Five Takeaways from “Fundamentals of Equitation” with Stacia Klein Madden

Mirit Singh-Lefkovitz on Bucky. Photo © Jump Media


Renowned trainer Stacia Klein Madden can often be found ringside during equitation classes at major horse shows across the country, including at any of the year-end equitation finals where her students are consistently top performers. However, on Saturday, April 27, Madden was found at a slightly different venue.

As the winners of the 2018 Washington International Horse Show (WIHS) Barn Night Group Video Contest, presented by BarnManager, 11 young riders from the Iron Bridge Hounds Pony Club (IBHPC) received a free clinic with Madden and the opportunity to spend their Saturday learning the “Fundamentals of Equitation” from the skilled trainer.

Stacia Klein Madden group. Photo © Jump Media

While the talented young riders participating in the clinic – ranging in age from seven to 16 and in skill level from young walk-trot riders to those competent at jumping three feet – generally focus on dressage, show jumping, and eventing in their lessons, Madden’s emphasis on equitation provided them with tips and tools that can be beneficial to their riding across disciplines – and across all skill levels.

Although using the full ring properly in your hunter or equitation class or halting squarely in a straight line after a fence in your lesson may not be exercises you need to work on, it never hurts to revisit the fundamentals. Here are five of our favorites from the clinic with Madden:

Always remember that you are the pilot – not the passenger!

Ensuring that the rider had full control of the horse was an over-arching theme of Madden’s for the clinic, no matter what level the rider was.

Penelope Roesler on Fleetwood Mac. Photo © Jump Media

“Air Force One is the most technologically advanced airplane in the world, but it can’t fly itself! It still needs a pilot,” Madden said. “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.”

Don’t allow repeat disobediences from your horse…

As the pilot of your horse, you should expect the horse to go where you direct them to go and do what you have asked them to do. When they don’t, it’s important to correct them properly the first time and not continue to let the disobedience go on or even build into a greater problem.  

In the IBHPC clinic, Charlie Atkinson had a good ride in her session on the pony, Emmie, but the chestnut mare had a habit of rooting the reins in a quick motion, pulling Atkinson out of the tack.

Stacia Klein Madden. Photo © Jump Media

Madden showed Atkinson how to quickly set her hands to prevent the rooting as well as teaching her the proper timing for the correction. “When you feel her neck tense and her head go up a bit, get ready, because that’s what she does before she roots down,” Madden advised Atkinson. By the end of the session, Atkinson had a feel for the timing and correction, and Emmie had stopped rooting at the reins both while moving and in downward transitions.

“I learned how to make Emmie stop rooting and flipping her head,” said Atkinson. “That’s something she does really often, and now I feel like I have something I can do to stop her from doing it. It was really exciting for me [to ride with Stacia]. I was very happy when I heard that I could ride in this clinic.”

  1. …but tailor the correction to the crime. “There’s a difference between a horse that stops and a horse that ducks out, and you correct them differently,” Madden said. “A horse that stops is one who loses momentum on the approach to the jump and stops straight right in front of the jump. A horse that ducks out is one that keeps his momentum but turns away from the jump.

“When the horse stops, you need to correct the loss of momentum, so you circle right away, and use your stick behind your leg to get the horse going forward,” continued Madden. “Ducking out is a steering problem, so to correct it you need to turn the horse the opposite way that he went past the jump, then re-approach.”

Utilize a three-second rule when it comes to your transitions.

Young Pony Club rider Penelope Roesler had only been riding Fleetwood Mac for a short time before the clinic after transitioning from a pony, and at the beginning of her session, Fleetwood Mac was a bit sluggish off of her leg aids. 

Madden taught Roesler how to use the crop behind her leg to reinforce the leg aid and increase Fleetwood Mac’s sensitivity to the leg, and she instituted a “three-second rule” for her transitions, calling out a new gait then counting aloud to three to encourage Roesler to get a prompt transition. The improvement in Fleetwood Mac’s responsiveness was dramatic, and by the end of her session, Roesler was cantering a small course on him.

Metou Liker and Flicka. Photo © Jump Media

Particularly when schooling or hacking solo at home, if you have a sluggish horse, it can be easy to get lazy yourself and give your horse a little extra time to accelerate, or, on the opposite end of the spectrum, a little extra time to decelerate! It never hurts to remember to be crisp and timely in your transitions.

Incorporate ground rails into your routine.

Madden incorporated rails on the ground before jumping for each one of the groups. “You can get a lot done with rails on the ground. You want your horse to have a long, healthy career,” she said.

“I have multiple horses in my barn in their 20s, still sound and showing. You do that by saving their legs and not always jumping. You can keep a horse pretty fit over cavaletti, and they’re a great way to work on riders’ skills as well. Cavaletti work prepares you for jumping and gives you the skills to be ready to jump. There are a gazillion things you can do over cavaletti. Get creative with them and figure out what would help you and your horse.”

“The basics are the same, whether you’re teaching somebody to be on a horse for the first time, or whether you’re trying to win a national championship. It’s just levels and degrees of what you’re trying to fine-tune,” concluded Madden. “Having taught these levels might inspire me to go back to some very simple things with my students at home when I teach this week!”

Want to win a clinic of your own with someone like Madden? Learn more about the 2019 Barn Night Group Video Contest, presented by BarnManager, here!

The Washington International Horse Show Barn Night Clinic is a part of WIHS Barn Night’s prizes for local equestrian groups. Established in 1958, the Washington International Horse Show is one of North America’s most prestigious and entertaining equestrian events, attracting more than 26,000 spectators annually to Washington, D.C., for Olympic-level competition plus community and charity events. Find out more, including information on the Barn Night contests, at BarnManager is a cloud-based software solution that provides horse owners and managers with the tools they need to streamline and simplify their daily management responsibilities. Find out more about BarnManager and get a free demo at