BY BLOG EDITOR LAUREN MAULDIN
There are a lot of reasons people choose to become a professional in this industry. The love of the animal. Walking into a barn full of slick, happy horses nibbling fresh hay as they peer over their stall doors. The sheer physicality of the sport. Perfecting delicate aids and teaching strong horses nuance and restraint. For Florida based professional, Caitlin Maloney, these reasons inspire her to work hard every day, but she’s fulfilled by a deeper, almost philosophic, calling.
“I don’t think there’s anything more genuine than seeing a person and how happy they are because of the effort that they’ve put in with their horse,” Caitlin explained. For Caitlin, it’s not fame, giant ribbons or huge paychecks that she’s chasing. After years of working with top barns across the country, she’s settled with her own farm, Shamrock Show Stables, and thrives with the business of fostering joyful partnerships. “There’s something about an authentic smile radiating off riders when they do well. That’s my high.”
Growing up, it was her own smile around horses that led Caitlin to the barn. “My first experience showing was in Short Stirrup on my Off the Track Thoroughbred,” Caitlin said of her entry to the hunter/jumper A circuit. During her junior career, she competed in the hunters and equitation throughout the Midwest in Chicago, Kentucky, Michigan, and Wellington in the winter when she could get a break from school. However, it wasn’t the trips in the ring and ribbons on the wall that defined her as much as time spent in the barn.
“I became one of those horse crazy kids,” she said of her youth. Caitlin would ride anything she could sit on, but cherished hours at the stable no matter how they were spent. “If I didn’t ride, I would sit and watch. Some days after school I would go to the barn and help tack up horses so the grooms could go home early, then I would sit in my trainer’s office and read her books.” George Morris, Frank Chapot, Bill Steinkraus – these big names helped start Caitlin’s career between the pages, but they wouldn’t be the last of her education.
After graduating from DePaul University with a degree in International Studies, Caitlin realized that what she wanted more than anything was to work with horses seven days a week. So she dove into her passion with her first professional job at Derek Braun’s Split Rock Farms. “They helped refine me,” she said of the Split Rock team, who taught her the rules for FEI show jumping as well as the details of running a barn of Grand Prix horses.
After her time with Split Rock Farm, Caitlin worked for Don Stewart Stables. “There were just quality horses, and Don was a great teacher. I got to learn a lot by helping him at the shows, along with organizing each day and riding many different horses.” At Stewart’s, Caitlin began working more with kids and started thinking intricately about communication and training.
After working in Ocala, Caitlin headed back to her home city of Chicago to join Old Welbourne Farm. In a place where she felt like family, Caitlin reached a new level of trainer and coach under Denise Dennehy Lenn’s guidance. “Denise really let me step in to being the trainer,” Caitlin said. “I scheduled the lessons, did all of the rides. Every day I formed more of a bond with the customers and the students.” With Old Welbourne, Caitlin took on the responsibility of keeping the show barn running smoothly, which included managing the show schedule as well as day-to-day appointments with farriers, vets, and body workers – an experience she loved. “I’ll sit in the barn for an extra two hours just to chat with an equine physical therapist about the mechanics of the horse and how it carries over in my riding.” This extra attention to detail and care carried over well to Caitlin’s next position on the west coast at Balmoral Farm in Los Angeles, California.
Working on the other side of the country that’s typically a bit more easy going, Caitlin found she enjoyed the slower pace. “We had long days, top level horses, and a ton of work that went into each one that really required a team effort,” she said of Balmoral. “But at the same time, there was a lightness about it.” Caitlin learned a ton under owners Carlton and Traci Brooks, and enjoyed the consistency of her two years in California. “Carlton gave me a lot of opportunities to work with certain horses, manage the barn or bring students along by myself while he went to shows,” she said. That opportunity gave her a lot of confidence – enough to head out on her own.
Now with a career that’s spanned both coasts, countless horse shows and all three rings, Caitlin has started her own Shamrock Show Stables. “I’ve taken a long time as an assistant trainer to big professionals who I really respect, and draw positive things from each one of those experiences to give back to my horses and riders in the best possible way,” Caitlin said about the new venture. Located just north of Ocala, the year-round, full service facility features large pastures, a spacious cinderblock barn and exceptional, top show level care. Utilizing remarkable, all natural footing, Shamrock has two different, level riding fields as well as an additional field perfect for hill work. “The horses respond really well to being on grass footing,” she said. “I think working on grass helps with fitness and soundness.”
It’s more than nice footing and comfortable amenities that make Shamrock exciting though. To Caitlin, it’s a place to cultivate the magic that horses can bring. “I want my clients to leave the barn after riding and think, ‘That was so much fun! I can’t wait for next week’s lessons’.” She facilitates this enthusiasm by careful training and positive reinforcement. “I think you get a lot more out of horses that way,” Caitlin said. When explaining her training style she added, “I like to watch and work with what I believe are their strengths to begin with. Then I’ll pull certain things out about a rider’s position or habit, correct it and explain how to adjust themselves to ride more effectively.”
This careful positivity is far more than a training technique to Caitlin. She has witnessed the ability that horses have to peel back emotional layers and impact riders of all ages. “We need to know we’re a very powerful influencer in our young riders,” she explained. “I believe it is our responsibility as trainers to be role models for our riders, both at home and at shows.” In this regard, Caitlin knows she is more than a professional rider and trainer – she’s someone for girls to look up to. Working with youth over the years, Caitlin has seen first hand how anxiety can fester, especially with social media, alongside the stresses of being a teenager today. “As trainers, we need to take responsibility for our actions and hold ourselves accountable. We all have good and bad days, and ultimately our service is to advocate for our riders and their horses by providing positive, professional feedback.”
Giving this kind of upstanding mentorship is more than a responsibility for Caitlin. It’s something that naturally comes alongside the privilege that is working with horses. At Shamrock, she still teaches lessons on her last equitation horse, Peron. “I know everything about him. He’s definitely my horse of a lifetime and by far the best horse I’ve ever taught lessons on,” she said of the nineteen-year-old gelding. Working with a beloved old horse to bring smiles to her client’s faces is a special kind of magic to Caitlin – the high that keeps her going on long, hard days.
With Shamrock, Caitlin has the attitude and expertise to lead a program that focuses on her clients’ personal success and goal building. Whether schooling at home or traveling to the indoor circuit, she’s driven by watching her students accomplish new things in the ring. All while enjoying a fulfilling, safe partnership with their happy horse.
“I see people of all ages, and their horses relieve the pressures from the outside world. They come to the barn, and it just dissolves. I think it’s really important for people to have a place like that where they feel like they can be themselves,” she said. For Caitlin and her clients, that place is Shamrock Show Stables. More than a barn, it’s the culmination of years of learning and hard work in the industry. It’s the embodiment of a goal to nurture and guide youth in a positive direction, and a place like that will make everybody smile.