Working for a barrel horse trainer is an invaluable learning experience, especially if you want to pursue training as a profession. A few barrel futurity trainers and former interns share tips on how to get a job with a barrel horse trainer and nail the position, get the most out of your time there and be the best help you can be.

WHETHER YOU HOPE TO HAVE YOUR OWN FUTURITY TRAINING PROGRAM someday or simply want to further your knowledge of barrel horses, working for a futurity trainer provides the firsthand experience necessary to pursue barrel racing at a higher level.

Barrel Horse News spoke with two renowned futurity trainers and two former interns now training successfully on their own to get the scoop on what it’s like working in a professional futurity program, how to find the perfect fit, land the job, and what you need to know before working for a trainer.

Why Work for a Trainer?

Working for a successful trainer shows you what it’s like to train as a professional before you jump out on your own.

“If I had someone to work under first and learned more about the vet work, how to manage my business better, stuff like that, I think I could have gotten further ahead sooner,” said EquiStat $1.7 million rider and professional futurity trainer Hallie Hanssen. “We get a lot of different horses in, so you can see us training through different styles of horses. You’re also learning everything about the business — how to find hay, the vet work, mares, foaling, stallions, nominations, payments. It helps people understand everything it takes to be a trainer.”

Interning also pushes you out of your comfort zone. The experience helps you grow as a horseman, whether you hope to train professionally or not, says Boo Burttschell, who has worked for cutting horse trainers, barrel futurity trainer Ashley Schafer and is now training barrel horses professionally on her own.

“Leaving my comfort zone and working for people is the best thing I’ve ever done for myself,” Burttschell said. “Ashley was easy to work for, but I have worked for people who’ve been very tough on me. I wouldn’t trade those experiences for anything in the world. I value the stress they put on me, the lack of sleep, getting your ass chewed — it’s part of the job, and you learn to put your emotions aside and get the work done.”

intern talking to futurity trainer
Working for a futurity trainer gives you the opportunity to be a valuable part of a high-level training program and gather full-spectrum knowledge of the business. Many jobs offer the chance to travel to futurities and help at events. Photo by Blanche Schaefer

It’s no secret that working for a horse trainer isn’t the highest-paying job out there. But the experience you gain is priceless, notes Lora Alexander, who most recently helped futurity trainer Tyler Rivette but first interned for Bogie Webb of Webb Ranches, and then worked for Smoke Creek Quarter Horses under trainers Andre Coelho, Cody Bauserman, Emilie Veillette and Adrian Bolin.

“The experiences and knowledge are all something you’ll remember forever. You can’t take the money with you — knowledge is way more important than money,” said Alexander, who is also now training barrel horses professionally. “We’re lucky to learn from them, even if they never put you on a horse or give you a lesson. Just observing and being a part of how a program operates is huge.”

Jolene Montgomery warming a horse up at the BFA
Trainers such as Jolene Montgomery have several horses to focus on when competing at a futurity, so she relies on her intern to handle tasks such as cleaning stalls, watering and feeding, saddling, warming up and cooling out. Photo by Blanche Schaefer
Getting Hired

Trainers find interns in a variety of ways, such as Facebook posts, word-of-mouth, or in Alexander’s case with her first internship, through the equine and ag program where she was attending college. Regardless, researching the trainers you hope to work for and asking questions is paramount.

“Research trainers and ask around about the trainer’s style of work and how they do the day-to-day stuff. Every trainer has a different program, different amounts of horses and different schedules — at my barn, you better be a morning person, and I want to see that smile,” said futurity trainer and EquiStat $2.6 million rider Jolene Montgomery.

Be sure to read job descriptions thoroughly and talk to the trainer about job duties to make sure it aligns with both of your expectations. Internships vary per trainer, and many times the job may not involve riding. For example, Montgomery’s interns get to ride (depending on experience level) and go with her to events, but Hallie and her husband, Lee Hanssen, along with their colt starter are the only ones who ride in their program, and their help doesn’t travel to events.

All four professionals emphasize you’ll learn just as much working in a non-riding position.

“Some trainers have higher numbers and need someone to lope. A lot of trainers prefer to be the only person who rides their horses at all, so you may never step foot on a horse,” Burttschell said. “But you’re cleaning their stalls, saddling and unsaddling and shuffling horses to them, seeing them work horses, so you’re getting a lot of experience, even without riding their horses.”

—> Watch: Jolene Montgomery Training Videos

5 Tips for How to Get a Job with a Barrel Horse Trainer
5 tips for how to get a job with a barrel horse trainer

When sifting through candidates, a few dealbreakers for these experts include distasteful social media presence, poor reputation among other trainers, wanting to bring too many animals of your own, personal baggage like drama or schedule conflicts, being more concerned with riding than learning, not willing to clean stalls or do dirty work, not having a place to live if the position doesn’t include housing, and not contacting the trainer directly about the job.

It’s also important to realize ahead of time the level of work you’re getting into to avoid wasting the trainer’s time and your own.

“Know what it takes before you even apply to work for a highly successful trainer. It’s long days, nights, hard work. The most frustrating thing for us trainers is someone who thinks they’re ready for that job, and then they come here for a week and they weren’t ready for it — they’re homesick, or the workload is more than they can handle,” Hallie said.

—> Read more: Hallie Hanssen’s Training Program

Being the Best Help

Working for a trainer is a selfless job. While you’re certainly learning and gaining experience, first and foremost, your job is to help the trainer make their program run smoothly.

“Don’t go into working for a trainer thinking about what you’re going to get out of it,” Burttschell said. “It’s their program; you’re there to help them. If you want this to be your life, you have to dedicate your life to a trainer to make their program better in order for that to happen for you someday. I dedicated my life to Ashley, and I truly care about her and her horses and wanted her program to win.”

person saddling horses at trailer
Trainers have a lot of horses to get through every day. Most internships involve catching, grooming, saddling and unsaddling horses daily and generally keeping a string of horses ready for the trainer to ride while helping their daily operation flow smoothly. Photo by Kailey Sullins

Once you’ve landed a job with a trainer, show up ready to work with a positive attitude. Be present and attentive to the task at hand and environment around you.

“One of the biggest things that annoys me and shows me you aren’t keeping your brain open is having earbuds in — you’re not paying attention and you’re not learning,” Montgomery said. “I won’t make you put your phone in a lockbox at work, but don’t abuse it. Keep your eyes open, pay attention to the horses and everything around you.”

Attention to detail is one of the most important traits of a good intern. Hanssen wants everyone in the barn paying close attention to the horses daily, checking legs, eyes, looking for wounds or changes in habit, and learning the specifics such as how she likes her horses tied up.

Burttschell says she kept a mindset of being the best help a trainer has ever had, and she did so by noticing every detail of how each trainer did different tasks, big and small.

“I want to help amplify their program to the next level. I watch every little detail — how they saddle and unsaddle, how they tie their horses, hang their cinches, how they hang their bridles. It’s nice to walk into a tack room and look at your bridles with a clear mind. I kept all of Ashley’s stuff organized so she could go into her tack room with a clear head and do her best job,” Burttschell said. “Pay attention to those details, and really listen. Don’t talk just to talk.”

If your job involves riding, make sure you’re explicitly clear on what the trainer wants you to do with their horses, and respect that. Montgomery’s intern primarily warms horses up and sometimes works barrels under Montgomery’s supervision.

“With a few of the colts, every once in a while, I’ll let her work one and coach her through working them,” Montgomery said. “But if you’re riding my colts, even if you have different ideas about how they should be ridden or trained, I need you to do it my way.”

Burttschell had extensive saddle time working in cutting horse programs and also rode when working for Schafer. She advises interns to remember the reason you’re there — to help the trainer, not train their horses.

“If you’re getting a horse ready to work or show, you don’t need to pull on that horse. You need to drop the reins and get the horse exercised unless your trainer asks you to do otherwise,” Burttschell advised. “You’re there to get the horse ready so the trainer can do their job. You aren’t there to train.”

person wrapping horse's legs in warmup pen
Helping a trainer at futurities is fast-paced and all-hands-on-deck as you assist the trainer in getting horses ready to compete and properly taken care of afterward. Photo by Blanche Schaefer

All four experts agree that both trainer and intern get the most benefit when the intern prioritizes the needs of the program and puts forth their best effort every day, even if they come in without having much experience.

“I was fortunate to get to ride, but the priority is to make everything easier for the trainer. Give it 110%,” Alexander said. “Ask questions; don’t be afraid of the trainer. If you work hard for them, they’re going to work hard for you. That relationship is going to pay off in the future if someone can say you did a really good job for them.”

Flying from the Nest

A good worker can last years at the same training barn. But if your goal is to start a training career of your own, your internship needs to end, Montgomery says.

“Several interns have stayed a long time, been very helpful and on the verge of being able to train. I wish them all the best and will help any way I can, but when they start having their own horses and not as much time to help me when I need help, then it doesn’t work anymore,” Montgomery said. “I’ve had to be like a mother and push them out the door, in a good and helpful way, when we get to a natural end — you’re ready now.”

Montgomery encourages interns to work for other trainers as well when she feels they’ve maxed out in her program. Building connections with several trainers will also help build your own client base to launch a career.

“When Ashley’s barn was full and she didn’t have room for a horse, she would tell that customer I had an opening. She was sending me a couple extra horses here and there, and that’s the basis of why I have my own program,” Burttschell said. “Having a well-respected trainer recommend you and say you do a great job will do a lot for your career.”

Just like not all horses fit all riders, don’t fret if your first internship with a trainer isn’t the best experience, our sources advise. If you’ve remained respectful, professional and a hard worker who values the program, the right job will come along and you’ll be on your way to finding a place in the futurity industry.

“If the first trainer isn’t a perfect match for you, don’t give up. There’s so many different programs, styles and personalities, so the next person might be the perfect fit for you,” Alexander said. “It doesn’t take just one internship and then you’re ready to train; it takes a lot of time. I spent eight years working toward going out on my own. Just keep going.”


Blanche Schaefer is an avid barrel racer and managing editor of Barrel Horse News. Email comments or questions to [email protected]

Write A Comment