By Jane K. Dove
In the highly competitive world of top-rated horse shows, success is built on relationships.
Horse and rider, rider and trainer, trainer and stable, all must work together to create the right chemistry so those highly-charged moments in the show ring bring the desired results.
Two of the most successful trainers on the East Coast, Frank Madden and Steve Weiss, exemplify the principle of teamwork, not only with their clients, but with each other.
Both men are trainers at Old Salem Farm in North Salem. But back in the day, Madden and Weiss had successful careers as junior riders.
“I rode all over the East Coast as a youngster from Massachusetts, and at age 13 or 14, decided I loved the life of showing horses,” Madden said. “I resolved that once I was through riding, I would become a full-time trainer.”
Madden took his first job working in New Jersey as a rider and trainer for renowned international equestrian George Morris. It was there that he first met Weiss, who was a junior rider training under Morris.
Madden and a partner eventually bought half of Morris’ Hunterdon farm, re-naming it Beacon Hill Show Stables, and took their training operation to Old Salem Farm from 1983 to 1988.
Madden then moved Beacon Hill back to New Jersey, where he stayed until 2007. He later sold the business, and, while working at a stable on Long Island about a year ago, crossed paths again with Weiss.
It was a stroke of good fortune, Weiss said:
“Before arriving at Old Salem Farm, I had spent 20 years working as a trainer with the famous Mark Leone at Ri-Arm Farm in Franklin Lakes, N.J. After that I was hired privately by a family as their personal trainer. As that was ending, Frank and I bumped into one another on the Florida horse-show circuit.”
The men talked things through and decided to put everything together and work as a team out of Old Salem Farm.
“Because we knew each other and our training styles and philosophies, it was an easy and comfortable transition,” Madden said. “Old Salem Farm was also happy with the arrangement.”
Success at Old Salem Farm
The comfortable symbiotic relationship shared by Weiss and Madden has worked well for their many clients at Old Salem Farm.
“The location and the facility, which is outstanding, are very attractive to our clients,” Madden said. “Old Salem Farm sends out a huge and very positive message of success.”
Weiss said he and his partner work tirelessly to provide the best possible services to their clients. They’re often on the job from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., schooling their clients for equitation (the art of riding) and hunter and jumper competitions at top-rated shows up and down the East Coast.
“Our planning and training for the year revolves around the big prestigious shows that start out with the Florida circuit, then on to many others, including some here at Old Salem Farm, Devon, Ox Ridge, Lake Placid, Vermont, Kentucky; and ending with the big Southampton event to close the outdoor season. Important indoors shows in the fall are in Harrisburg, Pa. and Washington D.C., then on to the National Horse Show in Kentucky in November.”
Madden said both he and Weiss share a joint vision of providing a multifaceted approach to training.
“Education and management are obviously a big part of what we do,” Madden said. “We place a big emphasis on safety as well as getting results in the show ring. We advise with choice of horses, selection of a vet, blacksmith services, equine diet, grooming, tack and just about everything else you can think of that relates to going into the show ring and competing successfully.”
Weiss said he and his partner owe a debt of gratitude to another Old Salem Farm trainer, Stella Manship, “the hardest working person I know. She makes us both look good and is very Important to our success. Without her, things would be a lot more difficult.”
Both men agreed that staying flexible is another key to success with clients.
“You might have a great plan, but you might have to alter it” Madden said. “One of the most important things we do is choosing the right horse if the rider does not have a suitable mount when they come to us. It’s easier, of course, if the horse is right from the start. But sometimes a rider wants to make a leap to a higher division and may simply need another horse to do it. Like people, horses all have their limitations.”
Weiss and Madden’s client base is about two-thirds junior riders and the rest are adults. Trainers and clients attend two to three shows a month, combining local events with the larger shows where there are dozens of events and classes.
With the Florida circuit now history for another year, Weiss said he is looking forward to spending some time back at Old Salem Farm and getting back to training.
“I like to orchestrate my training for specific events. I try to make it targeted, rather than just training to be training. I make a plan, then gear up for specific shows. Then we will take a rest before we gear up again. Both horses and riders have to take a break.”
Both men said they are satisfied with the paths their lives have taken.
“My father, with all good intentions, wanted me to do something entirely different,” Madden said. “But I am glad I chose to do what I love and have never had any regrets.”