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Assistant Trainer Spotlight: JD Koffel of Cole Baker Show Horses

Assistant trainer JD Koffel currently lives in Dunnellon, Fl, where he works as an assistant horse trainer for Liz and Cole Baker of Cole Baker Show Horses. They specialize in western pleasure and hunter under saddle futurity show horses. His daily responsibilities consist of anything and everything that makes a farm run. Including but not limited to feeding, cleaning stalls, riding, and sometimes even barn construction. Koffel told us that one of the first projects he started was to help build the new mare barn.

Originally from Southington, Ohio, Koffel grew up with parents that trained and showed horses. “You could say training horses is in our blood,” JD shares. “My sister, Dawn Koffel-Allison worked for Dan and Darlene Trein, and shortly after she moved back home, she started working for Eric Anderson.”

GoHorseShow sat down with Koffel to find out more about his background and future goals.

GHS: Hi JD. Can you tell us what it is you like about training horses?
JD: The connection! When you can take a horse that knows nothing and teach them all the things, right down to how, where, and when they place their feet, that is what makes it all worth it.

GHS: Can you tell us your favorite accomplishment so far in the show arena?
At this year’s NSBA World Show. I was reserve in the BCF Limited Color 3YO Western Pleasure. I rode Sheza Wicked Machine, and she showed her heart out that day.

GHS: What are some of the more famous horses you have been involved with?
My favorite horse I have trained is Willy Good Investment. He was one of those horses that you could tell he was special even from the first day. I’ve been blessed to be around many other great horses like Sure Am Hot, How Bout This Cowboy, and A Certain Blaze, to name a few. We also have a running joke that Cole does let us occasionally brush Calvin, Line Up Behind, so I guess you can count him in.

GHS: Who is your biggest mentor?
One of my biggest mentors would be Eric Anderson. I learned a tremendous amount while working for him. I’d also like to add Kenny and Ashley Lakins, and Brian Cox. They have always offered advice when I’ve needed it, and no matter what, they are always willing to help.

GHS: Do you have any advice for other young trainers?
JD: Obviously, work hard, always be willing to learn, and stay in your lane as the assistant…but, the most important thing, and something I wish more people would advise, would be to have an outlet. A hobby or something that has absolutely nothing to do with horses. This life is so demanding, it’s very easy to get burnt out before you know it. Having a passion, hobby, or person entirely outside of this little horse show bubble keeps you grounded in reality and gives you a mental break. Additionally, I can’t stress this enough – learn the business end of the industry. There is so much more to this than just horse training.

GHS: What is one of your most memorable moments showing horses?
It was the 2016 Congress. I watched my mom show in the EWD Showmanship where she was reserve champion. My mom struggled with health issues and worked so hard to get there. The Congress was a dream of hers, so it was incredibly special to witness and get to share in that moment.

GHS: What is one thing people might not know about you?
I stopped training horses and worked for Conie Construction in Columbus, specializing in sub-division pipeline. While I was away from the horses, Liz kept messaging me asking me to work for them for about two years. I kept telling her that I just wasn’t ready and still burnt out, but that she would be the first to know when I was prepared to come back. Spoiler alert, I eventually decided I wanted back in, and here we are, one year later.

GHS: Is there anything you would like to see changed in the horse industry?
I like where our industry is headed. Thanks to a lot of the newer futurity programs, we are saving more horses back for them to mature before we show. It’s putting less stress on two-year-olds that aren’t ready to be shown that early. I’d also like to add that we’re starting to prioritize money over points, which I’m a huge fan of. Chase money, not points.

GHS: What are some of your future goals?
My future goals are simple. I want to be as happy in five years as I am today. I don’t know that I’ve ever been this happy training horses. I also wouldn’t mind winning the Limited 3s at the NSBA World Show one of these days. But in all seriousness, if you’re not happy doing it, then a trophy is nothing more than a doorstop.

GHS: Is there anything else you would like to add?
I’d like to add my appreciation for everyone who’s gotten me to this point in my life. Thank you to Cole and Liz Baker, Dillon Vaughn, Amanda Ringer, and my sister Dawn Koffel-Allison.

If you know of a hardworking assistant trainer worthy of a spotlight feature, please let us know.