Assistant trainers are important to our industry because they are the next generation of premier trainers that will help our industry grow and become stronger. There is only so much time in a day that the top trainers can ride their horses, and assistant trainers are instrumental in helping develop more efficient training programs.
Most trainers could not survive the Congress without support systems around them to help keep everyone on track and organized. It takes a special type of individual to want to become a horse trainer. They need to be self starters, responsible, and know there are up and downs in this business such as long hours, grunt work, and the fact there is not a huge paycheck at the end of the day. A good assistant trainer can become an integral part of a training operation. It is a unique position where the assistant has to show their own initiative, but, at the same time, remain loyal to the principles of the employer without inflicting their own agenda. It is a difficult balancing act where only the strong survive and move on to have their own training operation.
GoHorseShow.com sat down with three of the top assistant trainers in the business to discuss what their day is like at the largest single breed show in the world. We talked to Adam Wainscott of High Point Performance Horses, Tate Oakley of Rusty Green Quarter Horses, and Michalene, “Mikey” Westover of Haylo Farms. GoHorseShow.com reporter Laura Gilmer also questioned them about their background, what advice they have for other young trainers who are trying to succeed in this business, and also their future goals.
Michalene “Mikey” Westover--Haylo Farms
Haylo Farms, which is owned by Stanley and Susan Scott of Ocala, Florida, is having another great Congress. In addition to Nancy Wilkerson winning the Amateur Pleasure, their assistant trainer, Michalene, “Mikey” Westover, and Hes Not An Illusion won the Congress Two Year-Old Snaffle Bit Futurity Limited Division title on Friday.
GoHorseShow.com was able to interview, Mikey, right before her prestigious win. 32 year-old Westover talked about her passion for horses, and why she wanted to work at Haylo Farms “Don’t get into horses for the money because it is hard to make a living in the industry, but, do it to ride nice horses. At Haylo Farms, I am given the opportunity to train and show high quality prospects."
“Stanley and Susan are very demanding owners. They expect us to be our best at all times. At a place like Congress, there is no room for mistakes. The work is tedious and non-stop. Some people can’t handle the pressure, but I thrive off of it,” Westover said, while at the Haylo Farms stalls in the Gilligan Barn. “I like to be put in a fast paced environment where I have to perform."
Westover continues, “It is long hours, tough on my body, and there is not a lot of free time for myself, or my family life, but it is a sacrifice I am willing to make to get to the top of my profession.”
A native of Toronto, Ohio, Mikey first started in 4-H and then got into Morgans, Arabians and Paso Finos. Westover didn’t attend her first AQHA show until she was 19 years-old. Eventually, she interned for Mark Harrell, and Clint Fullerton and worked for Judd Paul, Ty and Karen Hornick, Kenny Lakins, and Carl Yamber before she went to work at Haylo Farms.
Mikey recommends that an aspiring trainer needs to go work for someone who will take the time to work with you. “Many new kids want to immediately go work at the big barns with the premier trainers, but many of them don’t have the time to teach you their training techniques. It is important to go somewhere where you learn from the ground up. The grunt work is an integral part of the training process, and it is a necessity to get a thorough education in this business.”
Westover explains that she would eventually like to open up her own business, but, with the economy, now is probably not the best time to venture out on her own. “I would like to have a partner that could deal with the buying and selling aspect of the industry while I focus on training and showing the horses,” she said. “I’m just passionate about horses, and I am thankful to be given the opportunity to ride some of the nicest horses in the industry.”
Tate Oakley--Rusty Green Quarter Horses
It was a difficult task to even track down Tate Oakley at the Congress. Every time, GoHorseShow.com tried to find him at the stalls, we had just missed him. Oakley was either riding, ponying a horse, helping someone, or showing. The fact that Tate was busy at the Congress was an understatement. There is no doubt that he takes his job seriously. His hard work is starting to pay off. On Friday, he placed 3rd in the Limited Three Year Old Western Pleasure with Only Ever After. Oakley was raised around horses and showed on the AQHA circuit throughout his childhood. His father, Troy Oakley, is a World and Congress Champion Western Pleasure trainer from North Carolina, and Tate learned a great deal about the business from his father, in addition to other top trainers in the industry such as Shane Dowdy, Cleve Wells, Jay Starnes, Andy Cochran, Greg Wheat, Shane Pope, and now Rusty Green--who he started working for in April.
At 20 years-old, Oakley speaks in a way that many people would expect from a much older and wiser trainer. Rusty Green’s client, Ray Arnona, who was hanging out nearby the stalls when Tate was being interviewed said that Tate was going to be "a star as long as he listens to me.” Tate smiled at that remark and appears to be someone who takes everything in stride.
Tate’s advice to other young trainers wanting to succeed in this business is to go somewhere where you can gain knowledge. “Don’t be smarter than the person that you go work for. Go somewhere where you can learn something. I have known Rusty ever since I was a little kid. I knew he had good horses, good training techniques and that he was a great teacher,” he said. “Rusty is great at finishing horses. He always tells me that less is more. You need to have patience and learn how to be softer with a horse. Getting after one is sometimes not the best way to teach them and get them to do what you want. Whenever I have a problem, Rusty always seems to be able to get to the bottom of it and find a solution.”
Tate adds, “It never seems like a job when I go to work at the barn. Everyone is always in a good mood. Katie, Rusty and the customers are all so much fun to be around. I can always ask questions, and I can watch Rusty ride for hours. He is always so fluid and soft when he rides, and I have been able to learn so much from him in a very short time.”
Like most assistant trainers, Oakley said would like to start his own training operation when he feels he has developed a strong enough foundation. “I would like to concentrate on Western Pleasure and Western Riding. I find the Western Pleasure challenging because it is a difficult class. It may look easy, but it is hard to get a horse to perform at the highest level at the speed we are asking these horses to go.”
Oakley seemed unfazed when we asked him how he handles the pressure of showing at the Congress. “It is just another horse show. I have been showing against the same horses all year. I could go to the bar and screw around, but that is not what I was hired to do--I need to focus on trying to satisfy the customers, my boss, and myself. I want to show them that I care by busting my ass everyday.”
Adam Wainscott--Highpoint Performances Horses
Congratulations is in order for Adam Wainscott who fulfilled one of his life ambitions on Friday evening when he won the Limited 3 Year-Old Western Pleasure Futurity at the Congress on Huntin Big Dreams. When GoHorseShow.com sat down prior to the class, he mentioned that one of his dream goals was to win the Congress, and we want to congratulate him on a job well done.
Earlier this summer, Adam Wainscott of Cicero, Indiana starting working full time for Charlie Cole and Jason Martin of Highpoint Performance Horses. Many assistant trainers would love the chance to work at Highpoint, and Wainscott knows he has one of the most enviable positions in the business. “I know most people won’t be very sympathetic about me working here,” Adam says, and then laughs when being interviewed at the Highpoint stalls in the Gilligan barn. “We have some of the best horses and customers around. Charlie and Jason also know how to run a business and are so talented on the horses. I am very grateful to be able to work for some of the best trainers in the industry.”
Wainscott adds, “I hope to give a boost to the pleasure futurity side of the business. Charlie and Jason are also able to keep the futurity horses in the barn rather than having to outsource them to other people until they are ready to learn the trail and western riding. I hope that I will be a great addition to their program.”
When asked what it is like being an assistant trainer at the Congress, he rather matter-of-fact states that, “It is long hours and tedious work. There is always a lot going on because we are showing all over the place. Everyone usually gets sick; you have to ride all night and day when you don’t necessarily feel good. You have to know how it is and what it takes to be successful. You have to come with the right attitude and know it is going to be difficult but still maintain a positive attitude.”
Adam mentions that Charlie and Jason are great to work for because they give him the opportunity to concentrate on training the horses rather than having to constantly switch modes from longeing, to grooming, to riding, to helping customers. Highpoint Performance Horses brought 30 horses to Congress, two helpers--Fidel and Moundo, trainer Laura Hastie to help keep everyone organized, Greg Johnson to pony and longe the horses, an intern, Angie from Germany to help with some of the work, as well as Beth Case and Adam as the main assistant trainers. It takes a village of people to keep everything flowing smoothly with so many top horses and clients. And don't forget the Great Danes.
When asked how he got involved with horses, 26 year-old Wainscott says he fell in love with horses as a young boy. His parents were never involved with horses until he was attracted to them from an early age. “When I was around seven, I kept bugging my mom that I wanted a horse. She finally gave in and found a ‘strict’ riding teacher to teach me how to ride. She thought that hopefully it might deter me from wanting to pursue it any further. But, after two lessons, I was hooked, and I ended up riding everyday for now about twenty something years.”
Wainscott also showed on the AQHA circuit in the Western Pleasure and Horsemanship. He was Rusty Green’s youth kid while growing up and went to work for him when he got older. He also received help from Beckey Schooler, and Tim and Lynn Puthoff during his career. “It was an absolute blast hauling and working for Rusty,” he said. “I helped get Potential Diva ready at the World Show with one hand when I broke my shoulder. She was that nice of a mare. It was an amazing opportunity to be able to ride nice horses and learn from him.”
After asking him what his future goals are, he says, “I plan to stay here forever if they let me! ...But, seriously, I would love to learn the Trail and Western Riding, eventually win the World and Congress, and, at some point, start my own business. Right now, I just love working for Charlie and Jason, and my primary goal is to work hard and try not to let them down. When you are working for someone as high caliber trainers as Charlie and Jason and you respect them in all parts of their life: personal and business, you want to try and impress them and hopefully become an asset to their business.”