GoSmart with Ashley Dunbar-Clock: Life of an Assistant Trainer at Highpoint Performance Horses
GoHorseShow, in partnership with SmartPak, is pleased to continue our highly popular GoSmart column featuring in this installment Highpoint Assistant Trainer, Ashley Dunbar-Clock.
We wanted to find out what it was like being an assistant trainer at one of the top training facilities in the country. The Highpoint team recently had a phenomenal year with World and Congress titles left and right. Highpoint Performance Horses has trained over 100 World Champions and 200 All-American Quarter Horse Congress Champions.
We sat down with Ashley to find out more about her background and what it is like working with the Highpoint team.
Ashley: I’m originally from California – born and raised. I grew up riding horses under the guidance of my mom who was a horse trainer at the time, Brenda Dunbar. Early on, I realized horses were my passion and I wanted to become a horse trainer. My first success as a young horse trainer came at the age of 19. I showed at my first AQHA World Show and took home not one, but two AQHA World Championships in the Junior and Senior Trail. It was a dream come true as I was just happy that I had made the finals my first year out. The horse that I won the Senior Trail on was purchased from Jason Martin and Charlie Cole.
GoHorseShow: How long have you worked for Charlie and Jason and how did it come about?
Ashley: I have worked for them for two and a half years now. The opportunity came up as Jason and I were texting one day and I mentioned I was looking to make extra money by riding extra horses. After Jason spoke with Charlie, they immediately wanted to have a face-to-face meeting to discuss the opportunity further. I ended up starting right away. It’s been a great fit ever since and I could not be happier that I jumped when they gave me an opportunity to join their team.
GoHorseShow: What have you learned working for Charlie and Jason?
Ashley: The things that I have learned working at Highpoint are that it takes a team and there is always more than one way to get things done. I have learned many training techniques, from softening things up while showing to keeping good movement over the poles. I have learned more about the business aspect – picking horses out for clients and the essentials of horse management. Also, the mental aspect of showing with Jason and Charlie is great as they never put any pressure on you. They are always there to support and they still remind you there is always another horse show.
Ashley:: An average day at the ranch can consist of lots of things. Every day, I have my list of horses that need to be ridden, but some days include helping out when needed, such as running horses around, going to a vet appointment, helping get paperwork done for horse shows and sometimes, just cleaning up the tack room.
GoHorseShow: What are the barn dynamics like?
Ashley: Barn dynamics are pretty straightforward in our group. We usually have meetings every other month just to go over horse lists and anything else that needs to be discussed. We work together to decide who will fit a certain horse the best. There are many times when one of us just isn’t getting along with a horse and we trade off and see if another person gets along with it better. We want the horse to be shown to the best of its ability and we are all on the same team.
GoHorseShow: Your favorite class is the trail, can you tell us why?
Ashley: I love the trail as, to me, it can be anyone’s game on any day. Even the greatest trail horse can have a bunch of ticks. It is different every time. You always have a new pattern and a new challenge. As far as what I bring to the team, I make sure that we have trail set up every day at the farm. I also think it helps that I have time to give the trail lessons and do the trail practices at the shows. It helps take that stress off everyone else when they have so many other things to get ready for.
Ashley: I think it’s because they are great at not micro-managing. They go over who is responsible for what and then it’s your job to make sure it happens. They are also great at communicating, so there’s never any misunderstanding on anything. The biggest thing is, they are grateful for their employees and give credit when it’s deserved.
GoHorseShow: What have been your favorite wins so far?
Ashley: I think my favorite wins since I have worked for Highpoint haven’t been me winning, but clients. It’s the best feeling when you have worked with them so hard and they go in the pen and it all comes together. As far as the most significant win for myself, it would probably be this year at the Congress when I was reserve in the Senior Trail on Sleeptite, who is still green in the trail. I was okay being second as it was Jason who won, so it was a great feeling that we got to be first and second together.
Ashley: One of my goals is to win the Congress as I have never won there before.
GoHorseShow: What is the most significant challenge working at Highpoint?
Ashley: The biggest challenge is keeping everything organized. There’s always a lot going on, so it takes a village to keep it all together.
GoHorseShow: Any advice for someone wanting to be a trainer and picking a trainer to work for?
Ashley: I would say that you have to work hard and not to expect to ride nice horses from the start. You’re going to have to do the grunt work first and work your way up from there. Also, work for different people so you can learn as much as you can. Everyone has a different way of doing things and there is no one way to train a horse. As far as picking the right place to work, you need to pick a place that excels in the event you want to learn. I think each training program has an event they excel at.
GoHorseShow: What have you enjoyed the most working there?
Ashley: We have an outstanding team and Jason and Charlie have been amazing to work for. We have great clients and I love that everyone is always appreciative of the hard work you do for them. To me, that is a huge thing and it’s not just a job to me, it’s my passion. I get to have fun and be with talented and hardworking people while doing it.
GoHorseShow: Thanks, Ashley!
Ashley: You’re Welcome.
Photos © Shane Rux, GoHorseShow