Most people who wave been to TRH have seen this mare. She's been a fixture around here since it all began. Most people don't know the full story behind her. I thought I would share, as I really feel like she is a very important part of my journey as a professional horse trainer. When I first started in the industry I was very naive and really didn't have a clue how it all worked. Something I did know..... I loved it. Everything about it, the sport, the horses, my peers, the atmosphere, all of it. I wanted so badly to be a part of it. I was desperate for someone to teach me how to train a reining horse and be included in this elite group of horseman/women. I knew I had a lot to learn and I wasn't sure I had what it took to make in this business. There was so much money, fancy horses, fancy rigs and barns and it was very intimidating for me and very different from how I grew up. My Confidence in by ability to fit in was low.....but I knew I couldn't give up.
My first internship out of college was in the heart of horse country. It was a huge ranch with multiple barns and rolling acres of thick green grass pastures swarming with mares and foals. I was immediatley knocked of my feet and was sure this was where I wanted to be. Once I got down there, and the work started, it was much harder than I had anticipated. My boss was tough, relentless and lets just say he was not a fan of having a girl in the assitant postion. I swear some days he found it fun to see how quickly he could make me cry. Back then, at the ripe old age of 20, it didn't often take long. I refused to quit though, no matter how many tears I shed. I even got good and holding them back until I got into my apartment and could let them fall with no chance of judgement and ridicule.
After about 6 months my parents came down to visit during the NRHA Futurity. My dad was not a horse expert, but he was in his day, an all american football quarter back. He immediatley apprecitaed the atheltic ability of these talented animals and began to see I wasnt fooling around. They decided to invest in me and help me buy my first reining horse. I went to my boss and asked his advice. He suggested we buy one of his home grown 2-year-olds as it would be a win/win for both of us. I could ride and show the mare under his guidance and help him promote his breeding program. He was very clear that this would be the only opportunity I would ever get to show anything while working for him. So, my parents and I partnered on her. I didn't have the cash so my dad let make payments to him for my half of the mare. It was probably not much to most people around there but it was the most expensive horse we had ever bought and I felt the pressure heavy on my shoulders, not only to show my parents I was a good investment, but I had to prove my boss that I could do this. I had to show him that even though I had boobs, I could still train and show a horse justt as good as any guy out there. What the heck, maybe I could even make the futurity finals, LOL.
It didn't take long for my hopes to be completely dashed. At first things were going ok. I was improving slowly but struggling daily. I had my little 3 year old in a bridle and draw reins. This was the bosses favorite set up. For those of you who dont know what they are, they are long set of reins that you run through a kind of pulley system. You clip them in between the horses legs to the cinch, run the reins through the clip attached to the shank of the bit and then up to your hands. They can be pretty slick at keeping a horses head down, however not much at teaching one softness and collection. I however, didnt know that at this point and did whatever he told me to do religiously. As the first horse shows of the summer approached he suggested I put her back in a snaffle bit. My first trip in the show pen should be 2 handed. So I did what he said and thats when the wheels fell off. I could get her to execute every maneuver fairly decent in the draw reins, but once I took them off, all of a sudden I had no lead change. I couldn't figure it out, and believe me I tried. The last thing I wanted to do was ask for help and risk an ass chewing. I had no choice. I could get her changed in front but everytime, she would drag the hind lead for a 1 point penalty. I sucked it up and gathered as much courage as I could at that point and asked for help. Thats when things really went south.....in a hurry. He got on her and I sat on the fence watching hoping for an education on changing leads, but it never came. Instead, I got my ass handed to me and my dreams crushed into the sand.
How would I ever make it as a trainer if he could not even leave me unattended for any amount of time with out completly screwing her up.
He didnt sell this mare to me so I could embarrass him and his program, and now he was forced to spend time trying to salvage the mess I had made of her. This wasn't some hobby, people expected results and I had failed. He took her off of my list and said I had to stay off of her until he could figure out what I did wrong and get it fixed, then maybe I could ride her some but never unattended. He was not going to let this mare go to waste because I didnt have any feel or timing. Poor mare. He started what he called his 2-a-day program. She stayed saddled all day and he rode her multiple times a day until she ran out of air and then he'd get on another one until she aired up. What a tough mare she was and I clearly couldnt kick or pull hard enough to get her broke. I never saw him teach her anything. All he did was punish her. He was pissed and he was punishing her because I couldn't cut it.
One day after unsaddling her for him and bathing her, I stood there taking stock of this little 3 year old palomino mare that only a couple months ago was brand new to me and the cutest little mare I could have picked out. She wasn't the same anymore. She had a glazed over look in her eye, no spark left. She had big sores in the corner of her mouth from the twisted wire snaffle and spur bumps all over both sides of her rib cage. When you ran your hand over her side she flinched with pain, it was tender to the touch. I immediately started crying. What the hell was I doing? This isn't what I signed up for?!?! I started this because I LOVE horses. This horse is ruined! If this was what it took to train a reining horse, I didn't want any part of it. Defeated, I went inside and called my parents. I needed them to come get me and the horse.
The next morning I nevously approached the boss and gave him my 2 weeks notice. He was surprised.... Thought I was finally toughening up. He asked what my plans were with the mare. I told him I was taking her home. He laughed. "You better leave her here in training so I can get through her. You'll never get her broke. You can't kick hard enough." I politley declined and went on may way.
Over the next 2 weeks I spent as much time with my other assistant trainer friends as I could. I didn't really want to leave. I had made a life there in horse country over the last 18 months and I wasn't ready to leave it behind. My friends told me to stay and find someone else to work for. As much as I wanted to, I just couldn't face another failure. What if they thought I sucked too? Finally the day came for me to leave and my parents showed up with their stock trailer. We packed all my crap in the nose and tied Jill in the front of the trailer. No horse dividers, just an old cattel trailer with dried cow shit down the side. Reality sunk in. I was leaving my hopes and dreams behind to go back to the farm. There was no indoor arena, no stall barn, no wash rack, and no piped fence pastures.
The next few months were rough. Depression set in and I spent a lot of time partying and drownding my sorrows at the bar with my old high school buddies. I still fixed up my parents place the best I could to try and keep a few training horses around to make some money. I made an old feedlot into a small arena and built 4 stalls in the back of my dads machine shop. It was an old metal shop with no insiulation and it was cold in the winter.
I kept moping around and feeling sorry for myself. Who was I kidding trying to so something like that? Then 9/11 hit. The tragedy and sorrow of that event finally gave me a little bit of perspective and I got my ass back into gear. I enrolled at CSU to start spring semester. I had a few credits from the NJC Equine management program and they transferred to CSU for Equine science and I added Ag business. I found new horse friends and my attitude started to change. I made my education a priority and graduated with an Equine Science degree with a minor in Ag business with a 3.5 GPA.
I got involved in the reproduction side of things and and went to work for an Embryo transfer facility right out of college. I finally got the nerve up to research the local Colorado trainers and went and took some lessons. Maybe one of these guys could help me with Jill and our little lead change problem. In my first lesson I learned more from that trainer in 1 hour than I did in the entire 18 months I was in Oklahoma. Did I ever get my lead change fixed? Not entirely. She would change, but had some serious PTSD and would run off just a little bit everytime you asked her to change. I tried showing her a few times without much success. I had the bug again though. I picked myself up and found another assistant trainer position and well the rest is history.
Jill went on to be a broodmare. I decided I owed it to her to allow her to retire to a life of leisure. She allowed me such an important education at her expense and forgave me for it. I would see to it she would never suffer unnecessarily again. Just a few years ago my lesson program really took off. I had a lot of beginners, and a lot of small kids. I pulled old Jill out of the pasture, 24 years old and full of life. Still sound. She is a bit particular about who lessons on her. Not very appreciative of the adult riders, and gets a little nervous and doesn't always do what they ask. You can put a small kiddo on her and she will put her head down and jog and pleasure lope around all day. She is now my 4yo daughters favorite horse to ride. She rides her in an old side pull, no bit in her mouth and no spurs. Jill does everything she asks on command. All I have to do is smooch from the sidelines and she'll lope right off in the cutest little slow lope you ever saw, child aboard, giggling and grinning. Then when we're done, she gets groomed by her small person and a big handfull of cookies and a little smooch on the nose.
What happened to my old employer? Well, a few years later an old friend from that neck of the woods called to tell me they had their ranch foreclosed on and lost their place. They were leasing stalls a few miles away at a much smaller barn. I did see him at a show once later down the road and he had some poor german intern there with him. The guy could barely speak English so, fortunately for him, couldn’t understand most of what he was saying when he screamed at him in the warm up pen. I also learned he made a rule after I left, that he would never again hire another woman. A few years after that I was driving through the area with My IEA team and took them around and showed them all the fancy places myself and my friends worked at back in the day. I turned down the rode and drove right by the barn he was leasing stalls at and there he was, driving the mower mowing the grass in front of the barn he leased. I honked and waved and later had an epiphany. It wasn’t me. Sure, I was young and didn’t know a whole lot, but I worked hard and I wanted to learn, I craved it and ate it up like candy. Clearly this wasnt a good fit for me, and all I needed to do was find a better opportunity. They are everywhere if you just look around. I realized I didn’t really regret the experience as it was such a valuable lesson for me in the end, but I regret not believing in myself, not advocating for my education and finding the courage to start again somewhere else. I should have done my due dilligance and looked for a job working for someone who would have lifted me up vs. tearing me down.
After years of experience in this industry I have discovered so many incredible mentors, who have openly shared their knowledge with me and encouraged me to succeed. This is an incredible business with so much opportunity if you are in fact open to learning and working hard. I have met amazing horsemen and women who can accomplish amazing things with these magnificent creatures all with out leaving a scar on them. They've learned to work with the animal, not against them. Another big revelation…..Flash and dash is not always all its cracked up to be, its whats on the inside that really matters. It certainly isn’t easy even with a good mentor, but if we don’t believe in ourselves, we will just fade into the background with nothing left of our dreams but regrets.
My final advice: never let anyone tear you down and take away your worth. You are worth it. Find someone who you respect and who holds the respect of others. Find someone who has had, not only success but failures too. Rebounding from failure and losses is how we learn and build charater, learn humility and gain confidence in our abilities. Listen to them and be open to their advice and criticism. You will find your niche in this industry and thrive with some hard work and a little bit of belief in yourself.