Craig Schmersal

NRHA Three Million Dollar Rider

Craig's Spin

Posted by admin on February 4, 2012

Welcome to my new column in Quarter Horse News. I am honored. I will be writing a monthly column from the trainer's perspective, topics like: a look inside the training barn, what it's like on the road at horse shows, the challenges of showing a horse internationally and more.

A unique view. An inside look. My spin on things.

I'm happy to have you along for the ride.

As we're all recovering from the futurities, making 2012 resolutions and getting our barns ready for the next year, it's time to make some hard decisions about the horses we've been riding for the last two years. What an odd business to have spent every week with these amazing animals and then as they're about to turn 4, say goodbye to some of them. But it's something you have to do. And it's as important of a decision as any you'll make as a trainer. It's my job to be fair to the horses and responsible to their owners. I think of it as tough love.

            You may wonder, how do we make those tough decisions? I'll tell you how I do. I start with potential, but also look at whether the horse enjoyed his job, had the stamina to show, stayed in good health and last but not least, met the owner's objectives.

            Sure, there were the horses that won and there were ones that didn't, but that's not necessarily how the decisions about who stays and who goes are made. The first consideration for every trainer is whether a particular horse has lived up to its potential. Was his 3 year-old performance representative of his mental and physical ability or not. I ask myself whether I honestly “showed” that horse beyond his skill or whether I could have done better. All of the top trainers are capable of making a good run on a marginal horse, but given the level of competition at the top, you only get lucky once or twice. It's all about horsepower!

            The top spots at the major shows are filled by the best horses – simple as that. Great horses that have the skill, the mind and the stamina to perform. Some horses (and riders) will be great at home and breeze through the preliminaries, but when you and hour horse are tired and you enter the ring at the finals, it's different than any other ride – not only the pressure you put on yourself because you want to win, but it's also the noise,t he intensity and the eyeballs on you – the horse can feel it and some of them literally shrink from the pressure.

            It's an obvious decision for a handful of horses. Whether your trainer will tell you or not, we all know who the top horses should or most likely could be when we roll into the parking lot of the Futurity. We've been watching them and talking about them for months. Yeah, there will be a horse or two you didn't know about, or a great horse that gets sideways with a trainer or one that gets injured. And there's always a bad run, but it's pretty clear who the amazing horses are going into ring. It's our job as trainers to find those horses, to breed those horses, to help those horses reach their potential and keep them healthy – that's how the best trainers earn the opportunity to be given the best horses. The super athletes go on to have big show careers – names you know like Metallic Cat, Boom Shernic, Gunner and Chics Magic Potion, to mention a few. When we keep a horse in training, we want that horse to be able to break even and pay its own expenses from show winnings and hopefully more to repay the owners for their investment.

            But what happens to all the others?

            I work with my clients to know what their goals are, for the horse and for them. We talk about how the horse has handled showing physically. Some horses, like some people, are high-maintenance – mentally or physically. These horses are often better off in a less competitive environment. Some just need time off and a break from showing, and we give them that; they may be burned out of just physically immature. But there are others who just love showing, don't mind being hauled around, and get energized from the crowds and excitement – they love their jobs.

            Each owner's objectives are dirrerent. Some owners want to sell prospects after the futurity is over and refocus on next year's Futurity, so we work to find the horse the best new home while maximizing the owner's investment. Others want to take a futurity horse and show it themselves in the regional shows, and so we go through the horse physically and make sure that the horse (and sometimes the owner) are tuned up and ready to show. Each horse and each client is different, so I try to honestly assess the horse's potential against our client's dreams and goals.

            My goal is to get every one of my horses into the hands of someone who will love it and have success.

            I don't think that old acquaintances should be forgotten. They should be part of a plan that respects the horse's contribution to our collective enjoyment of the sport we love.

            That's my spin on it.