In the Spotlight

Amateur exhibitor Tina McElroy manages to balance a full-time job, a family and is still able to train and show her horse on the side.

By Alicia Harris, AQHA online communications and publications intern
The American Quarter Horse Journal
June 24, 2013

Tina McElroy and Doilookbluetoyou place third in amateur hunt seat equitation at the 2012 AQHA World Show

A testament to the power of hard work, Tina McElroy and Doilookbluetoyou (Sky Blue Walker-Flying Crest (TB) by Gold Crest (TB)) captured third place in amateur hunt seat equitation at the 2012 AQHA World Show. (Journal photo)

Years and years of effort are involved in showing a horse successfully. There are training schedules to keep up with, riding lessons to build your skills and then there’s also the intricate horse-job-family balancing act to maintain. It’s a life that 43-year-old Tina McElroy of Rome, Ohio, has known for many years. It’s a life that has shown her that hard work really pays off. That hard work has taken her to numerous AQHA championship titles across a wide range of divisions in her lifetime.

“She never, never wanted to be in the limelight,” says AQHA Professional Horseman Arthur “Art” O’Brien. Art remembers a time when “we had to drag her up to the pen to accept the award because she was so embarrassed that she won. That’s just her nature. She was proud that she won, but not a limelighter at all.”

Art and his wife, Julie, own O’Brien Quarter Horses, a training stable in Southington, Ohio. They have both worked with Tina since she arrived at their stable for riding lessons when she was about 10 or 11 years old.

“We both think the world of Tina,” Art says. “She was always very respectful. … She was one that just enhanced the whole thing and was equally respectful to both of us and appreciative. (She was) more appreciative than many (were) in what we helped her accomplish.”

“They’ve watched me grow up,” Tina says. “They’ve been through it all with me, which I greatly appreciate.”

Tina has been through a lot in her riding career, and has literally worked her way to the top. She started in youth competition and eventually moved into the amateur division. While she still takes lessons from Art and Julie, Tina says she does nearly all of her horse’s training and conditioning on her own.

“It gets a little hairy,” Tina says. “As far as just managing time, I do have the horses at home. … I work full-time, and then have my family, as well, so that’s the hard part. It’s just managing all those hours and having time for my family, as well.”

Spending time with her family is very important to Tina, and she loves spending time with her husband, Paul, and their young son, Logan, whom she calls her “proudest accomplishment.” Logan enjoys their time spent together, as well. He can almost always be found helping his mom, rearranging dirt in the arena with his toy tractors.

“I can’t get him interested in riding,” Tina says. “He’s a typical boy. He’s more into the tractors. He likes to run up to the arena when they’re dragging the arena (at shows). That’s his highlight of the horse show. He loves to watch the tractors drag. On a typical day when I get home, I’ll go out to ride, and he has got his tractors. He’ll play in the dirt. He’s a John Deere fan, of course!”

“She’s really good with (her son),” Julie says. “She likes kids, and he is her No. 1 priority. It’s really hard for her to get to the horse shows with him now and get her horse shown. It’s a lot more work than it used to be, but she wouldn’t change it for the world because they are really bonded.”

“Her son’s constantly at the shows with his little tractors and playing in the dirt and watching the tractors and trying to get on one of the drag tractors, at times,” Art says. “It’s a neat, neat little family. … But horses are a huge priority to her life, also.”

“Horses are her passion,” Julie says. “She’s really dedicated to them, always 100 percent into it. She is a very driven person, very prepared. She’s always prepared for the show pen.
“She’s very intense in her discipline and her work ethic, for sure. She always has fun doing it, (even) as hard as she works.”

Julie has worked extensively with Tina and her current show horse, a tall, gray mare named Doilookbluetoyou, aka “Aspen.” Art and Julie actually bred the horse, a full sister to one of Tina’s past show horses, Sky Blue Yonder. They ended up giving Aspen to Tina as a wedding gift when she was still a young foal.

“The progress you see from when they’re youngsters to when they get to be seasoned show horses (is a big accomplishment),” Tina says. “I like to take one from being a youngster to doing the all-around stuff.”

When Tina is not with her family or working with her horses at the barn, she works as a project manager at a software company.

“It’s a minimum 40 hours (per week) if not more,” Tina says. “I leave at 6 in the morning, and if I get home at 5 at night, I’m doing good. Then I run out and get my riding done.”

In the time that Art and Julie have worked with Tina, they have found her to be an incredibly humble, caring, hard-working and family oriented person – both in and out of the arena.

“She’s a very caring person,” Julie says. “She will always help out. If anybody has any trouble or anything, she would help somebody out. She’s always very nice or friendly when it comes to competition.

“She’s one that genuinely does enjoy showing,” Julie adds. “She isn’t just doing it to win a class. She likes all the preparation stuff, and she likes the journey. She has been like that all her life. She has been like that since we started working with her.”

“She was very low-maintenance from a trainer’s perspective and very highly-respected from a trainer’s perspective because she just did everything on her own, with our guidance,” Art says. “She was very self-driven, quite quiet but pleasant, and a very strong family person, too.”

Tina also tries to encourage others who want compete in the upper-level AQHA shows or are trying to get started in the horse industry.

“I don’t have a lot of money,” Tina says. “I just work hard. You work hard, and you keep progressing. We all started with the backyard ponies and moved up and just kept trying to get better and better from there. It’s hard to break that glass ceiling, and I get it. I was there a lot of years.”

The American Quarter Horse Journal loves to feature the hard-working AQHA exhibitor, and In the Spotlight is the Journal’s fun new way to do so. Do you know a hard-working AQHA competitor who deserves some time in the limelight? Email AQHA Internet Editor Tara Matsler at tmatsler@aqha.org to submit story ideas, then visit www.aqha.com/inthespotlight to view more In the Spotlight stories.