For years, training horses for others who have gone on to win awards and titles has brought joy to Michelle Chapman.
But winning a national honor in the arena for herself might be a little sweeter.
It’s a tough call for the Eaton, Colo.-area resident, but she now has a base for comparison.
Chapman was named the North American Affiliate Championship’s Rookie Professional Champion — an honor she won late last month after taking first in the rookie division at a national event in Oklahoma City, hosted by the NAAC — which is affiliated with the National Reining Horse Association.
“I’ve always loved what I’ve done ... training horses for others and coaching other riders ... and I’ve, fortunately, had success in doing that. But this is the biggest achievement I’ve ever had,” she said of winning the recent honor, which gave her a prize saddle for the first time.
While the saddle, trophy and belt buckle she won all include the word “rookie,” Chapman is hardly inexperienced when it comes to horses — it’s just that the bulk of her time spent with them has been for the benefit of others.
Chapman, whose business, Chapman Performance Horses, has been operating in Weld County, Colo., for about nine years, started riding at her family’s Nebraska dairy farm not long after she could walk, and she was training horses for neighbors by the time she was in high school, she said.
After graduating from Laramie County Community College in Wyoming with a degree in equine management, she interned and worked for well-known horse trainer Dwayn Hoelscher near Berthoud, Colo., then started her own horse-training business near Firestone, Colo., before moving the business to Eaton about two years ago.
Chapman, 36, is now training about 20 horses at the operation — doubling the number of horses she had when she was based in Firestone. She also coaches horse riders of various skill levels, ranging in age from youth to 70 years old, who have competed in reining, Western, English and jumping competitions.
Her riders and their horses have won a wide array of trophies, belt buckles and prize money, she noted.
For years, though, training horses and coaching riders left Chapman limited time to do her own competing.
But as her business grew, it allowed her to continually work with higher-quality horses. She eventually decided it was time to combine her riding knowledge with the high-caliber animals and compete more.
Since she enjoys the high-speed action of reining more than other competitions, she focused on that event.
And because of her limited competing in the past, she was still considered a rookie this year at the professional level.
Among her wins in 2013 was taking first in the rookie competition at the finals of the Rocky Mountain Horse Association — also an NRHA affiliate — back in October, which qualified her for the national event.
And last week in Oklahoma City, her 4-minute ride around the arena with 5-year-old West Coast Beach Boy — a horse she’s training for a Lafayette, Colo., resident — topped the rest of the professional rookies who had come from all around the continent.
Those who know Chapman say she’s deserving of any honor that comes her way.
“I think she’s the hardest working person I’ve ever met,” said Bruce Cameron, a long-time rancher who lives near Eaton and has a horse being trained by Chapman, which will be shown in January at the National Western Stock Show in Denver — known as “the Super Bowl of stock shows.”
“Her work ethic is just amazing, and everyone who knows her says the same thing.”
Chapman admits that her work week often hits 70 hours, sometimes longer. But she never feels like it’s a job.
“They really become your friends,” Chapman said of the horses she works with. “They each have their own personality, and it’s wonderful to get to know each of them ... learning what brings each of them joy, and what makes them tick.”
“And it just brings so much satisfaction to watch a rider learn to work with the animal, and watch both of them learn to work as a team,” she added. “I’ll never get tired of it.” ❖