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Go Smart with Charlie & Jason: Handling Highs & Lows of Showing in partnership with SmartPak are pleased to continue the highly popular column, GoSmart with Charlie and Jason. Team SmartPak riders, Charlie Cole and Jason Martin have achieved success beyond compare. Since founding Highpoint Performance Horses in 1992, they have trained over 100 World Champions and 200 All-American Quarter Horse Congress Champions.

Over the past few years, Charlie and Jason have been experiencing the extreme highs and lows of owning and competing with their barrel racing stallion, Slick By Design. Last year, Slick and his rider, Michele McLeod qualified and competed at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. Cole and Martin said it was challenging to deal with the quicker highs and lows in barrel racing, but it has helped them develop new coping skills to handle the pressure and disappoints on the AQHA show circuit.

Exclusive to, in this article, Martin and Cole discuss how they have handled the pressure to win while trying to keep everything in perspective. They give advice on how others can maintain their status at the top and how they have been able to remain as two of the premier all-around trainers in the industry.

Dealing with Highs

With winning comes pressure, but Cole and Martin have been skillful in not letting stress get to them. They have been able to maintain their status at the top for several years without suffering burnout or a downturn in their success. Cole credits their ability to maintain their position at the top by not sitting back and resting on past achievements.

“I am always focusing on doing the best job I can,” Cole states. “Then, I just let the chips fall where they may. I have no control over what the judges decide to do but I do have control over how I choose to prepare my horse and how I choose to react after my performance.”

Martin agrees, “I always want to improve and become a better rider, better person, and exhibitor. I’m always watching others to see if I can improve. I believe we have been able to stay at the top through having the willingness to adjust with the times. Many people get stuck in a rut and have only one way or style and they are afraid to make that change. Charlie and I aren’t afraid to bounce ideas off each other and try new techniques or approaches in training a horse. I believe that is one way we have stayed one step ahead. You must stay current through education and work together as a team.”

Cole adds, “I also avoid burnout by finding new challenges and new horses to teach new events and turning them into finished all-around horses. It keeps everything fresh and fun and that is what keeps me wanting to continue showing and wanting to win.”

Martin also says that another way they have remained on top is their philosophy of not changing anything at the big shows.

“We don’t change the way we have been schooling or preparing our horses all year. I believe trainers tend to overschool at the big shows, and they leave some of their best lead changes, spins, etc in the warm up pen,” Martin states. “We try to remain as consistent as possible with our preparation and try not to change anything that has worked the entire year.”

Dealing with Lows

Cole and Martin said that dealing with lows is all about keeping everything in perspective. Martin said that experience and getting older has helped him learn what is important.

“We were way more intense when we were younger,” Martin remembers. “A large part of that was us still trying to make a name for ourselves and working hard to establish and build our business.”

Cole and Martin also say that the world of barrel racing has helped them prepare for extreme highs and lows.

“It was pretty hard for us at first,” Martin admits. “The highs and lows in this sport are a lot quicker and more like a roller coaster than in our industry. Our stallion, Slick, could run the fastest time one day and win the round and then knock a barrel over the next go. Whereas, when Harley D Zip wasn’t on his game–he could still win. One thing that I have learned from this sport is the philosophy that unless something happens three times in a row, I don’t worry about it. Bad things are going to happen and everyone makes mistakes, but I have learned not to dwell on them.”

Cole agrees, “Good and bad things are going to happen and I try not to let the bad things overshadow the positive. Michele McLeod and Slick have had an amazing year and they have qualified to go back to the NFR this year. However, at the same time, Slick got sick and lost a chance to go for $100,000 at the Calgary Stampede earlier this year and Michele also got kicked in the face by a horse. There are plenty of highs and lows but you have to learn how to recover and not let setbacks define you.”

So how do Charlie and Jason bounce back from disappointments? Cole says that he has to remind himself that showing horses is most people’s hobby and that it is not life or death. One bad go or performance does not make or break someone’s reputation. A few years ago, Cole recalls the time he showed VS Code Red in the Junior Western Riding finals and Waylon popped a quarter crack right before going into the finals and was lame.

“I really thought we had a good chance to win it that year, and we had won the preliminaries but unfortunately it did not work out that day–it was a hard pill to swallow,” Cole remembers. “When something doesn’t go as planned, I usually spend some quiet time alone to regroup and then move on–I don’t continue to beat myself over it. I remember there is always another show, day, event, and year to do better. My goal is to try to have the best ride possible on that day. I can’t control outside factors so I don’t worry about what other horses and riders are doing and just concentrate on myself and the horse I am riding at that moment.”

Martin and Cole also state that they are always very honest with their clients. “I am extremely open about the abilities and talents of a particular horse,” Cole states. “I try to make sure they are on the same page as far as how far I think a horse may go. Sometimes I am wrong and certain horses surprise me and rise to the occasion and end up winning at the big shows, but for the most part, I am realistic and don’t give them false hope.”

Finally, Martin says that he has learned a lot about how to handle his emotions by his mentor and friend Joe Moran. The Moran family has trained with Highpoint for several years, and Martin says that when Joe is upset or when something doesn’t go as planned–he doesn’t immediately get upset or lash out at people.

“If Joe is upset, he always tells me he has to sleep on it before he says anything. How many times have you sent a rude email or called someone when you are angry and then regretted it later? I have many times, and he has helped me stop and think before I say something I may regret. After a few hours, I usually realize it wasn’t as big a deal as I thought in the heat of the moment. That is also how I handle lows–I stop and really think about it. I try to keep the right positive mental attitude. I may be upset for a few hours but I try to do something else that helps reboot my thoughts–like going to a movie or stepping away for awhile and then I come back a different person-ready to try all over again.”