The Life of A Trainer's Wife: Is It All It's Cracked Up To Be?
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"There is a reason that people in Hollywood only date people in Hollywood---they understand the lifestyle and trainers' wives need to love to travel and be around horses," Sara Heeley says.

Anyone involved in the horse industry knows that being a horse trainer is a challenging job for a variety of reasons. Despite this, the idea of marrying a horse trainer can be alluring to some women. GoHorseShow wanted to know more about what it is like being married to someone who makes a living in this often unstable and demanding profession.

We interviewed women who are involved in the horse industry, but as wives, not as full-time trainers: Darlene O'Neal, Kathy Hinton, Holt Graham-Pope, Arianne Pait, Sara Heeley, Alyssa Wainscott and Megan Crist. After talking to these "Trainer's Wives," it seems that nothing may be harder than being the wife of a horse trainer. Whether it be jealousy, travel demands, time apart from each other, too much time together and being taken for granted, these wives give many reasons why their marriages may be more challenging than others.

Holt Graham-Pope of Conway, South Carolina, met her future husband, Shane Pope, when she was 12 years old and the two have been married for seven years and have one daughter. Together, Holt has seen her husband win an AQHA Reserve World Championship title and have great success in the western pleasure arena. Holt told GoHorseShow that being married to someone who makes a living in the horse business is very trying on a marriage, on a family, and on your entire life.

"You have to love this lifestyle and love who you are in it with or it will not work. I've seen too many marriages end," she says.

One common frustration voiced by trainers' wives is with regard to amateur status. Holt believes some people think that she shouldn't be able to maintain her amateur status because she is married to a horse trainer.

"A lot of people think that trainers' wives should not be allowed to have their amateur card because, for whatever reason, it is unfair to the other amateurs. I went to college, got a degree, and formed a business (Holt Advertising) that would allow me to travel to the horse shows and be there with my husband. The horse showing will always be a hobby to me because that is how I fell in love the horses in the first place."

We also asked Holt whether she ever feels resentment from customers that her husband has to cater to that takes time away from her and her daughter. Straight and to the point, she responds, "Yes--but that is a reaction that is likely to happen when you are married to a trainer."

Pope, who owns her own equine advertising company and creates many of the ads you see in GoMag, thinks that, "Financially, it is almost impossible for a trainer's wife not to have another job...not impossible, but it is rare. It is also very rare to have a horse trainer's wife who doesn't train, who is also involved in the horses."

Working in the horse industry doesn't mean that Holt automatically gets to go to all the shows. "It is really hard when I have to stay home from some shows because I have a very important advertising deadline that I have to meet. But I have to keep in mind that the horses are a hobby for me," she explains.

On the other hand, Arianne Pait of Jonesboro, Arkansas, who has been married to EH Pait for 16 years had a different opinion when it came to keeping her amateur status. Four years ago, Pait, who is a Speech Pathology Professor at Arkansas State University, decided to turn in her amateur card.

"For twelve years, I showed as an amateur, but I always felt uncomfortable and thought it was a conflict of interest since it gave me an advantage because I had greater access to the horses I showed," Pait says. "I also made a rule that I never showed against any of EH's clients in the same class."

Pait currently shows and sells many futurity prospects and helps EH with his customers. "I really enjoy helping people achieve their goals with their horses. It is way more satisfying to me than any success I achieved in the show arena," Arianne reveals. "I also enjoy the aspect of buying and selling horses, and now I can show in the open and help EH by putting more horses in the show ring without having to compete against our customers."

Pait, who met her husband when she was twenty years-old at the Tom Powers, recalls that she always said she would never date a horse trainer.

"But that went out the window when I met EH. It was love at first sight," Arianne fondly says. "Oh, I knew what I was getting into but it has been a great ride ever since."

Longtime amateur and trainer's wife, Darlene O'Neal, has been married to some high profile horseman in the industry. O'Neal is currently married to Tyler O'Neal, who is a halter trainer and works for two clients, Milan Quarter Horses of Athens, Texas and Vern Habighorst. Darlene says that she has had to deal with a lot of jealousy regarding her decision to keep her amateur status.

"People wrote letters (to AQHA) about me saying that since I'm married to so and so that I shouldn't be able to show in the amateur classes," O'Neal recalls. "But, I never did anything at the barn as far as training and fitting the horses. Some people may not know my history, but I have been riding and showing horses since I was a little girl."

O'Neal adds, "I also made sure that I did not show in classes where we had a paying customer showing. I was always the go-between with the customers, so, I just had to work it out with the clients to make sure everyone was okay with me showing. I've been involved with some great customers over the years and never had any problems. I love dealing with the customers and traveling and not having a nine-to-five job. I always enjoy being a huge support system for my husband and customers."

Darlene notes that one difficulty of being a trainer's wife was the jealous remarks she heard about her husbands. "I would hear people picking on them or saying something negative, and it was really hard to hear these things and not take them personally-- but I wouldn't stoop to their level and react. I would just keep my head up and try not to let it bother me. It is an unfortunate part of the horse business."

According to O'Neal, another challenge was the non-stop traveling and being together 24 hours a day, seven days a week. "The lifestyle really wears on you physically and mentally. Having to get up so early in the morning and being together all day would really wear us down. Sometimes we needed to take a break from each other which was practically impossible working in the horse business."

O'Neal says the most important thing she learned from her past relationships is that in order for a relationship to work there must be clear communication and that she and Tyler must work as a team.

"I now run things by Tyler and vice-versa and we work together to come to a solution. When I was with Doug Lily, he was a workaholic and he honestly treated me like I was his hired help. Also, with other past relationships there was no talking anything out. So in order to be in a healthy and happy relationship--you really need to respect each other and work together."

Amateur Sara Heeley of Van Meter, Iowa is expecting her first child in October with her husband, Patrick, who is a trainer specializing in western pleasure prospects. Heeley says that she didn't exactly know what she was getting into when she married a trainer. "I thought I had an idea but I didn't think it would be as crazy and hectic as it really is....but I can't sit at a desk all day and I'm very blessed and wouldn't trade it for anything." (Sara and Patrick pictured above in main image)

Heeley's advice for women wanting to marry a trainer is that they better like to be on the go all the time. "There is a reason that people in Hollywood only date people in Hollywood---they understand the lifestyle and trainers' wives need to love to travel and be around horses," Sara says. "They need to have a flexible job where they can travel with their husbands on the road or they probably won't see them very often. When you marry a trainer you are also married to the horse business."

Kathy Hinton, who is married to NRHA trainer, Casey Hinton, handles the day-to-day operations of Cedar Ridge Stallion Station in Whitesboro, Texas. Hinton says the biggest challenge is keeping everything in check so that her husband can concentrate on training and not have the worries of running the operational aspects that includes breeding, mare care and prospects.

"I think one of the hardest things that most trainers' wives share is the worry of how to make the numbers work. We are fortunate in the reining that success comes with paychecks," says, Kathy, who has been showing horses since her youth days. "The amount of money that goes through a training operation is scary, and you need to be a great money manager or a magician. They have to look at the books everyday and at times that gets very stressful."

Surprisingly candid, Kathy continues, "You have to be willing to be second to the lifestyle, the horses and showing or you will never survive in this position."

Newlywed, Alyssa Wainscott has been married to assistant trainer, Adam Wainscott of Highpoint Performance Horses since June. She reveals that time management is the biggest challenge in her relationship.

"It seems like there is never enough time. Adam is gone about eight months out of the year at shows and clinics," Alyssa says, who lives in Aubrey, Texas and works as Ranch Manager for JS Quarter Horses. "It is sometimes difficult to balance your life being on the road and then trying to get back into a routine after getting home. We've both learned how to help each other and support each other through everyday challenges of life, whether he is at home or 1,500 miles away at a horse show."

Another trainer's wife, Non-Pro rider Megan Crist, grew up in the industry and is married to pleasure horse trainer, Andy Crist. She mentions that the uncertainty of the horse business has been the most challenging aspect of being married to a horse trainer.

"There are so many variables involved, it is nearly impossible to determine market demand and ultimately the market value of a horse or service," says, Megan, who lives in Urbana, Ohio. "While there will be high points when you win big or sell a great one you own, it is inevitable that there will be a periods when you will be unsure if the business will sustain. A sense of humor and a taste for fish sticks and Kraft Mac and Cheese has gotten us through some really lean times."

Kathy Hinton mentions that she has a special bond with many other trainers' wives.

"We have a large group here in North Texas, and we do vent to each other on occasion," she says laughing. "We started a supper club that meets once a month with trainers' wives and other professionals in our industry, we do lots of venting, cooking and drinking wine. It helps to know that most share the same experiences."

Crist adds, "I think there is an unspoken bond between horse trainers' wives. I genuinely respect and admire those with marriages that have weathered the storms of the horse business. With divorce and scandal often prevalent, I hope that Andy and I can set a good example for relationships in our generation."

Hinton does think that, at times, trainers' wives do get taken for granted.

"In most cases they do everything except for the training. Credit is normally given to the riders and trainers of the horses, but it takes a team effort to achieve the win. There are so many things that have to be accomplished at home to continue to produce a winning product."

Crist agrees, "There is so much that goes into caring for horses and traveling to shows, it’s not hard to overlook all of the little things that people do including the wives. That said, if you marry a horse trainer with the idea that you will get a lot of recognition, you should probably do something else on your own to get your name in the paper."

3 comments for this article Reverse Comment Order
Added: September 10, 2012. 11:29 AM CDT
Always remember when you point that finger 4 are pointing back at you.
Not crazy about a trainers wife / husband being able to show as an amature. If the wife or husband does not hold a 40hr a week job unrelated to the industry they more than likley work for the business in some capacity. Will it ever change? Probably not, but as a amature exhibtor you have the choice to not to enter the class. As for the trainers they have a choice too, sometimes integrity shows up in the strangest places.
The High Road
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Added: September 05, 2012. 07:34 PM CDT
Struggles and challenges are universal
Glad to know how tough your lives are...said no one ever. And, yes, you shouldn't be amateurs...said everyone I know.

Ps: Kim McDavitt - did not lose the fact that you were missed in this article but I like the plug that you made.

Woe is me
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Added: September 05, 2012. 09:58 AM CDT
Horse Trainers Wives
Love this article. It's nice to know that my husband / Trainer Kevin McDavitt and I are not the only ones that work so hard to normalize our lives! Thanks for printing!!
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