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Scott and Carol Matton: Up by the Bootstraps

By Ann Bullard

HARTLAND, Wis. - Husband and wife teams in the Saddle Horse business are nothing new. Years before women were ‘widely accepted’ as professionals, wives worked with their husbands, often in their shadows. Today, they get equal and, on occasion, top billing. Few such partnerships have been more successful in business and in life than Scott and Carol Matton of Knollwood Farm in Hartland, Wis. Whether their riders show equitation or performance, at area shows or the largest in the country, the Mattons usually are found pinning a blue ribbon on at least one rider at the event.

They got into the business in quite different ways. Scott, the son of trainer Bill and Nancy Matton, knew what he wanted in life. The horse-crazy teenager, Carol Ball, came from a family that was anything but horsey. She groomed and did anything else she could that enabled her to work around and later ride and show horses.

Growing up at his father’s all-breed barn with a large amateur and equitation program, Scott had a good model to follow. School simply was a necessity. "I was an okay student," he said in an earlier Horse World interview. "I knew I was going to be in the horse business, so I did well in bookkeeping. I played football, ran track, and wrestled. But the rest of it got in the way of my ‘real education’, learning to ride horses."

Scott worked as his Dad’s assistant and for other trainers before striking out on his own. The practical Matton worked a full-time job before beginning his real job at the barn where he leased stalls. While Matton trained horses at Glen Gary Stable in Waukesha, Wis., Carol Ball traded out help around the barn for the opportunity to ride, take lessons and Scott found a horse for her to show.

After Scott left, Carol found a place down the road from her high school. "They let me work horses for free," she said, adding "I really screwed up a lot. I remember calling Scott on the phone and telling him what was going on … asking what I should do."

Carol’s equine education came through tough experience peppered with lessons and encouragement from Scott. The barn where she worked and taught lessons focused primarily on hunters and jumpers. She got to introduce ‘off-the-track Thoroughbreds’ to their new world and learned a lot by riding so many different horses.

"When I was 17, my dad pressured me to get a job that paid something. Those people got weird when I asked them to pay me," she said in an earlier interview. "Pretty soon they had me scrubbing muck buckets. I decided to get out."

Fortunately for the Mattons and the horse industry, soon after Carol made that decision she ran into Scott. "I told him I was quitting," she recalled.

"Too bad," he said. "I have this Morgan and need a juvenile rider." Her response was, "When can I come ride him?"

That Morgan on which Carol earned a Top 10 in Saddle Seat Equitation really didn’t like that discipline. He found his niche as a road horse. Rather than quitting, Carol continued teaching and working with Scott. When he moved to Mike and Jane Schallock’s Star Hill Farm in Grafton, Wis., she carried on with lessons, financing her college education where she worked toward a finance and marketing degree.

Scott and Carol had been friends for years; however, he waited quite a while to ask her for a real date. Six years later, they married.

Scott continued to work at Star Hill while Carol leased stalls near Grafton. She spent two or three years giving lessons with Scott helping when he could. They stood Andeker and kept a few mares. It wasn’t long before they opened their own facility with 11 training horses. The road to their eventual success was wide open.

The Mattons still laugh as they remember that first barn. The bathroom was a port-a-potty in the unheated arena. The lounge was a tiny little room that was shared with ‘about eight’ cats and their litters. They loved it.

They still laugh about those days. "The Pettrys moved several horses to us for a while," Carol Matton recalled. "When Marge Fergusson used that port-a-potty, I thought we’d die. She was very gracious, and never seemed bothered by it."

Still, their dreams centered on two major areas: building their business with riders and horses they had started and a place of their own. The first came fairly quickly; the second …

"We looked around, but getting financing was a major problem. Bankers thought one of us should have a real job," Carol said, adding "We’d have been better off if I had been working at McDonald’s."

Their opportunity came through the Phil Trieber family. Their Oakwood Farm had a long history of successful Saddlebred operations with such trainers as Bonnie Byrne, Ross Drake, the late Max Parkinson and the late Dave Patton at the helm. When the Triebers decided to close their operation, they wanted the farm to stay in the saddle horse industry. They worked with Scott and Carol to see that it happened. "We couldn’t have done it without their generosity," Scott said. They made the move in 1992. Things have continued on an uphill climb since then.

Knollwood Farm features three barns, the main one overlooking a heated work arena. The 31-stall barn houses mostly show horses and is attached to the arena. Lesson horses and some show stock live in the 30-stall second barn, attached to the arena by a 75-foot aisle-way. A nine-stall ‘baby barn’ is across from Carol’s office. The main barn’s lounge, office area and hallway have windows overlooking the arena. The school barn features a smaller lounge with a welcoming desk, two tack rooms and ‘cubbies’ for campers. And, yes, it has all the amenities, including two ‘indoor bathrooms’ with places for those coming from work or school to change and hang their clothes.

The facilities are great; but the people make the difference. Trainer Eric Griedl learned his show horse basics from Bob Griffin, showing on the Minnesota Circuit. He first worked for the Mattons in 1999. His story about that early employment and his and Scott’s parting brings smiles to the faces of those who knew them when.

"Scott and I had a big argument about doing something," Griedl said, admitting he has forgotten the specifics that led to his leaving the job. "I came back in 2003. On the way to Tattersall’s, I looked at him and said, ‘The first time I worked for you, would you envision me coming back.’ He said, ‘Hell no!’ It’s strange how things work out as people mature. I realized what a dumb-ass I was later on."

After getting out of horses for six months to ensure that was the path he wanted to follow, Griedl worked for Thorpe and Bob Griffin at Northern Tradition Farm. His resume includes time spent learning his trade from Rick Wallen at Star Hill, at Royal Scot and with Mike Roberts. He came back in the winter of 2002. He is married to the former equitation star, Erica Savary, who operates Pepper Hill Farm just down the road from Knollwood.

In contrast, Kelsey Nicole Smith is a Matton-grown talent. She began her 18-year Knollwood career riding with Nancy Turner at the school barn.

"In going from the school barn, I looked up at Scott and Carol with awe, wondering when I’d be able to ride with them," she said. "I was a little scared of them; they were the top of the tier. As I grew up, I worked with Carol the majority of the time, doing lessons with Scott occasionally. Carol and I shared the progress we made with our horses."

Progress puts it mildly. Smith’s record includes winning the Saddle Seat Medal Finals at the 2004 American Royal and the UPHA Senior Pleasure Challenge Cup, Senior Saddle Seat Equitation Championship and UPHA Senior Challenge Cup aboard Surmount Shamir in 2005. She was the first to win the Senior Saddle Seat title at Louisville aboard Chimere, a horse with a full mane and tail. However, for the USEF Medal Finals at the Royal, the Mattons trimmed the mare.

Smith is a repository for Matton stories. One of her favorites concerns the tie she wore in the UPHA Medal Finals. "During the morning session I wore a pink coral tie; in the afternoon I wanted to wear a bright lime green tie," she said, smiling at the memory. "Scott said ‘don’t wear it; you’ll look like a boy and the judges won’t like it. I ended up winning while wearing that bright green tie. I told him, ‘and you didn’t want me to wear the lime-green tie; why, Scott? He still gives me crap about it today."

After her equitation career, Smith entered Arizona State University. She rode with and helped Matthew Roberts and Marsha Everett when they were at White Star.

"I graduated from college at the height of the recession," she said, explaining finding a ‘regular job’ almost impossible. "Scott and Carol had an opening and I ended up working for them."

"I love it," she went on to say. "It’s very fast-paced, very different than being on the other side. You have to work really hard to keep the horses in shape and get ready for show season. We have 48 or 49 in training this year, just enough to keep it fun."

Smith calls the Mattons "two of the hardest-working people I’ve ever met. Carol trains and does lessons. Scott will shoe horses until 11 at night if needed. I’ve known Eric about 11 years now … we’re all one big family, we fight and laugh together, share horses and ideas and roll with the punches. We’re all going the same direction but have different ways of getting there. It’s nice having different perspectives on the same goal."

"One thing I love about them: as long as you treat them right, the way you want to be treated, Scott and Carol will give you the shirts off their backs to help you out. They’re good, honest people," Griedl said. "Scott’s very passionate about what he does, and Carol is the same say," he continued. "If something’s not right, he loses sleep over it. They want to make sure everything’s fair for everyone. In some ways, the business is kind of like a nursing home. You have to get up, feed and clean them up … and you’re on call 24/7."

Scott’s grin and infectious laugh are hallmarks of his personality. He rarely walks in without a new joke to tell, or, as Smith said, "If it’s not new, he will tell it anyway. He is very kind-hearted and genuinely loves people. Carol has a more dark, dry sense of humor. She is the business woman and a dear friend to me. My only struggle in accepting the job was that I didn’t want to put a damper on our relationship. That has not happened. They definitely will be in my lives forever and ever, and hopefully in my children’s lives as well."

Nancy Turner and Ann Witt, who run the Knollwood Riding School, are very much part of that family. Turner has been part of the Matton program for 20 years – this time - producing most of the riders who have moved on to the show barn. Turner, the school director, received the American Saddlebred Horse Association of Wisconsin’s 2007 Horse Person of the Year award, not only for her work at the school but for her volunteer work with the Association.

"I first worked with Scott when he was at the Shallock’s. When he left, I stayed another year or two and then worked for a vet service that put me through an equine anaesthesia school," she said, adding she makes more money teaching at Knollwood than as a Vet Tech.

"Scott might come across as a very strong individual with distinct opinions on different subjects. He usually tells you exactly what he thinks. However, whether he agrees or disagrees with you, he is one of those people you always can count on. Carol is a hard one to explain. Ironically, when we first met, we hated one another. Now we’re the best of friends. She’s very fair and up front with you. They’re both extremely hard-working and will work alongside you just as hard as you do. They won’t ask you to do something they won’t do."

If you want to know about trainers … and horsemen and people … ask some of their clients. Susan Honkamp ‘graduated’ to exhibitor after her daughter, Kerry, finished her junior exhibitor career. Both now show.

"Kerry went to a birthday party at Knollwood; she came back and said she wanted to take lessons," Susan Honkamp said. "She kept after me; we thought it would be lovely to take lessons together. After the first one, my husband said he knew he was doomed. We found a home and didn’t leave. They’ve been part of the Knollwood family for 18 years. Today, Kerry shows Final Declaration, one of Andecker’s last offspring. During her career, Kerry has worked with both Mattons. Carol has been the main one with Susan Honkamp and her Country Western Pleasure mounts.

"They are wonderful people who have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps," Susan Honkamp said. "They are genuinely interested in you and your riding; they prepare but don’t ever over-mount you. From the beginning, you’re very conscious that they’re preparing you to be a rider and to show."

Honkamp and the Mattons’ relationship goes far beyond that of client and trainer. "We’ve had some wonderful experiences and gone to some interesting places. We traveled to Hong Kong and Egypt together. I’ve gotten to see another side of them that people in the horse world don’t necessarily get to see."

What stood out most on the Hong Kong trip? Not surprisingly Scott and his height. "he’s extraordinarily tall for people in America and stood head and shoulders above everyone in Hong Kong. He was our guide; wherever Scott was people surrounded and followed him. We relied on him and he took care to watch us."

Honkamp says Carol "comes across as kind of tough, but is wonderfully funny. One of the things she does away from horses is make jewelry. She always is gifting us with beautiful things she has made."

Kerry Honkamp agrees with her Mom’s assessment. "I started with Carol when I was nine or 10; through the years I’ve ridden with both of them. When I was younger, I learned a lot about self-confidence, to believe in myself. That applies to riding and to everyday life. It was a good life lesson to have."

Debbie Black and her daughter, Shelby Hader, began taking Academy lessons together in 1999. Black often rode with and competed against Melissa Maupin and Debbie Mulberry, whose children Nick and Loretta rode with the Mattons.

"I looked at enough pictures of myself and thought maybe my daughter should be up there instead," Black said, pointing out she has retired from riding "for now". Shelby is 40-pounds thinner and has dark hair. The Mattons trained her with my horse for a year. She’s bought Callaway’s Spsortscaster and is just starting riding in the 14-17 division.

"Knollwood is great for Moms; we bring a couple of bottles of red wine, sit and critique horses on Saturdays and especially at shows." She says Scott’s humor never is far from the surface, even in tough lessons. "My daughter was doing a tough pattern around those sitting in the middle of the arena. Scott was on a stool and asked ‘What are you doing.’ She said, ‘I’m doing what you told me.’ His response: ‘Oh, thank God!’"

Kim Schuh drives almost five hours every Saturday so her daughter, Allison, can ride equitation at Knollwood. She had watched the Mattons and their riders for several years before making the move from a barn near their Green Bay home.

"If you want quality and service, they offer it all," she said. "They have a great lesson program and will go out of their way to do whatever they can to help you out. They’re really great at explaining to a child or an amateur all aspects of riding. They instill a love of the animal and the sport that a rider may not get in other type programs."

Results have shown just how worthwhile that weekly drive is. Scott trains Allison’s horse,; on Saturdays she takes four lessons, two with Scott and two with Carol.

"When Allison won the 13 and Under Pleasure Olympics [in 2008,] Carol came in and put the ribbon on; Scott helped on the victory pass. It’s never just that somebody won; it’s always a big deal for him. He gets so excited it shows more than with Carol," Schuh added.

"They’re just the greatest in my eyes," she said. "There are so many good things about them. They always go out of their way to make sure the kids have a mount. Last year, Allison’s horse passed away the day the trailer was leaving for Louisville. He found her one to take so she could still show. He wasn’t going to let her skip Louisville because she didn’t have a horse."

Emily and Allie Gutenkunst have shared riding careers at Knollwood, beginning in the Academy program. Their mother, Kathy, says "Scott and Carol don’t expect anyone to work harder than they work. They treat their staff really well. Everyone gets along; it’s like a well-oiled machine.

"They’ve taught the girls so much of who they are and to appreciate what they have. They have worked in the barn, shoveled stalls, worked and tacked horses. With school horses, they are expected to organize the horse, its tack and to put it up. Riders learn this sport is not a right, but a privilege. And they’re very good about making horses available for lease if that’s what works for your family."

The Gutenhunsts were the last of the Knollwood family to own one of the Mattons’ all-time favorite horses, CH Louisville Lass. Lass already had a stellar show record when the Knollwood team selected her for Michelle Krentz in 2005. The mare served as the equitation mount for Krentz, Emily Scharpf, Meaghan MacQueen and Deanna Lanigan before Scott teamed Allie Gutenhunst with her.

"Allie is tall, about five feet, 10 inches. Scott told us we needed to buy Lass for her. We never rode Lass before buying her," Kathy Gutenhunst said, explaining Allie had only been riding four years.

"Allie and Lass Jelled, winning their first show together," she continued. "They got to Lexington, hit the warm-up area and ring. Lass sat up a little straighter with her ears up; they just seem to know. Scott told Allie, ‘You better hang on and do your job.’ They were second with a first-place vote." Lass foundered that year. Carlos, her caretaker and best friend, and the Matton staff nursed her back to health. She came back last season, carrying Allie to more top ribbons. Scott was in tears when he called to tell them Lass died in her stall the day Allie left for college.

Emily Gutenkunst will show two mounts this season, CH Callaway’s Don’t Panic in Junior Exhibitor Country Pleasure and Callaway’s Where There’s A Will in Five-Gaited Show Pleasure.

Meaghan and Connie MacQueen are another daughter/mother team that has thrived at Knollwood. Meaghan showed performance and equitation before aging out and entering college. Her mother enjoyed showing in the Pleasure Division. After Meaghan aged out, her mother made the ‘mistake’ of telling someone at Mane Event she would like to ride equitation. That person mentioned it to Scott.

"You’re going to be our new equitation rider," MacQueen said he told her. "He thinks equitation is good for everyone."

She has done well in Adult Equitation as well as with DLF Last Investment in Pleasure. The Mattons selected Hillcroft Rare Fortune for MacQueen’s three-gaited horse. In their debut at Mid-America Spring, they tied reserve in the Amateur qualifier and championship.

"I truly enjoy riding there; they really do teach you to ride a horse," she said. "I ride and take lessons with both Scott and Carol. They teach you how to feel the horse and actually ride one. And I never worry about my horses and their care."

Scott is outspoken in his support for the Saddlebred industry and its future being largely dependent upon lesson/Academy programs. "Where are the next Betty Weldon, the next Martha Siekman coming from? Those people are coming from the lesson programs. Martha started with riding lessons for her daughter at Don Brockman’s.

"Our quality is up but the numbers are down. Young horse classes have never been better than they are now. I think every trainer should have a broodmare and support the industry by raising colts," he said.

Knollwood is a seven-day-a-week operation, although the show barn isn’t open on Mondays. Working with such a large number of horses and riders with one arena often can be challenging.

"Depending on which day it is, we begin at 5:30 or 6:30 in the morning. We try to be done with the show horses by 3 p.m., because that’s when private lessons begin," Carol explained. "If we run over, we try to keep the easier horses for that time. On Fridays, we have a special group for Pattern classes. On weekends, we start an hour earlier in the morning and need to give up the arena at 2:30 for group lessons. And we all teach private lessons and work horses on Saturday. We try to push most show horse kids’ lessons to Sunday. The school horse program uses Monday afternoon for some riders who can come at that time."

And yes, although their schedule seems not to allow the time, the Mattons do have a life outside the horses. They try to take at least one vacation a year. Scott enjoys bike riding and spends lot of free time building things for the barn.

Friends say Carol has a lot more outside interests. Making jewelry for fun is her creative way to escape the barn. Her latest activity is kick boxing.

"It’s wonderful; I just wish I had more time," she said. "It’s really an amazing form of exercise as you concentrate on steps and different combinations of steps, punching and jumps. It’s so focused that, when the hour is up, you’ve had a great workout. And we adopted boxer a couple of months ago from The Humane Society, so I’m a dog person and go to the dog park."

Carol enjoys biking with Scott and, when home, cooking and cleaning their home.

Still, their first priority is to their clients and the horses. When the gates open for shows later this spring and summer, Knollwood Farm will be well-represented. And, no matter who pins the ribbon on a winner, rest assured it’s all a team effort. From trainers and instructors, to clients and grooms, theirs is one family, dedicated to one effort, putting the best possible combinations of horses and riders in the show ring.

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