BY EDITOR SISSY WICKES
In the changing paradigm of top riders and trainers, there is a group of professionals who maintain a steady presence at the top levels of the sport. Caroline Weeden is one. Carl, as she is know to her friends, has a resume that begins as a groom for great Canadian riders and progresses to a successful, respected rider and trainer on the U.S. hunter/jumper circuit. One year ago, she launched Merryburn Farm in Metawa, IL. Although the name of her business changed, the values and strength of Carl Weeden remain the same.
The mother of two grown daughters, Carl managed to do what many of us struggle with – raise a family while running an itinerant business. Life on the road has its challenges; life on the road with children is a different level. With her customary cool, organized fashion, Carl built a solid reputation as a patient, talented rider and trainer. As a child in Canada, Carl began to ride with her local Pony Club. She enjoyed anything that involved horses, including eventing, showjumping, and even riding in point-to-point races. Her first jobs on the showjumping circuit were with top Canadian equestrians Danny Foster, Barbara Mitchell, and Lisa Carlson. Carl remembers, “We had some really good horses. I learned so much from great horses and great horsemen.”
Soon, Carl ventured to the Chicago area where she has stayed. She began to teach and to ride, appreciating every opportunity that she was presented. Her reputation and business grew as she demonstrated her skills astride and on the ground. “My business model has always been to buy horses that were a little on the green side for my clients. The idea is to buy them before they are completely made up so that we aren’t paying top dollar and can finish them in our system. I try to find a good match with the rider and then make them up myself.”
The system has worked well for Carl, her assistant of 18 years, Danielle Rawiako, and the Merryburn Farm clientele. Merryburn horses and riders enjoy success in the hunter, jumper, and equitation rings. The home base is Corporate Way Farm, a facility that Carl describes as “state of the art. There is everything here you could possibly need or want.” The bucolic farm features beautiful grass turnouts, a jump/Derby field, huge heated indoor, and perfectly footed outdoor ring. “The horses and riders thrive here,” Carl says warmly. “We are happy to be here.”
With a show circuit that begins in Wellington, FL, travels to Lexington, KY, Michigan, Chicago, and the indoor circuit, Merryburn is a presence at some of the best shows in the U.S. Carl has a strong dedication to preparation and flat work, learned from working with some of the greats in the business. “I have hosted and ridden in many clinics over the years with expert riders and trainers such as George Morris, Geoff Teall, Ray Texel, Peter Pletcher, and many others. For years, we had a standing ‘Tuesday’s with George’ lesson for our riders in Wellington. ” Carl believes that riders must understand the mechanics of the horse through flat work and riding specific tracks. She explains, “I set a track at the beginning of the week for my riders that starts easy and then progresses. The exercises are light and then become more difficult as the weeks progress. When they are comfortable with it, I change it and we begin on something else.”
Weeden believes that organized structured training at home yields best results in the show ring. She stresses good basics and foundations of equitation as critical to success. “The show ring is a place to demonstrate what you know,” she states. With a farm in Wellington with a private ring, she is able to rehearse her riders before they head to the show ring.
In addition to running a business, Carl was integral in founding and operating the Chicago Hunter Derby, one of the first stand-alone derbies ever held. The class, dedicated to promoting equestrian sport and benefitting national and local charities, was a groundbreaking event. In 2014, The Chicago Hunter Derby was inducted into the Show Hunter Hall of Fame as Best Derby. For the nine years of its existence, the show was a hallmark of excellent competition and charitable giving.
This year, Carl has a great roster of horses at Merryburn. From junior riders to amateurs and her own professional rides, it will be a busy winter circuit. The Green Incentive program plays a big part in her business. “I love this program because it promotes taking your time with the Green Hunters. It is a great pathway and my owners enjoy watching their horses compete during the year and at the finals. We can show without the stress of qualifying for indoors.” Carl compliments her loyal group of owners and riders. “I am fortunate to have owners who adhere to my methods, educated owners who understand when a horse needs a break or some exposure in the ring. “ She believes that good owners allow her to make up good horses in that they understand inherent challenges and a fluid time line.
While ribbons and accolades are some of the rewards of the horse show business, there are more important emblems of success. Horsemanship, ethics, and transparency are as important. As Chairperson of the World Championship Hunter Rider (WCHR) Task Force and a newly appointed Director of the USHJA, Weeden gives of her time as a governance volunteer. “If you have an interest in the sport, you have to have an interest in governance. I believe you can’t complain if you aren’t going to do anything about it.” Grounded, honest, and hard-working, Carl Weeden embraces the principles of horsemanship and sportsmanship at Merryburn Farm.