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Assistant Trainer Spotlight: Matt Culley of Christensen Show Horses

Currently, assistant trainer Matt Culley lives in Pilot Point, Texas, and works at Christensen Show Horses. His primary daily responsibilities include riding horses, getting the young horses out, prepping horses for clients to come ride and take lessons, and getting all the tack, horses, tails, and everything ready for shows.

“I show and train for the all-around events, but my favorite classes to train and show are hunter under saddle and trail,” Culley, who is originally from Gresham, Oregon, told us. Matt attended Oregon State University and Linn Benton Community College to get his general studies degree, emphasizing Equine Sciences and Ag Business Management.

“I got my start with horses when I had a friend in elementary school that used to show dressage horses,” Matt recalls. “I asked my mom to find me lessons, then started taking barrel racing lessons from when I was 12 until high school, when I rode on my school’s equestrian team on my first paint horse, Easy Chick Magnet.

Culley started showing lightly in high school, but he joined the Oregon State Equestrian team once he got to college. He rode on the horsemanship team and hunter over fences team with Coach Dawn Ross.

“She helped develop my strong base in showing and encouraged me to find jobs in the horse industry, which is when my life started to take off. Going to the IHSA shows sparked my interest in the show world and all it had to offer,” Matt remembers.

We sat down with Matt to find out more about his background and love for horses.

GHS: Hi Matt. Can you tell us what it is you like about horses and showing?
Matt: My favorite part about horses and showing is all the different horses that come through the barn. Every single horse has their talents, quirks, and downfalls. It’s super interesting to spend time with them to pick their brains to see what they know and push them to be the best they can be.
I also love all of the people from across the country I have met and become close with, just being at horse shows.

GHS: What is your favorite accomplishments in the show arena?
Matt: Making it out alive every time. No…just kidding. I competed at my first APHA World Show and was a finalist in all three hunter under saddle classes this past year. I was proud of holding my own against the big kids. From showing as an amateur, I showed Good Girl Gone Bad at APHA Western Nationals after riding her only three times before the show and came home with three national titles and the All-Around Novice Amateur, which was super awesome. She was such a trooper for me, and we got along well after hardly any practice before such a big show.

GHS: What are some of the more well-known horses you have helped train?
Matt: By far, my favorite horse I get to show here at CSH is He Thinks Hes Special or better known as Eddie. He has been through so many wonderful trainers and has his touch from each one of them, and it does make him special. He always tries so hard for everyone who rides him, from walk-trot youth kids to open riders. I’ve also shown other wonderful horses here, such as Even More Sensational and Platinum Cowgirl. I recently trained a horse, Lopin The Runway, for the longe line and ended up reserve in the futurity at the Goldmine Texas Edition. It was my first time ever training a horse for it and my first time ever competing in it. It was super fun.

GHS: Who are some of your biggest mentors?
Matt: First off and obviously, my parents Jeff and Lori. They have always put up with long weekends at horse shows and giving me endless amounts of money to help me pursue my passions growing up. They also have been so supportive of me moving down to Texas from Oregon, since I first mentioned it. Next is Laura Satern, who was my first trainer in the horse world. She helped me develop a strong eye for a good horse and gave me a lot of experience in the saddle that I needed to succeed in this industry. Last, but not least, would be Chad and Shane (Christensen). They give me so many great opportunities and so many wonderful horses to show and train. I have many great horses here on my string to use my skills and push myself further.

GHS: What is some advice you have for other young trainers?
Matt: Don’t stop pushing, but don’t be afraid to take a break now and then. There are some days when you wake up, and you don’t even want to think about swinging a leg over a horse, but you’ve just got to keep pushing. On the other hand, don’t burn yourself out too early. If you’re unhappy with the spot you are in and it’s taking a toll on you, take a break. Don’t force yourself in a program if you aren’t happy being there.

GHS: What are some of your favorite memories from the industry?
Matt: Horse shows with Laura. Whether good or bad, we always made the most out of every situation, from hauling long hours with spilled coffee all over me to running 200 feet of extension cords from other stalls in the middle of the summer and creating fire hazards because our stalls didn’t have electricity. There was never a dull moment when we were around.

GHS: How did you come about working for Chad and Shane? What do you like about working for them?
Matt: I met the Christensen Show Horse team when I was showing as an amateur under Laura Satern. We were all in Las Vegas at the APHA Western National Championship, and we were stalled across the aisle from them. Chad, in the Springtime, let me know they had an opening for an assistant trainer. So within three weeks, I settled in Pilot Point at my first horse show with them that weekend in Waco.

GHS: What is one thing people probably don’t know about you?
Matt: I am severely colorblind, and it makes finding clients’ show pads very difficult. So that’s the one part of the job I always pass off because I cannot match show clothes to show pads. That’s why you’ll always see me showing in either blue, black, or white. Shout out to everyone who helps me find the right show pad.

GHS: What would you like to see improved with the show horse industry?
Matt: Not pushing horses when they aren’t ready. I see many people putting a horse out there in the show pen when it really shouldn’t be out there. I think horses should have positive experiences when they show, and when it all just falls apart in the pen, it sets back their progress. Also, a rushed job on a horse is self-explanatory compared to a horse that has had a lot of time to develop its skills.

GHS: What are some of your future goals?
Matt: I’m going to be selfish, but I just got a weanling mare by Rise Above and out of Zippos Zipper Snipper that I am excited about. Next year, I plan to show her in the longeline and then the 2-year-old hunter under saddle if she grows up how I want her to. But, as we all know, only time will tell.