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Charlie Cole

The Professional Horseman of the Year is living his boyhood dream, and it shows.

By Jennifer K. Hancock
The American Quarter Horse Journal
May 9, 2013

Charlie Cole gives a free clinic at the AQHA Region Two Championship in Rapid City, South Dakota

Charlie Cole gives a free clinic at the AQHA Region Two Championship in Rapid City, South Dakota. (Journal photo)

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the May 2013 issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal.  

AQHA Professional Horseman Charlie Cole of Pilot Point, Texas, has been determined to improve his horsemanship skills since he was a little boy in California. Growing up in Orange County, he convinced his parents to send him to boarding school when he was 12 so he could learn more about horses. His passion and determination have been rewarded with countless awards in the show ring from world championships to year-end awards, but his peers honored him at the 2013 AQHA Convention in Houston, where he was named the 2012 Don Burt Professional’s Choice Professional Horseman of the Year.

Charlie owns and operates Highpoint Performance Horses with fellow AQHA Professional Horseman Jason Martin, and they specialize in all-around performance horses. All-around seems like an understatement when referring to Charlie and his training style. From western pleasure to barrel racing and everything in between, Charlie has been successful, and there’s not anything involving horses that he’s not willing to try.

“I think it probably stems from when I was in boys’ school or camp,” Charlie explains. “We learned to rope, and we’d do all the events. I love that diversity. I get bored – that’s what it comes down to. If I do the same thing all day long, I find myself uninspired by it. If it has to do with a horse, I want to try it. If I only did one or two events, I don’t think that I would be as successful as I am. The more you can experience, it all relates the same as far as horse training. I like that diversity.”
He is never afraid to try new things, especially if it involves horses.

“I did the mounted shooting at the World Show,” he says. “I’ve done the chuckwagon races. I want to try it if it has to do with a horse. I think that it’s fun.”

He has his sister to thank for his initial horse experiences.

“I lived in the city and my sister got the horse bug first,” he remembers. “We moved to a community in Orange County where you could keep a horse. And we always went to a camp called Rawhide Ranch. It was a camp, a college and a boarding school. I would spend the whole summer there and ride horses, rodeo and all that stuff at camp. But I decided when I was 12 that I wanted to go to boarding school there. I asked my parents if I could go, and when I was 12, I left home. I’d go to school half a day and ride horses the rest of the day. That was literally the end of it.”

At 16, Charlie knew that he wanted to be a horse trainer so he got his GED and quit school.

“I went to work the next day,” he says. “I started training full time when I was 16. I went to work for Doug Lilly. During the

His hard work has paid off. Highpoint Performance Horses has more than 100 world titles to its credit, but it wasn’t an overnight success for Charlie.

“The first time you win always stands out, and the first time that I won a world championship was in 1995,” he says. “I kind of got stuck on second. It seemed like a long time, but from ’93 until winning, I had four or five seconds. When I finally won in ’95, I won on a little horse (named Kluzos Kandy Kisses) that probably no one ever dreamed I would win on. I won junior trail. That was pretty exciting to win.”

Kluzos Kandy Kisses was also a world champion in junior hunter hack with Mandy McQuay aboard and in junior working hunter with David Connors in the irons.

“Probably my favorite win is winning the senior pleasure a couple of years in a row,” Charlie adds. “I won it in ’06 and ’07 (with Majestic Scotch). That was pretty exciting because when I got started, pleasure was always my favorite event.”

Being on top of your game doesn’t get old, though.

“They are all pretty special,” he says. “There’s that whole process of taking a horse, training it and getting it qualified. When you do get a win, it’s a great feeling. It’s hard to pinpoint any of them because they all probably take just as much work. I always tell people that it seems like the first one is the hardest one – or for me it was. Every time it’s just as exciting and rewarding to get to that point with a horse.”

As an equine professional, he has trained and coached many world champions and AQHA Superhorses. The unprecedented roster of horses that have been under his care includes Acadamosby Award, Vital Signs Are Good, Harley D Zip, Zippo LTD, Must Be A Detail, Hot Ones Only, Show Diva and many more.

An AQHA and National Snaffle Bit Association judge, Charlie has been part of the AQHA Professional Horsemen program virtually since it was established.

He is always willing to give back to the industry, whether it is part of the AQHA Professional Horsemen’s Ride the Rail/Ride the Pattern clinics, helping with judges’ seminars or providing guidance to young people.

“A lot of people were willing to give me a chance or give me opportunities when I was young so I want to give back,” he explains. “I want this industry to continue so if I give back, I think that’s the way that I can help.”

He also offers advice to anyone thinking about pursuing a career as a horse trainer.

“It’s definitely a hard profession,” Charlie says. “It takes a lot of work and a lot of time. I think that you have to give up a lot of your life to be successful. For me personally, it’s still always about learning. I still want to get better. I never think that I am as good as I’m going to get. I always want to get better. It doesn’t matter if it’s in western riding, trail or pleasure driving, I’m still trying to figure out how to be better at it. I don’t ever rest on what I have done. I just want to keep getting better.”

His own quest for knowledge and improvement keeps him on top of his game.

"I really, really love what I do,” Charlie says. “I love the horses, and I love the whole process. I like getting a young horse and taking it and teaching it new events. I enjoy the whole process of the horse learning and getting to the show pen. That keeps you going every year. I have been fortunate to have some great show horses over the years that I get to show. That’s the reward.”  

When he’s not training horses, Charlie enjoys kicking back at the ranch with his menagerie of four-legged friends. He currently has 35 tortoises including “a bunch of giant ones” along with a camel and a kangaroo.

“I definitely love animals,” he says.

The award was renamed the Don Burt Professional’s Choice Professional Horseman of the Year in honor of AQHA Past President and American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer Don Burt, who passed away in November 2012. Don was known as a horseman, leader and visionary in the industry, and the name change had even more significance for Charlie.

“For me, that makes it that much more special,” Charlie says. “I’m from California, and when I was a kid showing, Don Burt was known as the best judge in the country and a super, respected horseman. I knew Don Burt, and every time that he saw me when I was starting my horse career and starting training, he always had something positive to say or would always come to talk to me. He was someone I knew and really respected. When I saw that the award was named after him, it made it all the better. He was always very helpful to me.”

And that kindness was not lost on Charlie, as he carries on the tradition by paying it forward and continuing to improve the horse industry with his professional talents in the ring and out.     

Voted to the honor by his peers, Charlie Cole was named the 2012 Don Burt Professional’s Choice Professional Horseman of the Year and Deanna Searles was honored with the title of 2012 Professional’s Choice Professional Horsewoman of the Year.  Read how these two AQHA Professional Horsemen heard the call to better the breed, and find out how they are doing so, on Pages 52 and 56 of the May 2013 issue of The American Quarter Horse Journal.