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Young Trainer Profile

With the “horse genes” that 23-year-old Toni Shipman Knight possesses it is no surprise she began riding at the age of three or four. “My first show was on an appaloosa named Sugar, who threw me over the top of her head everyday when she would stop to eat grass,” Knight said.

Since Toni Knight was a little girl, she would tell anyone who would listen that she was going to be a horse trainer. “I once convinced a small crowd at an Iowa Saints hockey game that I was already a horse trainer at the age of five,” she exclaimed.

Those who have influenced Toni the most are her parents, Bill and Maria Knight. “I feel very fortunate to have been my mother’s daughter. Besides teaching me about training a horse and instructing a rider, she taught me about conducting myself with grace and character in the business as well,” she said.

Knight says she never really addressed why she trains horses. "It just seemed like the only option I would ever let myself consider,” she remarked. For that very reason her parents insisted that she have the opportunity to get her degree in journalism from the University of Kentucky. Having Lee Shipman, the legendary horse trainer, for a grandfather and parents who were horse trainers as well, gave Knight quite a start in the business.

Knight’s goals are like many other young trainers in the business. “I want to do a little bit of everything, start and finish young horses, put young equitation riders in the ring, and prepare horses for riders in the amateur ranks," she said. Knight says the biggest goal she has and the one that means the most to her is being able to look back on her career on a whole and say that she was half as respected for her work and contributions in the Saddlebred industry as her mother.

Some of her favorite horses are Champagne Sue, WC Lightnin’ Lil, WC Sammyshine, WC Super Early and WC Straight Talk. The highlight that most stands out in Knight’s mind is watching her mom win the Three-Year-Old Pleasure Futurity class at Louisville. “Since my only contribution to that win was moral support and being a groom, I guess I can't add that as a credit to my career,” she said.

As far as highlights from her career, Knight recognized helping “Lilly” and Gayle Jewett win the third leg of the three-year-old triple crown at the American Royal in 2000 shortly after Knight's mother passed away. “Though I still don’t know how much credit I can take for that one either," she said, "because I wasn’t working “Lilly” then, and I barely remember most of it.”

Knight says the feeling she gets after struggling with a problem with a horse and one day realizing they’ve progressed and have overcome the mental block is her favorite part of her job. "The same goes with teaching a rider. When a rider can’t get a concept or just get their heels down and one day you notice great progress. That’s a fulfilling moment,” she said.

As far as the future goes Knight says, “I see myself with about 15-20 horses in training, some young horses, amateur horses, juvenile horses and/or equitation riders. I’d rather have quality than quantity. I want to be able to say that my customers are happy and I’m continuing to make a living doing what I love.”

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