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Assistant Trainer Spotlight: Spencer Orr of Show Horses by Shannon

Spencer Orr of Clear Lake, Iowa, is featured in our next assistant trainer spotlight. Orr currently works for Shannon Walker, who has a training facility located in Granger, Iowa. Walker has another longtime assistant, Hannah Lind, who we profiled a few years ago. “Our team is unique in that all three of us divide and conquer all tasks evenly to be the most effective and efficient,” Orr says.

This trio specializes in all-around horses and have a very successful non-pro program. Most of their clients show showmanship, western pleasure, horsemanship, hunter under saddle, equitation, trail, and western riding and Spencer enjoys coaching the pattern classes and showing the trail. 

Orr began riding at seven and took riding lessons weekly from a local barn for five years before he got his first horse. Eventually, Spencer leased a horse from his aunt, Jodi Ehlers, and began showing 4-H and open shows.

After high school, Orr attended Iowa State University, earning his Bachelor’s degree in Biology. He told us that his plan was never to train horses full time. Instead, he applied to both chiropractic school and vet school. While at Iowa State, he rode on a club IHSA (Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association) horsemanship team, where he competed and placed at Nationals his senior year.  

GoHorseShow talked to Spencer about his background and goals.

GHS: Hi Spencer. Thanks for sitting down with us. When did you start showing?
Spencer: I started showing competitively in high school on the POA circuit. After that, I showed and trained POA’s throughout high school and college. I began showing quarters and paints when I started working for Shannon and Hannah. 

GHS: What is it you like about horses and showing?
I have had the horse “bug” from day one. The best moments are when we leave the barn or a show after a long day, and all of the horses are quietly munching their hay. Every horse I have had the privilege of working with has taught me something. I often think, “If I had known what I know now, imagine how much better the last one would have been.” I love that our business is very active, and each team (horse and rider) is diverse. The atmosphere and energy at the big shows are unmatched, and one thing that I believe drives most of us to keep doing what we’re doing. 

GHS: What is you favorite accomplishments in the show arena?
I have had minor success in the show pen; high points and futurity winnings as a youth, winning a class at the Tom Powers two years ago with a pleasure stud we used to have, and top placings in a variety of trail classes, including the Sudden Impulse. However, I genuinely feel that so far, I’ve learned that I gain more satisfaction and gratitude from coaching a customer or prepping a horse and helping them become successful in the show pen. 

GHS: What are some well-known horses you have helped train?
Our business is unique because we don’t have specific horses or clients in our “string.” Any horse that comes out of our program is a product of Shannon, Hannah, and myself to some degree. We work very well as a team and will constantly switch things up and help each other to create the best horses possible in the end. The more well-known horses I have produced include the outstanding late mare Ill B Batting Ona RV, Itsa Southern Belle, Socks for Dayz, Itz Only Make Believe, Only Good Intentions, All About You And Me, and Kewl Zippin Strider. 

GHS: Who are your biggest mentors?
I have had many different mentors throughout every stage of life. However, I have to thank Jena Despenas and Josie Baxter for really pushing me as a kid to further my skills and knowledge in the show pen and to become a better horseman and coach outside of the show pen. Jena was my first trainer. She ripped me off my barrel horse and plopped me on a finished pleasure horse. I will never forget the first time I experienced “the feel” of a genuinely broke horse that loped with cadence and lift through the bridle. She opened my eyes to what it takes to put the buttons on a show horse. Josie was my horse judging coach. She taught me all the faults, penalties, and ideal things to look for in every class. Not only did I learn I loved competitive horse judging, but this also drastically improved my showing abilities by learning how to work toward the positives and avoid the penalties.

Before their help and expertise, much of my knowledge came from YouTube videos. I would watch the “Horse Training Channel” and seminars from great pleasure trainers like Cleve Wells, Rusty Green, Brett Parrish, and Jay Starnes. I remember having notebooks filled with drills, exercises, and reminders of stolen tips from their videos, along with Dana Hokana’s horsemanship videos and Tim Kimuras’ trail videos. I lined my 48’x70’ arena at my parent’s with mirrors and tried to mimic them. 

Fast forwarding to now, I couldn’t find any better mentors than Shannon Walker and Hannah Lind. They not only helped put together all of the training pieces I had from my past to form them into our current program, but they are also great role models when it comes to how to run and conduct business within our barn and barn family as well as in the public eye and professional setting at horse shows. 

GHS: What advice do you have for young trainers?
The most important advice I can give to a young trainer is to make sure you find a suitable barn. Often, it isn’t just about what type of horse or discipline you want to ride or train. But, that is a small portion of the job. More days are spent on the road showing and competing, at least for us. I spend most of my time with Shannon, Hannah, their families, and our customers. We are blessed with great customers. Nothing motivates me more than enjoying the people I work with and the people I work for.  

GHS: What are some of your favorite memories from the industry?
In one of my first years full-time with Shannon and Hannah, Mallory’s last youth year, our girls were 2-5 in the 13 and Under Showmanship at the Congress, and Mallory won the 14-18. It was an extremely long but rewarding day. I remember it very vividly, and one of the moments that sold me my position in the industry was helping others achieve their goals and dreams.

GHS: How did you come about working for Shannon? What do you like about working for her?
I was actually in school at Iowa State and messaged Shannon and Hannah on Facebook asking for horsemanship lessons. I think I came down right after Mallory blew out her knee playing high school basketball and took a horsemanship lesson on the oldest, most broke paint horse we had in the barn. I can joke about it now because she’s quite literally one of my best friends, but Hannah thought I was a waste of time at the time. Just some kid wanting pony rides from the Internet. I believe I did maybe one more lesson and then just trickled off. Then, that Spring, I got a call from Shannon while I was in the library asking if I was looking for a job, and I said, “not really, but what’s up?” So long story short, I started exercising and turning out horses while the girls were traveling at horse shows, and the rest is history. 

GHS: What is one thing people probably don’t know about you?
Spencer: I have always been and continue to be very active. Growing up, I ran cross country, wrestled, and played soccer. In my free time, I enjoy running and working out, swimming, and playing volleyball in our neighborhood sand volleyball league. 

GHS: What are some of your future goals?
Some of my future showing goals include showing at the World Show and Congress. Eventually, I would love to start raising a show string of my own – raising babies, showing them, and then selling them. I don’t know if I have any big aspirations to open and operate my own business, as I’m pretty content where I am. Hannah and I have always talked about how we’ll continue running the business when Shannon decides that she wants to be done and “retire” (even though we know that’ll never happen). The day one of us quits is the day we all will quit.

GHS: Is there anything else you would like to add?
I need to give a huge thank you to my support system. My parents have sacrificed a lot to help me get to where I am now. My family moved to an acreage my sophomore year of high school, built an indoor arena, finished a small stall barn, fenced off a few acres, and moved our horse’s home for the first time. Even now, my mom keeps track of our customers and me, following us and supporting us at shows, taking pictures, and even watching my dog if I’m gone and can’t take him with me. In my day-to-day life, Austin helps keep things running smoothly in my life and at home so I can work and travel doing what I love. He usually makes time to attend most of our horse shows and helps by prepping horses, loading the trailer, running tack and equipment, and entertaining our customers. He’s been the best addition to my life, and I appreciate him and all he does so much. 

GHS: Thanks, Spencer!