Staunton horse trainers run successful, stable business
STAUNTON — Beth Gouthro was saddled atop of Art I Detailed, a 5-year-old gentle brute of a quarter horse more than 18 hands tall and weighing more than 1,400 pounds, fighting nerves as she met the glare of hundreds of spectators and awaited instructions from the announcer.
"I don't get too nervous anymore," said Gouthro, who started showing horses when she was 8 years old. "Maybe a little bit right before, but once I'm in the pen I'm fine."/p>
Once in the pen, along with 17 other horses and riders, Gouthro did what she does best: Guide the horse's gait through the walks, trots and canters closely scrutinized by a panel of judges.
This was the last American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) competition of the year, in West Monroe, La., on the last Sunday of 2011, and it was a competition Gouthro and her husband, Matt, weren't going to miss. Art I Detailed was in the running to finish the year with the most points in the Junior Hunter Under Saddle class.
Showing a horse is an intense 15 minutes of precise choreography, done with 17 other horses in the pen at the same time. But turning a half-ton animal into a graceful performer isn't easy. Beth, a petite 5-foot, 3-inch woman, works hard enough managing the creature's natural instincts during a competition to break a sweat, but the most difficult work comes before.
"It takes at least a year of solid training — riding every day — to get them ready," Matt said. "It takes a lot of work. It's more of a lifestyle than a job."
Matt and Beth own and run BMG Show Horses on their 17-acre Staunton property, where they train and board about 25 quarter horses at a time. Most of the horses — other than their aptly named stud, Natural Resources — are owned by others as close as Waynesboro and as far away as New England. Owners' involvement ranges from having the Gouthros teach them to show their own horse, to attending competitions where the Gouthros show their horse, to simply having a foal trained as an investment.
"A really high-end show horse could sell for $150,000 to $200,000," Matt Gouthro said. "Some stallions have sold for $2-3 million. It can be an expensive hobby."
With so much money invested in the horses themselves, people don't trust just anyone to develop the horses for competition.
"You have to ride hundreds of horses before you really know what you're doing," said Matt, who spent six years as an apprentice before going into business himself. "When you're starting out you just have to take whatever people will give you and try to ride it."
The Gouthros have a couple of decades of experience working with quarter horses — animals originally bred as sprinters for races of less than a quarter-mile — and have been training professionally in Staunton for seven years now. Their experience is important, but the horse also matters.
"It has a lot to do with the training, but it takes a really talented horse to compete on a world-class level," Matt said. "There's a lot you have to weed through to get the quality of horse you need."
When they found Art I Detailed, who they call Slick, they knew rather quickly they had unearthed a gem.
"It takes about a month of riding to get a good sense of whether or not they'll be a good show horse," Beth said.
Slick entered into competition in 2011 with less than a year's worth of training with the Gouthros, but performed well throughout the year. When they went to that last show in Louisiana, they knew they had a chance.
"We knew we were close, but we had to go down there and show well to make sure," Beth said. "We weren't 100 percent sure."
At the end of January, the AQHA announced that, indeed, the prestigious title of 2011 High Point Junior Hunter Under Saddle was Slick's, but the Gouthros share in the honor.
"What that means is that horse got more points than any other horse in the world in that class," Matt said. "Even just to make it to the finals in a big show is a rush. It's just hours and hours of training, and it's very rewarding when they do well."
The Gouthros will travel to Las Vegas later this month to attend the AQHA National Convention and receive the award, adding another appointment to their already busy schedule. They attend about two competitions a month and show five or more horses at each competition. They have also decided to add training lessons to their business in 2012.
"We're working with people who have never ridden before to people that want to be world champions," Beth said. "I remember growing up around here the horse industry was huge and there were horse shows all the time. We want more people to have that experience and to get more people involved."