Trapp O’Neal has been hooked on riding ever since his mom bought him lessons for his sixth birthday. In his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, English disciplines weren’t as popular, but since his mom grew up riding on the East Coast, O’Neal became infatuated with the hunter/jumpers.
At about 7 years old, O’Neal took a working student position with the Rager family, cleaning stalls in exchange for riding lessons. This continued through high school, allowing him to show and compete. He learned a lot from the Ragers’ daughter, Elani, who competed at a high level.
After high school, O’Neal joined the Marine Corps and served for two years, then took a non-equine job in Colorado. He moved to Texas in 2011 and started TKO Sporthorses, his training and sales business. O’Neal cited his independence as one of his biggest professional achievements to date.
“A big accomplishment is being able to own and open my own training facility,” O’Neal said. “We’ve built everything here kind of from the ground up, and we’re constantly making improvements, but our goal is to make it a first-class training facility.”
Since going out on his own, O’Neal has developed young horses that have gone on to the grand prix ranks and coached students that have ridden at the FEI level. He and his team show all over the United States and frequently compete in Canada, Mexico and Europe.
“We really try and teach ‘horsemen’ here,” O’Neal said. “We want our students to understand all the responsibilities that come with a horse, from taking care of it in the barn after a ride to working it up for a competition, along with how to let your horse relax and come down after a competition.”
O’Neal’s favorite thing about the hunter/jumper discipline is that it’s always evolving and that horses are being bred to constantly better the sport. He enjoys the longevity it offers riders, too.
“You’re kind of never at the pinnacle,” O’Neal said. “If you’re active and want to be a rider, you can be a rider for a long time. It really keeps you on your toes.”
The trainer, whose sponsors include Voltaire Saddlery, Hallway Feeds and Animo, hopes to one day represent his country as a rider. In the meantime, his personal goal is to keep developing horses to the highest ranks successfully.
“The more young horses I develop, the more I love that,” O’Neal said. “That really, personally, keeps me going.”