Frank Caton was born in Northville, Michigan on September 3, 1852. He learned about horsemanship from his father, whose techniques would later be passed along to Frank's sons, who included Hall of Fame Immortal William Caton. As a youth, Frank rode "running horses" in races, but would later devote himself to the training and driving of trotters. From 1873 to 1881 he raced for his brother Samuel, head trainer at the Kalamazoo Stock Farm. Caton quickly made a name for himself and his reputation would garner him a position as manager, trainer and driver at C. F. Emery's Forest City Farm stable in North Randall, Ohio.
For the next twelve years Caton managed Emery's farm, caring for the stallions, training their gait and formulating methods for the breeding of faster horses. During this time Caton and his wife Sarah had two children, Will and Rebecca, who were soon followed by Christine, Pearl and Sam.
In 1893, C. F. Emery sold some horses to Messrs. Russo and Nikolai Feodosiev of St. Petersburg, Russia. Hearing nothing for several months from the escort he had sent along, he began looking for someone to go to Russia and investigate. Frank Caton chose to personally go to Russia in August of 1893 to learn what had happened with the horses. In a matter of weeks Caton was back in Ohio with the matter settled, but he had seen an opportunity for sales and racing in Russia. Caton shipped more horses to Russia the following year, bringing his eighteen-year-old son Will as well. The rest of the Caton family would soon join them. Through Caton's direction, during a 23-year career in Russia, he and his sons would transform Russian trotting.
Early on, Caton was approached by Count Waronzov-Dashkov, who held a high position in the court and owned a large estate and breeding establishment. The Count offered Caton a free hand in the training and driving of his horses as well as in the management of his racing stables in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Caton accepted.
The Russian Orlov trotter was well bred for the conditions of Russian roads and weather, but was losing to the lighter American Standardbreds on the track. Caton saw the potential of cross-breeding the two, and with time and diplomacy he convinced the Russians as well. The cross-bred Russian and American trotter became known as the Metis or Russian Trotter and was so successful that Caton was compelled to buy more Standardbred stallions to meet the demand of his Russian clientele.
Under Caton's influence, the Russian practice of racing solely against the clock was replaced with head-to-head competition. Caton also inaugurated the use of the bicycle sulky and driving silks, requiring all his drivers to wear red cap, white jacket, and blue trousers, as both the American and Russian flag at the time shared the same colors. He also introduced the sale of horses through auctions. Caton found a ready demand for American racing equipment, opening a store and later a factory which produced American-designed harnesses and equipment.
Frank Caton's revolution of the harness racing sport in Russia was all too soon followed by the political revolution. Frank's equipment store and factory were ransacked and burned, and it became clear that it was time to leave. Frank was given special envoy status by the American ambassador enabling a safe departure to New York. However, Will and Sam were imprisoned, ultimately rescued through the efforts of Frank and the U.S. government. The rest of Caton's family had to escape across Siberia, followed by travel through Mongolia, Korea, Japan and the Pacific Ocean back home.
Caton and his clan, after returning to live in Cleveland, Ohio and Lexington, Kentucky, continued to successfully export, breed, train and race harness horses. Caton had realized his dream of successfully cross-breeding the American Standardbred with the Russian Orloff, but his greatest achievement may well have been the horsemanship education he gave to his family. To this day the Russian market for the American Standardbred, thrown open by Frank Caton more than a century ago, continues to be a strong outlet for the American breeding industry.
Frank Caton died on March 9, 1926 at the age of 74.