Interview with Trainer, Shirley O’Gorman

I had the opportunity to ask Morgan trainer, Shirley O’Gorman,
questions about herself and her training philosophies. Shirley began her experiences with horses as a young girl and throughout her life she has had the opportunity to work with many well-known horse trainers, including George Knight and Tom Butler. Shirley and her husband, Tim O’Gorman are well known for their horsemanship and together they train Morgan horses at O’Gorman Stables @ Cedar Creek Farm in Perrysburg, OH.

How did you originally get involved with Morgan horses?

I was lucky enough to have an Aunt and Uncle who were already involved in the Morgan breed and parents understanding enough to let me immerse myself in the horse world.

When did you know that you wanted to become a professional trainer?

I knew from a very young age, probably about second grade. A lot of youngsters love horses when they are kids and then, as they get older, other interests develop and diminish the role horses have in their lives. In my case it grew from a little girl’s love of horses to a lifelong career with animals. I had other interests in school, basketball and track, but the horses always came first.

What do you consider to be your strongest quality as a trainer? Why should a horse owner pick you to train their show horse?

Tenacity and determination. If it’s possible I’ll do my very best to make it happen, whatever the final destination is. Sometimes I fall short of that desired end result but a client can rest assured that I gave it my best shot. On the rare occasion, when the job at hand has not only met the expectations but elevates to above and beyond what was imagined, then those are the sweet, treasured, “once in a lifetime” moments and thrills.

How do you evaluate a horse coming into your training program?

We try to give every horse that comes to us a fair evaluation period of 60-90 days just to see “who” they are. In that time we are judging each horse as an individual based on attributes of attitude, athletic ability, and over all quality. We try to help each one get the basic ABC’s they need for whatever their job in life will be. Whether it’s an exciting life as a high going show horse, or “Susie’s” special backyard pal, they all get the same basic training and start. From those basic lessons we can gather what their future may hold. Horses are just like little kids. They all develop at different rates and stages, both mentally and physically. Time and patience are requirements of both.

Sometimes the best adult horses are the ones that came in from the field as maybe not the most attractive, or were the slower ones at grasping some concepts. This is a good example of where time and patience yield great rewards. If you don’t give them all that first chance, many would be missed altogether. Many of those “lesser” individuals blossomed when they got to wear leather because they had good work ethics and attitude. As a result they became better horses and beat many of the prettier, more talented ones. Good attitude and heart will carry an otherwise average horse to the top, while the pretty, gifted horse that doesn’t want to be ”someone” will be left in the dust every time.

Older, pre-trained horses come with their own baggage; some good, some bad. They are also evaluated in a timely manner to see what their strengths and weaknesses are. We try to help them develop more of the good stuff and tone down or eliminate whatever not so great issues they may have. It really helps us to know what the horse’s past history has been before going to work them for the first time. This keeps us from getting an unpleasant surprise. We have had several horses over the years sent to us by owners who knew that the horse had bad habits or health issues. We weren’t told about the problems because the owners didn’t want us to have any preconceived ideas that might influence the way we reacted to their horse. In several cases this has been a little dangerous; as in “Oh, I knew he did that at the other place but I wanted to know if he did it with you too.” Or “ I thought he just didn’t like ‘so and so’”. NOT GOOD! Honesty is always the best policy! Whether it is about a past lameness issue or a habit he has of cross cantering the second way or… oh…he always BUCKS for a couple of steps when you first get on, we need to know about it. Small bits of information that we find out for ourselves sometimes would be helpful to know BEFORE he does it and surprises it.

What advice would you give new trainers just beginning their career?

First of all, get your college education if at all possible. A degree in business would be of great help, as well as in communications, (maybe even a PhD in psychology as well). Any degree that you can fall back on in case of illness or just hard times in business, whether it applies to the horse industry or not, would be to their advantage. Otherwise, keeping an open mind and studying many trainers and their techniques in different breeds if possible, is extremely helpful. Their techniques, both good and bad, should be studied and used as food for thought. You never know when you might need that odd bit of knowledge to help with a horse that “you’ve never seen do that before”.

What horse had been the most memorable in your training career?

It would be really unfair to name one individual as being the most memorable in my life at this point. Having been in the industry in some capacity for over 40 years now (fascinated child, junior exhibitor, groom, assistant trainer, young adult out on their own who thought she knew everything, old geezer trainer who now knows she knows nothing) there have been enough memories of special horses and the people who came with them to write an entire book.
Maybe I should mention we only own one horse of our own; a special story in itself. Lookaway’s Sabrina was literally born in my arms 23 years ago. Her dam, C-Min Charmaine was restless when having her and had been getting up and down to get more comfortable. As she was standing up the foal popped out and I caught her in my arms. She developed into a great park harness and saddle mare. Under the ownership of a couple different people, her star studded career included wins at the World Championships. She retired, had babies, and then, through the thoughtfulness of a very kind couple, found her way back to me when she was done with her motherhood stint. She will have a home with Tim and I as long as we’re lucky enough to have her here on this earth. She greets me every morning with a warm nicker of hello that put a smile on my face. That’s priceless.

If you could give an owner one piece of advice, what would it be?

One piece of advice for owners is to try to be realistic about horse’s abilities, their value, and their possible future. You pay us for our professional opinion. That doesn’t mean that you have to completely agree with us but please be open minded about what your colt may or may not be able to do. Don’t take it as a personal insult if there are any negative comments included in discussion that also includes its attributes. Open honest communication works best.

Who do respect most in the Morgan horse world and why?

I, like most of the young ladies in the breed, grew up idolizing Judy Whitney. She has accomplished achievements in her lifetime that will never be equaled with original style and grace.

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