"It's what you leave there that makes them great."
Doug Thompson
By Ingrid Edisen

Doug Thompson showing SGF Cimmaron+/, Half-Arabian gelding, winning the Half-Arabian Western Pleasure Open Championship at the 1997 Region 12 Championship Show.

Doug Thompson has achieved what every horse lover wants. He is surrounded by a family, beautiful barn, groomed arena and lots of training horses.

In the Arabian breed, Doug Thompson Training Center (DTTC) and its riders have won over 16 National Championships and Reserves, 63 National Top Tens, 51 Regional Championships and Reserves and 84 Regional Top Fives as well as numerous Class A level championships. DTTC horses have won these titles in western pleasure, hunter pleasure, English pleasure, park, reining, cutting, horsemanship and halter.

Now ensconced in the heart of the Hill Country of Central Texas, Doug Thompson and his wife, Sue, run their training center approximately 12 minutes from the western edge of Austin. Working alongside him is another trainer, Kim Schneider, who has apprenticed with Thompson for over 10 years. They are well known in the Arabian show rings of the Scottsdale, AZ, Arabian Nationals, and Canadian Nationals shows. They also currently show in Quarter Horse shows as well. Thompson and Schneider don’t just work with Arabians and Half-Arabians. They’ve also worked with warmbloods, Quarter horses, Thoroughbreds and whatever else their clients bring them. Thompson’s forte is Western Pleasure and Reining but good riding is good riding pure and simple and he has spent the better part of his lifetime watching and training horses, thirty-two years in fact.

A quiet and reflective man with the coiled body of a track star, Thompson strikes one at first as not wanting to talk much.
Doug watching a training session at the 2004 Alamo Arabian Spring Fiesta Horse Show.

But it is the pausing to think before he speaks that leads one to this conclusion. Thompson is a stored wealth of information. For instance, during our interview, he gave the clearest definition of “collection” I’ve ever encountered. “Collection,” he said, “is getting all the parts of the horse’s body moving toward the center.” This definition allows for all disciplines and body styles. The horses greeted him as he walked past their stalls in his new thirty-stall training barn and he stopped to give one a rub on the face.

His wife, Sue, knew all along that her husband wanted to be located in the Hill Country. Originally from Dallas, Thompson spent eleven years training in Houston just prior to their purchasing thirty acres near Austin two years ago and moving one year ago. It took Sue five years of hard shopping to find the ideal location. In the end, it was up to them to design the barn and 110’ x 200’ covered arena they wanted. And the barn is phenomenal. It has totally slideable stall sidewalls on rollers that allow for a tractor to blade out entire rows of stalls all at once to do a stall deep clean in a fraction of time it traditionally takes to perform that chore manually. Thompson also had a system of bi-fold doors on winches, such as found in airplane hangers, to allow for the entire barn to be open-ended on both sides on a warm day or totally closed in during cold winter drafts. All it takes is flipping a few switches and the atmosphere in the barn can be modified within minutes all for the comfort of the horses. And after years of being misted with automatic fly systems, he and Schneider began using insect fly predators. I saw no evidence of flies in his barn. He has obviously put a lot of thought into his facility design and operation.

He also has a lot to say about the horses he works with. He sees his and Schneider’s job quite clearly to foster in the horses a desire to go beyond themselves and become great show horses. “We give him the idea that he has to be a little bit of an overachiever,” Thompson said. “We don’t want to stall him out.” When I asked what that concept meant, I was told that they are careful not to push a young horse to the point of exhaustion while installing the various training segments into the animal. Thompson explained that in doing that sort of process—of pushing a horse all the way until he is spent and then stopping him and rewarding him–the horse has learned that the “stop” is the reward. “We want a horse that’s going to give us more. We want to build in the ‘go’ and turn that into a forward, positive cycle.”

Schneider, tall and thin with eyes like Muriel Hemmingway’s, nodded. “Doug has a saying,” she said, “it’s what you leave there that makes them great.” She has apprenticed under Thompson for over ten years. She starts the horses for Thompson under his supervision. Both of the trainers normally work with and ride about ten horses a day each.

“Sometimes we get green horses that only know how to lead,” Schneider explained. “We start them with ground work tailored to their training program.” A new horse is taught to “whoa” first and the rest of the training program builds from that point.

As the horse’s training progresses, they teach the horse when it’s time to “hook up” and to focus, so that when we call on him, the horse can go into “show mode,” Schneider.

Throughout the horse’s time with them, at various points, Thompson may say to his assistant, “Call on him,” and it is Schneider’s job to check in with the horse to see if he will give all he’s got for brief periods of time and to pull together all the training elements they’ve installed in that horse up to that point in time.

Thompson explained that training all the pieces into a horse is basically the same from start to finish. “We have a theory we adhere to,” he said, “that a horse never learns more than he starts off knowing.” It is really a matter of refinement as Thompson described it. For instance, a young horse may take three times around the arena before he understands that he must “give” to leg pressure–but by the end of his finished training those cumbersome treks around the arena have become an instantaneous response so refined that the horse gives to the leg within half of a stride. “Can we get that horse to ‘dwell’ on the ground?” he asked, and went on to say that “dwell” is that extra moment of time the horse’s leg stays on the ground with a bit more flex of the pastern.

“And the flip side of that is that the other leg is suspended in the air a bit longer than the horse wants,” Kim confirmed.

They both explained that they are looking for greater articulation of the leg and that the horse is using his back.
A lot of lateral work is also included to help strengthen and balance the horses’ bodies. In almost all instances, an amateur-owner will also be showing the horses so Thompson and Schneider’s job is also to coach the owners on how to present their horses in the show ring. When they teach the owners how to show, one thing they tell their clients is to pick a line after they’ve come off a corner, whether they are riding on the rail or off of it, and to be sure that the horse is straight in his body. Often there are several judges in the ring simultaneously so this is paramount since so many critical eyes are watching the performing pair.

Sue Thompson on MX Aries

As Thompson explains it, “We don’t consider our horses to be great until you can fix them in one step. At our big shows we show to three to five judges so the difference between winning or not is how fast a horse can take a correction and respond in the appropriate manner. When that horse allows you to correct him in one step he is always ready to show to the next judge. Teaching our amateurs how to expect that much from their horse and be able to create it is our goal. We train our horses to be that responsive and then how to accept that instant correction from their owners. Our amateur riders have to spend some time learning these skills.”

“We are here to help the owners get the horse up to a national level,” Thompson said. “Our persona as a business operation in the industry is to share information. We are very involved with the management of the horse–from shoeing to feeding.”

When Thompson started in the business, he was paid $225 per month plus given a place to live. Nowadays, he commands $700 a month per horse he’s training.

He thought back over his years of watching the Arab horse industry and noted that although previously Arabians once were thought of as “collector’s items” owned mostly by movie stars and wealthy individuals, they are in transition now and are competing with other horses for the equine leisure dollar. “The most interesting part of all this in the horse industry is seeing over the years the development of the horses. The training has changed a lot that way,” he said. “Horses are doing bigger things now,” he observed. Thompson attributes this to better, more advanced training methods.

DTTC Ribbon Wall at Region 12 Championship Show

You can contact Doug Thompson Training Center, LLC by calling 512-264-9282 (Farm) or 512-585-2056 (Cell)

A Multi-Facetted Show Career
Doug Thompson trains horses to have lifelong careers in the show ring, and trains them so amateurs as well as professionals can ride them. A good example of this is the 16-year-old bay Arabian mare, O’Fire Angel+//, whom Doug has had in training virtually all of her life. Doug trained her as a three year old in western pleasure and showed her as a four year old to the title of Reserve National Champion in the IAHA Arabian Western Pleasure Maturity. Angel was sold to a youth rider but continued training and showing with DTTC, going on to win two Reserve National Championships in the western pleasure youth division with her new rider. When her owner graduated and was headed to college, Angel was sold to another youth rider while remaining at DTTC and went on to win two National Championships in the youth western pleasure division. Angel was sold to a third youth rider, still with DTTC, and was shown to yet another western pleasure National Championship. In 2001 Angel earned the Legion of Excellence award, the highest achievement award for performance horses in the Arabian breed. In 2002 she was bred to Reserve National Champion western pleasure and National Champion hunter pleasure horse, SJ Mikhail+++//, and produced her first foal in 2003 at age 15. After weaning her colt, Angel has returned to the show ring in the Western Pleasure Walk/Trot with Doug’s 5-year-old son, Tyler Thompson.
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