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GoSmart with Charlie and Jason: Upholding a Strong and Thriving Business in the Equine Industry

GoHorseShow, in partnership with SmartPak, is 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.

Highpoint Performance Horses has made a lasting impression for itself over the past twenty-five years. In this article, Charlie and Jason relive their early years and share useful tips and tricks they have learned along their journey.

Getting Started

The beginning stages of creating an equine business are no easy task. It takes lots of hard work, dedication, and patience. Cole and Martin agree the start of their career together was difficult.

“We started with nothing,” said Cole. “Neither of us had money, so we rented stalls from a facility and started building from there. We didn’t have the cream of the crop horses back then at all. One thing Jason and I figured out real quick is that we had to make what we had work.”

“We were two very naive kids when we started. We pretty much started at the bottom of the barrel,” said Martin.

Having a challenging start like these two did makes you wonder how they built their business into the success it is today. Cole shared some insight into their methods.

“We figured out what the horse had the best talent for,” he said. “I always try to figure out what job a horse can do. We started from there and had some successes, which led to better customers and better horses. We were fortunate enough that we always wanted to upgrade. We tried not to be in a hurry and decided to pick the horses that fit the rider the best, not what horses fit our needs best.”

Being diverse from the start is what Martin believes helped them succeed early in their career.

“We felt from a very young age that people were missing the boat,” he said. “We always thought you could have a lot more customers and classes at shows, along with happier people leaving a horse show, if you diversify a little bit. There was always, especially twenty years ago, the people who only did one discipline. In our short history of training horses, we have seen a lot of those people not make it. They aren’t horse trainers anymore.”

Money is a concern for anyone involved in the equine industry. Martin mentioned how they managed money from the beginning.

“When we were very young we started our IRA’s,” he said. “I think we have been very smart with our money. We didn’t blow money, we invested it.”

Honesty is the Best Policy

Highpoint’s barn manager, Christi Christensen, has been a part of the team since 2003 and has seen the transformation of the facility over the years. She believes the trustworthiness aspect of the business has helped Cole and Martin with their success.

“People trust them,” she said. “Their clients know they are looking out for their best interest. Jason and Charlie are excellent about making sure they are the right combination for that horse and rider.”

Cole and Martin have a sixty-day evaluation period when a new customer and horse arrives for training. They have done this since day one and Cole believes it is a good method to follow.

“We will take the horse for sixty days and in that time we kind of know if the horse will fit our program or fit the owner’s goals,” he said. “People don’t always like to be told after sixty days that we don’t think the horse is going to fit or have the ability to do their job, but it’s better than waiting six months to a year.”

Christensen also mentioned the trial period and how she thought it was beneficial to their program.

“A lot of people will send a horse because they just want a horse in training at Highpoint,” she said. “Jason and Charlie will agree to do a thirty to sixty day evaluation. If it’s not going to work, they will tell you, so you aren’t wasting your money. They will say let’s get rid of the horse and find you a different one, or let’s send you elsewhere because you are going to be paying a lot of money here, and it won’t be in your best interest.”

Advice for the Next Generation

The equine industry has changed quite a bit over the last twenty plus years, but the principles remain the same for creating a business. Cole and Martin had some professional advice for the future horse trainers and business owners.

“I think if you are going to become a horse trainer, you should have some business skills,” Cole said. “Whether you have a business degree or not, I would make sure you learn from someone who has those skills, so you can manage your money and business. A lot of people are weak in that aspect.”

“I would have a plan A, plan B, and a plan C,” Martin said. “I surely wouldn’t want to tell anyone not to follow their dreams, but I think our industry is in a different position now than it was when we started.”

Having a diverse business is something Cole and Martin have implemented at Highpoint. They currently have three aspects to their business: training, breeding, and barrel racing. Their business has been evolving over the years and will continue to do so in the future. Cole believes diversity plays a vital role in the success of an equine business.

“Be diversified,” he said. “Don’t be a one-dimensional horse trainer who can only ride one type of horse and class. You need to pick two to three events to excel. I don’t think being so specialized in one event is the best thing. I think diversity is essential.”

Youth are the future of the equine industry. These young adults have played a major role in the development of Highpoint Performance Horses. Youth were the main clients for them in the beginning, and Cole thinks trainers should be open to having youth.

“I believe you have to be willing to teach kids because that is the new blood of our industry,” he said. “I think people forget that. Without the kids, we eventually won’t have adults showing. You have to be able to work with children.”

Looking Forward

Highpoint Performance Horses has grown to be a very successful business in the equine industry. Currently, there is a full staff of around sixteen employees. The facility currently houses around 150 horses within eight barns, including a new stallion barn to showcase the eleven studs they will be standing this year. Christi Christensen is excited to have all the stallions in one location, finally.

“We had an idea in mind that we wanted to build a beautiful stud barn because we have just grown rapidly over the last couple of years,” she said. “They have always been at the same facility, but it was like one stallion was at one end of the barn and another was at the other end of a different barn. Now they will all be in one beautiful location, and I will be able to pull them out one by one and show them off.”

Cole and Martin also expressed their excitement for the new stallion addition.

“We took down a barn, so basically it was just an upgrade,” Cole said. “The breeding seems to be doing well for us and we are ecstatic with that part of Highpoint. Christi does a fantastic job, and we wanted to give the studs an excellent place to be able to show off.”

“I believe we are standing some of the best studs in the industry and I want to showcase them,” Martin said. “When people come to look at them they can go to this barn instead of having to walk from barn to barn. I want to start separating the breeding business from the training business, and I wanted a barn to represent that. This [barn] is leading us towards getting more into the breeding business side and making it happen.”

Creating a competitive equine program is hard work. Keeping a business thriving and growing over twenty plus years is even more challenging. And Charlie and Jason have given the equine industry an excellent example of a successful and evolving business in all aspects.

About the Author: GoHorseShow writer, Courtney Hall of Creighton, Missouri is a senior pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Communications at Missouri State University. Upon graduation in May, she will further her education with a Master’s degree in Animal Science from the University of Arkansas with equine gastrointestinal ulcer research. She has shown in the APHA all around circuit her entire youth career and has ridden for the Missouri State IHSA Equestrian team the past four years.


Photos © Highpoint Performance Horses, Kirstie Marie Photography, Impulse Photography, Harold Campton, The American Quarter Horse Journal