The Business Of Beacon Hill

The Business Of Beacon Hill Stacia Klein Madden Talks Equitation And The Value Of Wellington’s Show Circuit 

By Grace Zalewski

If you’ve been in the hunter/jumper industry long enough, you’ve probably heard of Beacon Hill. And if you’re serious about equitation? Then you’ve definitely heard of Stacia Madden.

The Indiana native turned east-coast-transplant runs the nation’s top hunter/jumper riding program out of Beacon Hill Show Stables, with locations in Colts Neck, New Jersey, and here in Wellington.

Madden — who, despite holding a number of accolades from her riding career, beginning with the ASPCA Maclay Finals Championship in 1987 — believes that success is not defined by a show record. The equitation expert doesn’t care much about a collection of ribbons or trophies in the tack room. Rather, her ethos revolves around educating her students on the importance of setting goals and striving toward them.

Nevertheless, as one of the top hunter/jumper training programs in the country, Beacon Hill boasts one of the best equitation show records in the business.

Well known for bringing up junior riders in the sport, the team has coached 20 students to wins at each of the major equitation finals over the last 20 years, including the Platinum Performance/USEF Show Jumping Talent Search Finals, the Dover Saddlery USEF Hunter Seat Medal Final, the Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Equitation Final and the ASPCA Maclay Championship.

Several Beacon Hill students have gone on to represent the United States at the highest levels of international competition, including Brianne Goutal-Marteau, Jessica Springsteen and Sloane Coles.

How does Beacon Hill continue to produce such high-quality equestrians? The answer may surprise you.

For one, it’s a surprisingly low-pressure environment. Despite training the country’s top junior riders and routinely competing in the sport’s most prestigious shows, Beacon Hill maintains a degree of humility. Madden and her team of trainers manage to strike the balance between teaching their students the technical riding skills needed to compete at the highest levels of the sport, while still providing support to the young adolescents enrolled in their program. Instead of administering overly critical assessments, they elect to coach their young students using positive reinforcement and words of encouragement. Above all else, Beacon Hill’s program emphasizes the importance of treating riding as a team sport.

“Beacon Hill prides itself on trying to make riding more of a team sport than an individual sport,” Madden said. “By trying to be very united, our staff is united. And we try to make our riders united. If you can make it a team sport, feeling like you’re part of a team, and you can share in somebody else’s good day… It’s easier to bounce back if you’re having a down day.”

Madden also recognizes the importance of cultivating a community within Beacon Hill.

“I think you can learn from other people in your barn if you get along and feel like you’re part of a group,” she said. “We try very hard to have small group lessons and barn parties. You’ll see the kids getting together and doing things together, helping each other at the ring. The morale and the spirit are good at the barn, which I’m proud of.”

As an equestrian, Madden knows that equitation provides the proper foundation needed for longevity in the industry. That’s why Beacon Hill’s program focuses on learning the fundamentals of good horsemanship, providing students with the building blocks to enjoy riding for years to come.

“Equitation really just means good riding — it helps give a platform or a base to a rider, so it’s such a well-rounded division in our sport for the young athletes,” Madden said. “All the riders at Beacon Hill typically ride in the hunters, the equitation and the jumpers. They get to dip their toe in the water of the hunter division, learning the hunter phase, the true equitation division in hunt seat equitation, doing the Medal and the Maclay, and then a little of the jump seat equitation in the USEF Talent Search and Washington. All of the equitation teaches you about track, line, pace and basic fundamentals — and how important position is to influence your horse to have proper balance and make a good jump.”

As a businesswoman, Madden also knows that come winter, her and her team’s efforts must focus on moving the program to their second home in Wellington. Many of the students and staff head south to Wellington in December for the Winter Equestrian Festival.

“What Wellington has to offer is so unique because it’s 14 weeks of the highest caliber riders, trainers, horses, coaches, grooms, vendors, farriers, vets,” she said. “It’s everything in the industry of the highest quality from December to April, all on one campus.”

Making the move to Florida during the coldest months of the year has more benefits than just trading snow shovels for sandy shores and sunny skies. Apart from providing easy access to the showgrounds, having a second training facility in Wellington is immensely beneficial for Beacon Hill’s students.

“You get to surround yourself with the best of the best, and immerse yourself in that from sunup to sundown,” Madden said. “You can give yourself a riding lesson every second of every day, step foot on the show grounds if you choose. You’ve got the best international riders there, the best national riders there, the best junior riders there… no matter what division you’re in, you’re always having your level brought to a better level because you’re surrounding yourself with the best.”

Shifting the business to Florida during the Wellington circuit also allows Beacon Hill’s clients to grow and show together, all under the same roof.

“The rest of the year, we’re always on the road, and kind of like traveling gypsies,” Madden laughed. “So, I really look forward to being able to spend time with the clients, the riders, the horses and the staff by being in one place. But what I look forward to most about WEF is the growing curve that I see from the clients. You arrive with horses that have been on a big break, with customers on new horses; by mid-circuit to end-circuit, you have a very different set of horse-and-rider combinations. They’re in the groove, they know each other better, and they’re a much more competitive group.”

There are endless benefits to showing at Wellington International. “You get a good chunk of your qualifying and your year jump started in Wellington,” Madden explained. “Then you have your special events in the evening to look forward to, that they do such a nice job hosting. Every division has some sort of specialty class during the circuit — they make it really special for everyone.”

Madden’s advice to junior equitation riders? Take your time.

“The No. 1 mistake I see is letting a small mistake turn into a bigger mistake and getting flustered. I think that goes hand-in-hand with rushing,” she said. “Once a rider can take their time and think a course through properly, the course starts to look fluid and controlled — everything comes together, and the partnership between horse and rider is complete.”

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