If you walk into Finally Farm’s barn at a horse show, you’ll hear head groom Carlos Padilla Ramirez’s energetic voice echoing from one of the grooming stalls.
“Elle Boyd, you’re going to win today,” Ramirez says to professional hunter rider Liza Towell Boyd’s oldest daughter as he tacks up her pony. “I just feel it—you’re going to be champion.”
More often than not, Elle returns an hour later with a champion ribbon proudly pinned to her pony’s bridle and a huge smile on her face.
“We couldn’t do it without Carlos,” said Jack Towell, Finally Farm’s head trainer. “He’s on top of everything; he’s always in a great mood, and he’s very kind. There isn’t a mean bone in Carlos’ body.”
Ramirez, 38, grew up in Long Beach, California, but his family is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico. Until 2010, he worked in construction and framework. That changed when Ramirez got a phone call from the Towells’ longtime head groom Alberto Ramirez, who was from the same town as Carlos’ family in Mexico. Finally Farm was heading to a show in Conyers, Georgia, and Alberto needed another groom.
Carlos was curious, so he agreed to help. “Honestly, I loved it from the second I started with the horses,” he said. “We had a full barn there; it was great.”
After Conyers, Carlos moved to Camden, South Carolina, to work for Finally Farm full time, though he did take a year-long break early on so that he could spend more time with his growing family. During that time, he worked for a race horse trainer at the Camden track and her rehabilitation barn.
“Carlos returned to us with a lot of great knowledge,” Liza said. “That was a good thing for him as a horseman, and ultimately for us too, that he did that. He learned a lot about caring for horses’ legs there. Even today, if a horse is lame or has a hurt leg, he wants to understand it. He’s always asking our vet, ‘Why did this happen?’ He takes it personally with the horses, and he wants to know how to fix and prevent it going forward.”
Carlos shadowed Alberto’s every move for the better part of a decade. “Alberto taught me everything he knew,” Carlos said. “I brought horses up to him to longe; he showed me how to get them ready to go to the ring; he taught me everything. I owe it all to him for all those years of knowledge.”
In February 2021, Alberto was diagnosed with acute leukemia and became too sick to work. Carlos stepped in to fill Alberto’s role during the remaining weeks of the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida.
“I was always the right-hand man to Alberto, and then I suddenly was the guy in charge, and he wasn’t there,” he said. “Alberto had been working for the Towells for over two decades, and it was really hard for me to fill that role at the beginning.”
Even with treatment, Alberto died in July 2021. The team worried Carlos might leave without Alberto. “He was talking about leaving, and we were getting nervous,” rider/assistant trainer Olivia Murray said. “But when he showed up to Alberto’s memorial service, we knew Carlos was going to stay. He knew he needed to take care of Alberto’s horses and continue to care for his Finally Farm family.”
With time the job has become second-nature to Carlos, but he still misses the company of his mentor and longtime co-worker.
“Sometimes I feel Alberto with me at the shows,” Carlos said, a nostalgic smile on his face. “Every day, I think, ‘How would Alberto do this?’ Alberto used to give me tips, and I try to remember all of the things he’s taught me when I prepare the show horses. It’s all about knowing your horses really well and knowing what they need each day.”
Since stepping into the head groom position, Carlos oversees the daily care of about 40 horses and manages eight to 10 grooms. They have between 15-30 horses at shows, but Carlos isn’t intimidated by the workload.
“It’s real hard work, but it’s really rewarding,” Carlos said. “Sometimes you feel pressure doing this job, but I think it makes you strive to be better. The Towells make you feel like you’re a part of their family too. They care so much about their horses. I like that they’re always on top of everything, and that they allow me to be so involved.”
Liza said Carlos has blossomed in his new role as her head groom.
“His vision is the entire barn working together as a whole, and he’s become a real leader for our team,” she said. “All of our guys really respect and listen to him. … Because Carlos watched Alberto for so many years, Carlos got a free crash-course in what worked and what didn’t. Because Carlos can delegate well, it gives everyone accountability in my barn. If something doesn’t get done, there’s someone to ask why it didn’t get done. I think the guys like being entrusted with that responsibility too.”
Murray agrees that Carlos is an asset to the Finally Farm team. “We couldn’t do it without Carlos,” Murray said. “He strives to make the horses better every day. He likes to win—we’re all competitive here—but all of the horses are winners to Carlos. He finds the best in all of them.”
Rider/assistant manager Theresa Tolar appreciates the energy that Carlos creates in the barn.
“When he answers his phone, sometimes he comes up with some type of intro like: ‘Hello, it’s Carlos from Taco Bell, what can I get you?’” she said with a laugh. “That humor is so important on busy show days; it lightens the mood. What I love about Carlos is that he has this ability to make Finally Farm feel like home, even when we’re on the road. It brings the whole barn together more, and it makes it a fun atmosphere.”
Carlos enjoys watching all the pieces come together. “I like when the clients and Liza’s daughters get good ribbons; it makes you feel good,” he said. “It makes you feel like you were a part of that accomplishment and that your hard work has paid off.”
One of Carlos’ favorite memories is when Liza and her famed mount Brunello won the USHJA International Hunter Derby Championships in Lexington, Kentucky, in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
“I was working at the home barn in Camden, but Alberto always called me after Brunello competed and told me the scores,” he said. “It was so cool to be a small part of that.”
Carlos and his partner Priscilla Garza live in Camden and have a family of their own with three children: Joshua, 18; Janie, 14; and Josephine, 8. When Carlos isn’t traveling to horse shows, Josephine occasionally comes to the farm with him.
“She loves the horses,” Carlos said. “Liza lets her ride the ponies sometimes, and she’ll walk Josephine around on one. My daughter loves that.”
Carlos emphasizes family values, both in his work life and his home life, Liza and Jack said. “Carlos is a great father and a family man,” Liza said. “I appreciate that with my daughters because I feel like he watches out for my girls, Elle and Adeline, like they are his own.”
Murray echoed a similar sentiment. “Last fall, I got into a car wreck driving to the Aiken Horse Park for a horse show, and after that happened, Carlos always checks in with me,” Murray said. “He always wants to make sure I’ve arrived at my next destination safely.”
“Carlos is one-of-a-kind, and he’s so intuitive with the horses,” Tolar said. “A horse could go perfectly one day, and then the next day, he wants to know how to do it better. He gets a lot of enjoyment out of seeing the horses be successful. He’s irreplaceable.”