Motivations of a Millennial Cowgirl: How One Assistant Trainer Stays Motivated in a Highly Competitive Horse Show World

Motivations of a Millennial Cowgirl: How One Assistant Trainer Stays Motivated in a Highly Competitive Horse Show World


My name is Heather Elliott and I am this week's guest blogger for I own a horse training and lesson service that provides professional, personal, and informative instruction for both horse and rider. I strive to provide up to date training and lesson programs for each individual horse and rider.

Motivations can come from so many different places in our lives whether it’s from within ourselves, learned behaviors from mentors, or from the environment you surround yourself with. For me, it’s all of the above. My life has existed in the tough industry of horses and horse shows as long as I can remember in one way or another. This is the short version of what it has taken in my life to put myself in the position of finding motivations to follow my own dreams in this crazy world of competitive horse showing.

I was at the NRHA Derby this year where there is a bright neon blue sign that hangs above the entrance to the Jim Norick Arena at the Oklahoma State Fair Park in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; which states, “Gateway of Champions”, those of us that know it, know it well as this arena is home to some of the horse industry’s biggest and brightest horse shows including the NRHA Futurity and AQHA World Show. To get to walk out of that arena as a champion is the dream of all of us that are truly competitive in our respective sports, but the reality of being named the best of the best is there’s only room for one. For the rest of us, it’s what happens after you walk out of that arena not a champion, maybe not even close to being a champion, that matters next.

Helping Others and Working as a Team

I’ve been an assistant trainer for longer than I care to admit to. I have been fortunate enough to see that sign in person and all that is entailed with showing at that level of competition. I’ve been able to work for some really accomplished and truly great horse trainers. People I would call true horsemen. I’ve also worked for some really not so great, unaccomplished horse trainers just trying to skim by. One thing they all have in common is they never give up on the sport. It takes a certain type of person to be a horse trainer that comes back year after year. They all come back to the big time events and do their best to leave their mark on the industry. The difference between the great and not so great is what they did after they returned home from these shows successful or not. They say you have to put in more time than the next guy if not, you’re wasting your time. I’ve worked in both the AQHA world and the NRHA world and both are extremely competitive with some of the greatest horseman, trainers, and showmen that have ever lived out there competing. So to think it’s any small task to go out and outdo the top-earning competitors is not a reality. It takes tremendous training ability, as well as super talented horses if you want to make it to the top.

My job in all this is to make sure the trainer’s job is easier with me around. That’s it. Not to further my own agenda, not to show the nicest horses in the barn or any horses for that matter, not to have any expectations other than the ones I put on myself. If you aren’t putting your best foot forward every day you’re never going to know your full potential. If you can’t show up and give 110% as hired help, how could you ever do it when no one’s looking. That being said, this job isn’t for the faint of heart. The hours are long, the work is hard, the pay is low, and the sacrifices are great. So why? Why this job and not another? Passion. This path is one with a great reward if meaningful sacrifices are made. For all the hours spent in the saddle, there are opportunities to gain knowledge to be a better horseman, as well as, grow as on an individual level. Every day spent covered in sweat and sand, wind-burned, or shivering from the cold you learn how to deal with daily failures and successes. As soon as you feel you’re getting ahead of the game and are at the top of the learning curve you’re humbly put back in your place and realize you know so little.

Earning Trust Through Honesty

Gaining the trust of the horses that rely on you for their care and trusting them to care for you when the time comes is a journey of the soul not just another job along the way to the top. So, when people ask, “what do you do”, I don’t tell them about the real blood, real sweat, and real tears I’ve shed. I don’t tell them about the 20-hour days at the horse shows and working through injuries and sickness. I don’t tell them about my failures even though they taught me more than the successes. I don’t tell them that I doubt myself every day. What I do tell them is it’s about the horses I’ve had the privilege of riding and the incredible trainers I got to ride within the warm-up pens at the last show. I tell them about the success stories of the people I’ve helped and the places I get to go. I tell them that it’s what I love and it’s what I’m good at. I tell them about all the little things that motivate me to keep going and to get better every moment of every day.

Hard Work is the Way to Sucess at Horse Shows

In the end, I’ve realized walking through the “Gateway of Champions” is simply a moment in time where you choose to put your work and dedication on display for judgment good or bad. While there is a multitude of variables that go into showing and succeeding the only thing you know for a fact that you can control is knowing that you have done everything in your power to prepare both yourself and your horse for the best run you can get. All the hours spent putting together the best program for horse and rider coming all together at the right moment in time in an industry that is only growing and getting exponentially better year after year is a daunting reality, but we try. We try every day to make all our sacrifices become our successes and to find our motivations in the small things whether it’s the drive to do just a little better than last time, make the people we look up to a bit prouder of the work we have put in, or trying to find your place in the big scheme of a tight and competitive network of horses and people. It’s those little things that make or break true champions.

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