying the waters. I'm a very visual person and I spend a lot of time at the ring watching and learning still to this day.
In the electronic age, the riders of today could really utilize some of the platforms that are accessible now. In the past, I used to have to get in the car and travel. When I was young, I traveled from Indiana to Harrisburg to watch the Medal Finals the year before I competed in it for the first time. It took a lot of effort to get in the car, get on a plane, and seat yourself in the stands to watch. Today, you can get beautiful coverage watching it online and having a commentator to educate you along the way.
Create a balance of getting some exposure in real life while also utilizing some of these online platforms. This balance could be helpful as a rider and a trainer, but also as a judge.
Photo courtesy of Phelps Media Group