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Assistant Trainer Spotlight: Danette Watson of Kelly McDowall Quarter Horses


Assistant Trainer Danette Watson currently works for Kelly McDowall in Franktown, Colorado. Her job varies from riding, giving lessons, organizing for shows, and pretty much everything in between. “Since we are an all-around barn, I train and compete in a lot of classes, but I specialize in the equitation, hunter under saddle, and showmanship.”

Watson grew up on a farm in Greeley, Colorado, where her parents had a small breeding program and showed locally. “My parents passed on their love for horses and showing,” Danette recalls. “Some of my favorite memories come from this farm, where I fitted halter babies with my mom and broke colts with my dad. In high school, I was involved in the FFA and 4-H, particularly the horse judging. After high school, I went on to Colorado State University, where I earned a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Business.

Danette said she started showing 4-H as soon as she was old enough to compete. “Through 4-H and open shows, I learned a lot, particularly how to stay on pattern. My parents kept giving me different horses to show, and I found out early how different things work, depending on what horse you are on. When I was around 15, my parents decided I had made enough silly mistakes and had gained enough experience to start showing at the Quarter Horse shows in Colorado.”

GoHorseShow sat down with Danette to find out more about her background and plans.

Q: Hi, Danette. Can you tell us what you like about horses and showing?
A: I love the challenge of showing. Every time you or your client steps into the pen, it is a test of the partnership and the work each horse and rider has put in. Every show, horse, and rider are different. The challenge is how to put things together consistently. Each time you step in the ring, you learn something, regardless of if it was a good or bad ride.

Q: What are some of your favorite accomplishments in the show arena?
A: Watching a client who has worked hard to achieve their goals and excel at a big show. Also, when someone reaches a goal they didn’t even think could be a reality is a special moment to experience.

Q: What are some well-known horses you have helped train?
A: Best One Out There, Definitely A First, Born Blazed, Betta Believe It, Certain Advantage, Lets Be Radical, Certainly A Blaze, and Winkin For Chocolate.

Q: Who are some of your biggest mentors?
A: My parents – they taught me to work hard, pay attention to small details, and how to look around. You can always find something that needs to be done. Laurie Lucas – I have always looked up to her as she appeared to have everything together, and you don’t always have to be the most prominent trainer to make a difference and have a profitable business. Vicki Tanner – Vicki taught me to give lessons. She is terrific at being able to put what she is doing into words. I always learned to ask why I am doing or coaching something as well as to practice what I coach. Kelly – He is a great businessman that has taught me so much about training that goes beyond the actual training of horses.

Q: What advice do you have for young trainers?
A: Work hard! Don’t forget to take the time to talk to people. The first came naturally to me. The second is something I have had to learn and work on over the years. It is easy to focus on what you have to do with your horses and clients. When I made myself talk to more people (some I thought didn’t know I existed, or I wasn’t worth their time), a whole new world opened up. The horse world is enormous and small at the same time; connections provide a lot of information and support.

Q: Any memories that stand out from the industry?
A: One of my favorite memories is when Natalia DeVencenty and Klay McDowall were 1st and 2nd in the horsemanship at Congress, and they waited to do a victory lap together in the warmup pen. Natalia had to show another horse in a different arena and had missed awards for horsemanship, so the celebration was postponed. They had pushed each other to became top competitors and friends at the same time.

Q: How did you come about working for Kelly and what do you like about working for him?
A: I started exercising horses for him when he was at big long shows like Congress. Then, I started helping him at local shows when he was taking a lot of horses that turned into helping him more at the house. Next thing I knew, he had his daughter Claire giving me a sad look and asking me to work for him full time. I like working for him because he has excellent horses and great clients. He also works to keep his barn drama free. He has a way of making everything work out. He is a good businessman that still puts his family first.

Q: What is one thing people probably don’t know about you?
A: When I am not at the barn, I love to go to the lake or spend time with my husband and family team roping or trail riding.

Q: How about your future goals?
A: I want to keep working at being a better trainer and getting better at showing instead of just schooling and getting them through a class. I also would like to get my judge’s card.

Thanks, Danette!

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