Stacia Klein Madden Focuses on Effective Riding at All Levels in Pony Club Clinic
By Molly Sorge/Jump Media
Eleven girls diligently brushed their ponies and horses and combed out their tails as they were tied to trailers parked in a field at Fine Idea Farm in Mt. Airy, MD, on April 27. A few of them carefully worked their pony’s tail in a braid. Members of the Iron Bridge Hounds Pony Club (IBHPC), were preparing for a clinic with top hunter, jumper, and equitation trainer Stacia Klein Madden. “The girls have been so excited,” said Theresa Riley, the mother of Ella Riley, one of the riders. “Everybody made sure their ponies were nice and clean. They polished their boots and cleaned their tack. It’s great to see the girls come together as a team and be excited about participating in something like this together.”
IBHPC’s winning entry in the video contest at the 2018 Washington International Horse Show Barn Night earned them this “Fundamentals in Equitation with Stacia Klein Madden” Clinic, presented by BarnManager. “The opportunity for these girls to have this is amazing; they would have never had this opportunity if it wasn’t for the Washington International Horse Show and BarnManager people putting it together for us,” said Carrie Roesler, the mother of another rider.
Madden, who won the 1987 ASPCA Maclay Finals, has trained national champions and equitation finals winners out of her Beacon Hill Show Stables in Colts Neck, NJ. She taught five groups of the IBHPC riders, who ranged in age from seven to 13 and in level of riding from walk-trot to jumping three-foot. “It’s really refreshing to teach at this level because you can see the kids get it so fast,” Madden said. “They’re like sponges, and they take in the knowledge so fast. When you’re at a grass-roots level, you can see the improvement so much faster. When you’re trying to work on that one or two percent of improvement, you don’t get to see the results so dramatically. It’s very gratifying!”
For each group, Madden kept the exercises simple, but focused on effective riding and the horses’ obedience to the aids. “Be the pilot” was the theme of the day. “Air Force One is the most technologically advanced airplanes in the world, but it can’t fly itself!” Madden said. “It still needs a pilot. Think of your horse as the plane, and you as the pilot. No matter what kind of horse it is, you have to fly the plane. If they want to go off the course you planned, you have to correct it.”
With each group, Madden asked riders to test the horses’ responsiveness to the aids, calling out for repeated canter-halt transitions and prompt upward transitions. She also focused on having the riders stay straight and halt their mounts after a jump instead of rushing and cutting their turns. Each rider showed marked improvement in the quality of their turns and pace with this exercise.
“I really liked the way she had us stop after the jumps. I’d never done that before, and I think it really worked well,” said Charlotte Milner, who rode Rocky in the clinic. “It helped relax him a lot. Rocky was definitely calmer toward the end. He started to calm down going down the lines because I think he knew we were going to stop after the jump and not go around the corner. I liked that she had a lot of different exercises that we could try, so we weren’t always doing the same thing. Some instructors will have you go on a circle over and over again, but she mixed it up and found different ways to get at the same point. I liked that a lot.”
Helping the riders control the horse’s bend and track was also a focus for Madden. In one group, she set markers in each corner of the ring and asked the riders to circle around them, pointing out the correct bend. It helped the horses’ balance and rhythm. While Madden used some exercises with each group, including stopping after the jump and navigating rails on the ground, she also found unique variations for each group of riders.
“I liked how it wasn’t repeating the same things over and over; she changed it up. That was really helpful,” said Grace Strosnider, who rode Brandy in the clinic. “At home, I tend to repeat the same exercises over and over, but now I think I’ll have some new ideas. She said a lot of the same stuff we’ve been working on, but I think it was good to hear it in another way. It was cool to ride with someone who has helped people at very high levels.”
Madden’s dedication to helping the riders improve continued through the last group of the day, the walk-trot riders. When Waverly Smith’s pony, Victoria, was anxious and spooking at the wind outside the indoor ring, Madden took the time to lunge the pony for a bit. As she lunged Victoria, she worked on the pony’s obedience, emphasizing the need to respond to the reins and aids to move forward. It was a display of Madden’s belief that horses need boundaries.
“Horses don’t know the difference between right and wrong, so we have to give them very clear corrections and rewards to teach them what’s right,” Madden said. After the lunging session, Victoria was much more compliant, and Smith was able to re-mount and trot over poles confidently with the pony.
“We’ve definitely seen the girls progress even in the limited time Stacia had with them, from picking up the canter in three seconds to keeping their eyes up over the jumps,” said Riley. “A lot of it was reinforcing some of the things they’ve learned, but they also learned a lot of new tips and tricks to become stronger riders.”