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GoSmart with Jim and Deanna Searles: Making a Marriage Work

GoHorseShow with cooperation with SmartPak are continuing our highly popular GoSmart column with some outstanding additions to our current contributors, Jason Martin and Charlie Cole. SmartPak team riders, Jim and Deanna Searles will also be providing some valuable insight of how they have become so successful and maintained their reputation as two of the top trainers in the industry.

This couple has shown and trained multiple Congress and AQHA World Champions as well as stands leading hunter under saddle sire, Allocate Your Assets at Circle S Ranch in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Their first SmartPak article deals with their 25 year marriage and how they are able to be successful in both work and marriage in such a demanding and competitive field. We asked them several questions about the inner workings of their business and how they balance their professional and personal lives. The couple offer some advice for young couples on how to make it work in a lifestyle that can easily tear apart marriages.

How They Met

According to Deanna, the couple first met in January of 1988 when she moved from Oregon to Arizona to work for trainer Casey Hinton. At the time, Jim was working for Mark Sheridan and multiple trainers, including Hinton, who worked out of the same facility.

“Jim was just getting back from Arizona Nationals and I pulled up from my long drive from Oregon. I asked Jim if this is where Casey lived and he said yes,” Deanna remembers. “We worked together at the same facility and became really good friends. We started dating halfway through the year and got married in May of 1990.”

Who Does What

searles 3Jim and Deanna have been married 25 years, a feat in itself in today’s day and age. It is also the same amount of time they have worked together operating their training business. It is a successful combination that has produced winning horses, highly respectable children and very happy, long-term clients. We asked them to tell us some of the ways they have made their relationship work.

“Jim does all the billing, organization, reservations, and ordering feed and hay supplies,” Deanna states. “Basically, he keeps the ranch going and myself organized, besides being a horse trainer as well. I love being a housewife and mother and a horse trainer.”

“The teamwork that they have works because of the cliché of opposites attract,” says 16 year-old daughter, Taylor. “My mother has a very laid back, go-with-the-flow attitude, while my dad is the organized, business orientated guy, but they balance each other out for the close to perfect marriage/business partnership.”

As far as who rides what horses, this SmartPak team says that they both ride all the horses and use each other’s strengths to get the best out of each horse.

“We rotate on what horses we ride because we complement each other,” Deanna explains.

They also, obviously, maintain a great sense of humor.

“When there’s a situation I can’t get past, Jim is my ‘quick fix it man’ and when Jim gets stuck I play his coach. We rarely have any conflicts, and if we do, I’m always right,” Deanna says laughing. “I just always try to make sure Jim is never hungry. He never works well on an empty stomach.”

Jim says they work well together as business partners and personal partners because they work together as a team. “We are in it for the same reason and we do not have hidden agendas,” Jim says. “We are best friends and most important, we respect each other and each other’s abilities and knowledge.”

Balancing Act

searlesAs horse trainers who own their own business, Jim and Deanna make the most of their non-traditional schedule. They credit that, due to not having a 9-to-5 job, they have the opportunity to be home as much as they can with their two children.

“Family comes first, not just with our family, but our clients’ families as well,” Jim says. “When our children show, it’s very exciting but balancing their needs and the clients needs are no different. Sometimes it’s harder with the children because we have to play parent and coach, but our children understand that it is a job.”

Working together in such a demanding industry is certainly not easy and the Searles have some sage advice for couples who train horses together. “You have to take the time for yourselves, never go to bed mad and treat your job as a 9-to-5 job even though it’s not.  Also, sometimes you just have to take the time to get away together,” Deanna suggests on how to make your marriage lsearles 2ast.

Deanna also recalled a story that gave her inspiration. “We recently went to a wedding where a couple each wrote a letter that was sealed. In each letter was the things that they loved about each person, what attracted them to each other and how they felt about each other. They put both letters in a container with a bottle of wine and sealed it.”

Deanna continues, “When the couples have hard times, they open up the container and read each letter and drink the bottle of wine. Then, they would write another letter remembering what qualities that they loved about each other and put it with another bottle of wine and seal it up. Sometimes, we just have to remember what it was that we were most attracted to and why we fell in love.”

Taylor’s Take

Although jutaylorsearlesst old enough to drive, Jim and Deanna’s daughter, Taylor, possesses incredible insight into why she believes her parents have been successful in both their marriage and profession.

“The amount of respect I have for both of them is indescribable not only because they are the people who brought me into this world and can take me out even quicker, but because of the way they have established their reputation in the industry,” Taylor says.

Mature beyond her years, Taylor continues, “I have seen the way they conduct themselves with their clients and their horses which is always in a professional manner but their success is built on a family structure. Everyone in the barn is treated like family which allows for open communication, honesty and the trust that comes with. They both strongly believe that it is important to strive to achieve the clients’ goals.”

A Client’s Take

johns“Faith, family, and balance!” These are the three reasons they work says Susie Johns, who along with her sister, Katherine Tobin, has been a client of the Searles’ for 25 years. “Family values are their roots and they are blessed to have two wonderful children and great parents and siblings to have as support.”

According to Johns, maintaining balance is a challenge since Jim and Deanna live on the ranch where they also operate their business. Ultimately, they are on call twenty four-seven.

“Horse waterers break, horses get sick, tractors fail, mares foaling–all happening day and night. They live and breathe their business. They have great assistants working for them which is a big help, but balance is a hard one. I think the key is that because of their faith they put each other first, and they make time to just even go to a lunch or dinner by themselves and just make it about them–even if it’s just a hour or two!”

Advice on Running a Business

searles 4Both Jim and Deanna have backgrounds of working for people in the horse business so they were “semi-educated” on what it took to run one themselves.

“The business sense of running a training program is no different than running a normal business,” Deanna says. “It’s not just about training horses and how well they perform. You also need investments as well as insurance, both liability and medical, and try always to have great relationships with your clients and your colleagues–try not to burn bridges.”

Lastly, what is that one thing they wished they knew before they got married and started training horses? “We think the biggest thing we learned is that you need to treat your marriage like a job and work at it just as hard and put as much time into your marriage as your training business,” Jim says. “Definitely take the time to get away and spend that time with your spouse. The time away not only helps your marriage, but it helps your business and keeps you fresh and not burned out.”

Photos courtesy of the Searles family and Susie Johns