There’s no doubt about it – assistant trainers are some of the hardest working professionals in the horse industry. Most aspiring trainers look for a mentor to work under for a number of years while they learn the ropes of the horse industry. Their experiences, good and bad, will shape the rest of their career.

How many assistant trainers have been told that “there are ten more like you” just waiting to take their job? How many struggling professionals have stayed behind in the barn to do the grunt work, while their boss tours the grand prix circuit?

Too many. For all the hours of unpaid overtime, for all the long days and tough lessons from grizzled veterans, for all the sick horses on Sunday afternoons, for all the children that they’ve picked up off the ground and put back on their pony, H&S recognizes that the job of assistant trainer is one of the toughest in the industry. 

So we asked our readers to tell us whom they’d nominate as the 2013 H&S Assistant of the Year, and the response was overwhelming. So many of you wrote us long letters gushing about the assistant in your barn. What made them rise above others, why you loved their coaching, why you trusted them with your horse.

Ranked by nomination and then chosen via a blind panel of judges, we bring you the H&S Assistants of the Year! Our H&S family of advertisers stepped up with a bevy of prizes for the winner, Heather Rhoades (pictured above) of Sonoma Valley Stables in Sonoma, CA. And the top four runners up didn’t make out too badly, either. 

See the October/November issue of Horse & Style for an extended feature on our top five finishers. Below, we give you a sampling of nominations that were sent in for each of this year’s entrants. You are all appreciated!

Winner -Heather Rhoades, Assistant to Hope and Ned Glynn, Sonoma Valley Stables, Sonoma, CA

“Heather has worked with my daughter and our horses for many years.  She is the complete trainer.  She explains things clearly, never loses her temper and can organize a horse show schedule for a very large barn without breaking a sweat.  She has a total commitment to the riders and their horses.  She is awesome and deserves this award.”

-David J. Townsend

“Heather is easily the hardest working person I know. She works tirelessly riding, organizing, training, and managing. She wears many different hats at shows but always ensures the show goes smoothly for the large operation that is SVS! She is kind, sweet, and not to mention hilarious. She and her dog Jersey always bring a smile to people’s faces at the show. I appreciate Heather’s talent for teaching, her amazing prep on my horse early in the week, and her good sense of humor at the end of a long day. She has been an ally to me as I navigate the stressful world of the 3’6” medals – offering me a place to stay on early mornings, giving me a pep talk, and always offering the right advice so I can make sure I ride my best. Heather is without a doubt the best assistant out there, and I am so sad to be leaving her this fall as I head off to college!”

-Lucy Sogard (and my horse, Frankie, who adores Heather)

“I believe that Heather is the absolute best assistant trainer a barn could ever ask for. Heather has such a caring heart; I know that she will always have something gracious and kind to say. She is a beautiful rider who can not only get the job done when riding, but also looks great while doing so (a task many of us wish to conquer.) Heather teaches wonderful lessons, she is smoothly able to differentiate the lesson in order to accommodate all levels of riders and I applaud her for that. Heather has such a fun and energetic personality that definitely lights up the Sonoma Valley Stables community. Without Heather and her dog Jersey at the barn and at shows, Sonoma Valley Stables wouldn’t be able to function as efficiently as it does.”

-Sarah Ryan


Amber Levine. Photo ©Todd Sutherland

First Runner Up – Amber Levine, Assistant to Andrea Pfeiffer, Chocolate Horse Farm, Petaluma, CA

“I am not a horse rider, but my wife is.  She is a ‘senior citizen’ and insists that she will ride well into her 80s.  With that in mind, I am very grateful for Amber. My wife has a rather spirited Thoroughbred that she would like to use for dressage, but when that is no longer possible, she wants a “packer” and will continue to ride trails, etc. For this, she needs a reliable, well trained horse, and Amber has been instrumental in riding Jasper when he needs reminders and a tune up. She has definitely helped make Jasper a good horse!”

-Pieter Everard

“My background is hunter/jumper and my horse now resides at an eventing barn.  The training I receive from my trainers far exceeds just one discipline, and I find each lesson challenging and fun. I brought my 3-year-old filly, Teagan, to Chocolate Horse Farm because I heard they do a beautiful job bringing along young horses. I wanted a willing, confident jumper and that’s what I got, which in turn builds my confidence. Amber shows such skill, dedication and enthusiasm in her training of both horses and riders. Teagan is in training with Amber because I want the best amateur’s horse possible. I’m so happy that Amber started my mare, and I am looking forward to my future competitions and lessons and the pure enjoyment of it all.”

-Janine Higgins

“Amber joined CHF about a year ago and had big shoes to fill. Kelly Prather was moving upward and onward and was revered as the eventing goddess. Nevertheless, Amber stepped in and quickly made friends with her easygoing, no fuss style, and helped riders at all levels with individual lessons, beach rides, conditioning, and most of all, rode their horses and got to know them well. She’s not only a very accomplished rider but has become the ‘glue’ at CHF. She manages all the students, riders and stable helpers, and calls horse owners with updates and suggestions to get over their current riding or horse care issues. She does so much more – can’t list it all here. Short story: We Love Her!”

-Mark Brennan

Caitlin Shiels. Photo ©Shawn McMillan

Caitlin Shiels. Photo ©Shawn McMillan

Second Runner Up – Caitlyn Shiels, Assistant to Gregory M. Franklin, Canterbury Farm, Hampshire, IL

“Since I hired Caitlyn in April we have had nothing but good things happen. The horses are going great and winning everywhere from Lamplight to Traverse City to Kentucky.  All of my riders have benefited from her great teaching skills and have improved so much. She is fun to be around as well.  We are having a great time at Canterbury Farm with Caitlyn as part of our team.”

-Gregory M Franklin

“Caitlyn is goal oriented, motivated and she genuinely loves what she does. From riding to teaching to showing, it is clear to see that every element of her job brings her joy.
As an amateur who has been in this sport since the age of 9, I can tell you that Caitlyn’s ability and attitude is beyond compare. I absolutely adore her, and I respect her as well. She has a knack for understanding the horses she rides and bringing out the best in them, and she does the exact same thing with the people she teaches. She gets such satisfaction out of seeing her students excel that it is both motivating and really confidence building. She has great dedication and can also be great fun to learn from. She and Greg dedicate themselves to creating training programs that develop a confident horse and rider combination, and I absolutely love it. We have students ranging in age from four to 60 and she and Greg custom tailor each lesson to each rider, from beginner to advanced. She is well liked on the circuit and has many contacts and friends – her personality is bubbly and she is a bright, expressive and lovely young woman who is only at the beginning of her career.”

-Michelle Durpetti


Susan Tuccinardi. Photo ©Mancini Photos

Susan Tuccindardi. Photo ©Mancini Photos

Third Runner Up – Susan Tuccindardi, Assistant Alan Korotkin, Castlewood Farm, Wellington, FL

“Susan is a barn manager, trainer, and friend all wrapped in one. Whether it’s 5 below or 100 degrees, rain or shine, there’s Susan’s smile and bubbly personality. I have always been hard on myself, as most riders are, but Susan always has a way to make you feel better, even after the worst trip or the stupidest mistakes. She truly is one of a kind. She somehow can make everything run smoothly, even with 10 rings and 20 horses. She makes sure you are comfortable before you go in the ring, doesn’t allow you to feel any pressure of time or the chaos that comes along with the big shows. She will school 10-20 horses before the show even starts, and back at the farm she gets to know you and your needs and makes you the best rider you can be.”
-Leah Aronow

“I have been training with Susan for about seven years. So now she is not only my trainer but also my friend. I board my horse at my home and Susan comes every Monday on her only day off to give me riding lessons. Even during WEF when she works from sun up to sun down.

We’ve become very close and we both look forward to our Monday morning therapy sessions, as we call them! It gives us both the chance to catch up and vent. But more importantly, it gives us the chance to ride together. Susan has helped me become such a better rider and my horse finally listens to me! Her lessons are tough but so rewarding at the same time. She’s always a professional and always a friend.”

-Cat Staszak

Lauren Shepherd

Lauren Shepherd

Fourth Runner Up – Lauren Shepherd, Assistant to Peter Breakwell, Menlo Park, CA

“I gave up riding nine years ago after a scary fall. Fast forward to eighteen months ago when I found myself sitting on my daughter’s 17-hand, former grand prix horse. I was seduced again and within three weeks was the proud owner of the cutest chestnut gelding. Truth is, I had never truly learned to ride but was determined to fake it.

Enter Lauren. Lauren possesses a quiet confidence and intelligence that is magnetic.  She knew I had no idea what I was doing, but waited for me to have the courage to come to her. I told her I wanted to learn. Nothing in her body language or instruction has ever caused me to feel intimidated or unsuccessful. In an intelligent and supportive manner she deciphers and then describes what my horse is doing and how I can ride differently to improve our dynamic. Where others might have looked at a 53 year old as a burden to teach, Lauren has embraced my desire to learn and thoroughly enhanced my life. Her cute freckles and shy demeanor shroud an extremely talented teacher. It’s not everyday you meet a young woman who has the aptitude for riding at the highest level, and instructing riders from ponies to grand prix to NARP members. Although it will thoroughly embarrass her, her skills command a standing ovation.”

-Peggy Dow

All Other Entrants: 

Ali Telatnik 

I nominate Ali Telatnik, Rose Hill Stables assistant to Hilary Johnson. Based at Iron Horse Equestrian center, Pleasanton, CA
In my opinion Ali is the best assistant trainer I have ever had. She is so encouraging which brings out everyone’s best self; she is everyone’s cheerleader. Even if someone is having trouble with his or her ride Ali stays very patient, and gives great constructive criticism. I look forward to every lesson with Ali, because I know every time I will learn something that will improve my riding. Ali is not only a joy inside the arena, but out of it as well. She makes everyone laugh especially when her Despicable Me text tone goes off. She makes everyone instantly feel at home around the barn with her peppy sweet attitude, along with her adorable dog Cash.
Kelsey Pearl
Student and horse owner
We would like to nominate Ali Telatnik for the assistant trainer of the year award. Ali has been an amazing addition to our barn. She gives great lessons, very caring about the riders and the horses. She is upbeat and happy even on the stressful days. Always communicates and answers all our questions in a timely manner. Which is hard to find in the horse world.

We hope she wins! She deserves it!

Marla and Ella Filippi


Currie Gefkin

Hi when I heard about this contest I go really excited because I think that my assistant trainer at round Medow farm deserves to win. I love her she is so kind and supportive. Her name is Currie And here at team RMF we love her. So please choose her because she really deserves to win because she is so helpful.

Thanks, Grace at Round Meadow Farm with Nicole Bloom and currie <3


I would like to tell you how amazing of a trainer Currie is. Since the first day she came it has been her goal to make sure we are all working to the level we can be or beyond. She has given us confidence and enthusiasm. We have accepted her as part of our family. When she rides our horses she used what she appled in that time to when we ride to help us succeed. Currie has so many great experiences i don’t know what to do with out her


“I would like to nominate Currie Geffken for the assistant trainer award. Although Currie is new to the barn she has made a huge impact on team rmf. Her impressive background of competing successfully in the big medals and jumper classes allows her give amazing insight and tips to help us succeed. Her role however doesn’t stop there. She inspires myself and other kids at the barn to be overall great people. I can’t think of anyone that deserves this award more than Currie!”

Thanks! Maddie Dillabough

Tammy Nimbach

“I am very pleased to nominate Tammy Nimbach. Tammy is Heather Irvine’s long time assistant for her Hillside Farm located at the Bloomfield Open Hunt Club in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan; both are USHJA certified trainers.

Tammy has worked for Heather for more than 20 years, assisting in training horses, teaching riders, working with the vets and stable staff.  Hillside horses and riders compete regularly on the ‘A’ hunter/jumper/equitation circuit at regional and national shows, including the Winter Equestrian Festival, Devon, and the major indoor shows.  Over the years, many of their riders, both children and adults alike, have won many state, zone and national awards.

Tammy enjoys teaching riders at all levels, and especially enjoys riding and training young horses.  Pictured here on my Oldenburg Rejoice!, whom she has trained from a 3-1/2 year old youngster to the experienced adult amateur horse he is today! Tammy’s quiet confidence building style greatly benefits both the horse and rider.

Tammy’s experience and knowledge are invaluable as it allows for Hillside to provide the very highest quality care, attention and service to their many horses and clients. I have known Tammy since 1995 and  have the very highest regard for her skills as an extremely knowledgeable horsewoman and trainer.  She is more than worthy of this award!”

Best regards, Margaret Hackstedde


“I’m writing to nominate Tammy Nimbach, of Hillside Farm in Bloomfield Hills MI.

Tirelessly working behind the scenes doesn’t even begin to describe Tammy.  She is always one of the first to arrive in the morning, and one of the last (if not THE last) to leave at the end of the day.  She does absolutely everything, from pitching in with the grooms, to riding, to helping clients at the ring, to organizing the showing/schooling schedule for the next day.  I don’t believe I’ve ever met anybody with a work ethic like Tammy’s!

My daughter and I joined Hillside about two years ago, after spending fifteen years with our old trainer.  We were excited to train with the head trainer, Heather Irvine, and were very excited to join such a top-notch team as Hillside.  One thing we were a little worried about, however, was what was going to happen during the winter months, as Heather takes several clients to Wellington for the “season.”  We board our horses at a secondary facility of Heather’s.  We knew of Tammy, but didn’t know her well, and to be very honest, weren’t sure how this was going to work…We were encouraged by some of the other clients who don’t go south for the winter to give Tammy a try, so we did.  Wow.  What an incredible surprise!!  Tammy’s lessons are incredible, she was always immediately available and accessible to us, and managed every little bit of our somewhat quirky hunter with absolute aplomb.  And the amazing part is that she did that not only for the few clients at our barn, but also all of the other clients at the main farm who did not go to Florida.

I think the most obvious thing that tells you how wonderful Tammy is, is the amount of time that she and Heather have been a successful team:  over 20 years!!”

Sincerely, Deirdre Wickham


Cody Armstrong 

“Being in the horse industry for over 35 years, I have rarely met a person as amazingly talented and motivated as Cody Armstrong.

While she was attending college at Virginia Tech, she contacted me about becoming a Working Student. When Cody began working for me, she already had good riding skills and experience working with horses. She was raised on a farm by parents who were involved in starting and training young horses. Cody was versed in the methods of Natural Horsemanship. She also had evented to the preliminary level, has shown western and hunters.

I knew right away that Cody was very special, and I was impressed with her dedication to horses, both as a rider and in equine care. She spent much of her free time at the farm during her college years.

When Cody graduated in December 2012, I offered her a full time position at the farm. Since then she has performed every duty at the barn including assisting me with working horses (currently 25), scheduling staff, teaching riding lessons, and handling phone calls, e-mails and payroll. But just as important to her is the care of the horses at the farm. She regularly checks every horse to ascertain the individual needs. If necessary she will clean stalls, do turn in/out, and water and feed the horses. Together, we regularly discuss equine nutrition, supplements and exercise routines for each horse. We hack out horses for a change of pace from arena work to keep them fresh, not only physically but mentally. Cody is an asset to the farm because of her amazing work ethic and is also an inspiration to other students.

Within one year, Cody has earned her USDF Bronze, Silver, and Gold Medals under my tutelage. She has qualified for the 2013 Dressage at Devon at GP and for the USDF Region 1 finals. Currently, she is working on her USDF Gold Freestyle Bar. She works extremely hard, and, like a sponge, absorbs as much as possible both off and on the back of a horse.”


Marissa Metzger

“I would like to nominate my assistant train Marisa Metzger at Lightacres stables in Modesto, ca! She has had such a successful year so far! Even scoring a 100 on her second round of a $10,000 derby.

She is extremely talented and has only been a pro for 3 years. At the age of 22 she has proved she has a stellar career in front of her. More information can be found on


Marcy Lawwill 

“Many people are responsible for the success of Patrick Seaton, his clients, and their horses. Marcy Lawwill is the Assistant Trainer at Patrick Seaton Stables and is a model horsewomen and an inspiring teacher. Her methods of training and instruction get the best out of every horse and rider team, plus instill confidence in yourself and your horse. Marcy is very dedicated to the health and happiness of our horses and goes out of her way to help anyone or any horse. From saving an anonymous horse from the middle of a busy road to shining her students’ boots to perfection before their class, Marcy is always there with a cheerful attitude and loads of support. Marcy works tirelessly at the shows and the barn with patience and precision no matter what task is at hand. She knows the horse industry like the back of her hand and is a guru when it comes to taking care of your horse. The horses adore Marcy as she gets to know every horse she works with inside out and sets them up correctly for their rider.  From a young student she is a great role model and has the knowledge to help you progress as a rider. From a parents view, Marcy always has their Childs best interest at heart and creates a safe learning environment. From the view of an amateur, Marcy is an encouraging teacher and works out how to set you up for success. She is a huge part of the Patrick Seaton Stables family and will never let you down. There are many great assistant trainers on the show circuit however Marcy is a one of a kind person.”


Natalie LeClair 

“Hi! I Would like to nominate Natalie LeClair for Assistant Trainer of the year. Natalie dedicates countless hours to managing the horse shows and riding our show horses while teaching atleast 20 lessons a week. She cares for every clients needs and concerns. She is the rock of our farm. She spends her weekends representing our barn at local and away horse shows year-round. Without her smiling face and amazing personality our barn wouldn’t be the same. I cannot speak highly enough of Natalie. She takes impeccable care of all our horses and makes sure horse shows and lessons run smoothly without any bump. Personally, she has taught me many valuable lessons that I will carry with me forever. So, thank you Natalie, for being the best possible assistant trainer in the world. Thank you for your dedication and love for the sport because it pays off every weekend when we drive home from those long days at the horse shows feeling successful and ready for next weekend. Thank you Natalie. You are the most awesome, nicest, best assistant trainer in the world. You deserve this award more than anyone due to the dedication you show to clients and their horses.We love you.”

-Tait Becker


Teena Moggre 

“Just saw your post on Facebook about nominating an assistant that is truly amazing! This would be one you don’t want to miss.

Our “assistant” is actually the mom of our 12 year old boy that has been riding with our trainer since the age of 3. She puts more time and effort into her son’s  riding career then most people’s trainer ever do! Ever since I have known Teena she is always at the barn helping her son take care of the horse, helping me keep our accounting in line, or sending off entries for our next horse show…did I mention all of this is in short shorts and high heels?

At the shows she has a clip board with every class for the day…we only do jumper but it’s still a lot!

On this clipboard she keeps track of how many entries are in each class, who goes clear and what the time was. People at the show go to her when they think something at the show is not right!

We are actually at a horse show right now so this was my quick version of why she is wonderful but if you would like for me to give more information tonight to help her be selected I would love it. Our barn is the Flower Mound Equestrian Center, located in Flower Mound, Texas”


Sandra Groombridge 

“I would like to nominate my mum.Sandra Groombridge

She has gone from being a non horsey mum to slowly being talked into taking her BHS exams, gaining her grooms certificate, now full time yard manager as well as being the best groom possible, she has supported me in every one of my BE events and is always there when I need her.”

If you need anymore information please let me know.

Best wishes, Teri Warner


Nicole Roworth

“I would like to nominate Nicole Roworth , who works for Andrea Barbee , as assistant trainer of the year. As an assistant trainer at a busy sale barn not only does Nicole have the regular responsibilities of an assistant but she has the difficult job of having a constant influx of new horses to ride , train , and prepare for sale. I have been impressed with her ability, positive attitude and maturity beyond her years. She can ride almost any horse well and always finds something good to say about even the most difficult horse! She can walk in a show ring on a horse she has only ridden a few times and put in a stellar round . She has been bringing along a young horse for a client and has done a phenomenal job with him. She has brought him from 30 days of training to finishing in the top 10 of his first hunter derby and good ribbons in the baby greens in under 4 months. Her patience and ability with him has been a joy to watch. In addition she is truly grateful for the opportunity to ride him and never forgets to thank his owner.

Nicole is also great with all of Andrea’s clients. She knows exactly the right thing to say to a nervous amateur rider moving up a division on a new horse to make her relax and put in a great round ! I have been riding and showing for over 20 years and Nicole is honestly one of the best assistant trainers I have ever dealt with.

She is someone who truly loves her job and at the end of a long hard day of working in 100 degree heat she will say ” I have the best job in the world, I get to play with horses all day”

Sincerely, Kristie Cohen