Jason Martin of Highpoint Performance Horses has been a fixture in our industry since the 1980s – appearing in his first AQHA World Show in 1988. He has appeared at every AQHA World Show since (that’s 34 years running), earning countless World Show, Quarter Horse Congress, and Superhorse titles.
With a reputation like Martin’s, everyone is looking out for him in the Western all-around classes. And this year, people have been looking especially hard, because Martin was last seen in the show arena at the 2022 AQHA World Show. With speculation and rumors surrounding what could be going on, Martin decided to set the record straight and be clear about his future with Highpoint Performance Horses and the industry as a whole.
Closing a Chapter
“I really started to think about my plan for my future in the industry when my uncle Dick Green came to watch me show at the 2021 AQHA World Show.” Dick Green is a former Major League Baseball second baseman who was a part of the Oakland Athletics dynasty that won three consecutive World Series championships between 1972-1974. As a result, Green is familiar with greatness at the highest levels of the sport.
“It was a big year for me that year because I set a new record with Heza Radical Zip in the Senior Western Riding with a score of 252 and, as a team, Charlie and I had won the Senior Western Riding seventeen years in a row at that point,” Martin recalls.
“After my win, my uncle asked me, ‘Well, are you going to retire on top?’ I had been considering where to go with my career and his comment really struck me because he was at the top of his game when he retired. He threw his last ball as a professional in the last game of his last World Series. I began to start thinking that I wanted to retire from showing on my own terms while I was still at the top of my game.”
The industry had heard rumblings at that time that Martin was looking to take a step back. He decided he wanted one more shot at the World Show, attending again in 2022 and, again, taking home the World Championship in the Senior Western Riding – an astounding eighteen years in a row for Highpoint Performance Horses.
“As much as I love showing and riding, carrying a record like that puts a lot of pressure on you to keep winning. I began to feel like if I lost, I would be letting myself, my clients, and a lot of fans down. This pressure started to make going to the shows more stressful and less enjoyable for me.”
Martin and his longtime business partner Charlie Cole had been talking about it for some time, but after the World Show in 2022, Martin began transferring his show string to Cole in an effort to close the show chapter of his career and open a new one.
Opening a New Chapter
Martin has been involved in the equine industry since he was eight years old and he has no intention of leaving it.
“I want to make it clear to people that, while I do not plan to continue actively training or showing at this stage, I am not retiring from Highpoint or leaving the equine industry in any way. I look at this as closing one chapter of my career and opening a new chapter.”
Martin will continue to partner with Cole to run the business of Highpoint Performance Horses while supporting their massive breeding operation (standing over 35 stallions and breeding over 2,800 mares last year alone), barrel horse endeavors, and continuing to attend and support their team at major horse shows in the coming years.
“Charlie is my long-time business partner and I am genuinely looking forward to supporting him as he continues to show and represent Highpoint in the pen. We started together in 1992 and I’m still amazed and grateful for all we have accomplished together. He has been a wonderful support to me while I was showing and I am so excited to fully support him from behind the scenes.”
Martin chuckles, “I love this industry and our team too much to walk away. You will still see me at a few of the major shows supporting Charlie, our clients, and the horses. I just want to be able to have the time to focus on the other aspects of the industry that I have come to love as well.”
“I really do love the pureness of the barrel racing!” Martin exclaims. “It’s just the horse and rider against the clock, which has truly been so fun. I find it funny that our lives were changed so dramatically by a barrel horse and not a show horse. Charlie found Slick By Design, our barrel stallion, at the AQHA World Show and he’s taken us to four NFRs, winning numerous rounds, and wins, and he has become one of our top stallions.”
Martin admits, “Charlie and I have been doing this for so long and we love it, but we have also been downsizing our business over the past few years (going from 50 training horses to a goal of somewhere around 12) to try to streamline everything in anticipation of me taking a step back from the show arena. We are looking to focus our operation on the western all–around.”
He admits it will be hard to step back after so many years, saying, “If I get the bug, you may see me back in the pen, so I don’t want to commit to stepping away forever. But, as of now, it is not my intention to return in that capacity. This more behind-the-scenes approach has been very enjoyable and I’m looking forward to watching Charlie and others in the industry, shine.”
A Love Letter to the Industry
“I cannot emphasize enough how blessed I feel to have had such a storied career in this industry. I certainly never imagined I would get to this place when I started my professional career at eighteen.”
“What I find most special is that I’ve been blessed to swing a leg over some of the greatest Quarter Horses of all time. We have numerous horses that are and that will be in the Hall of Fame. I have been blessed beyond measure by amazing clients who have filled my barn with phenomenal horses. Not everyone gets chances like that and I don’t take any of it for granted.”
Martin smiles, “Being a horse trainer is a very unique job. It allows you to do what you love for a living while surrounding yourself with incredible people – the people have really made this career for me. Our clients have become so much more than customers, they are lifelong friends. This industry has allowed us to meet so many incredible people from all walks of life and it’s been all due to an appreciation for great horses.”
He concludes, “When I started out, I didn’t know if I would find my way as a young, gay kid trying to make it in the western division. I admit, it was a difficult start, but it was so fulfilling to work hard and be judged as a horseman and not by my personal life. I owe the Quarter Horse industry my life – it’s given me everything I have today.”
Advice to Future Trainers
Martin would be remiss if he didn’t take the opportunity to encourage young up-and-coming trainers on their journey.
“I began my career with a used truck and trailer. I slept in tack rooms and took whatever horse a client would send me.” He chuckles, “I wish people could’ve seen Charlie and me at our first Congresses. We didn’t have a flashy rig or amazing stall setup. We slept in the trailer in a makeshift living quarter that leaked from every hole when it rained – and it did rain on us numerous times!”
“As hard as those times were, I truly believe that’s what made me the trainer I am today. It’s good to feel like you have something to prove and something to shoot for. I want young trainers to understand that the flashiness of the industry is just a veneer and shouldn’t be a goal. Those things can come with success, but if you focus on that, you likely won’t find success.”
“Focus on building the best horse in the pen and don’t be afraid of the process. People are judging how you present in the arena, not what rig you pull up in or whether your tack is brand new. Starting at the bottom of the industry gives you grit and motivates you to be the hardest worker in the room. Embrace your struggles and it will only feel that much better when you reach the top.”
Hope for the Future
Martin concludes, “My goal is that the horse industry will remain strong. I know it is a challenging time for a lot of shows, with many smaller, more local shows disappearing. It is my sincere hope that the next generation can enjoy horses the way we did. It’s not always an easy life. But it’s the best life.”