As Kyle Carter prepared to compete in the advanced level at the Rocking Horse Winter II Horse Trials (Fla.) with Madison Park, he had a feeling it might be the last go with his partner of 12 years. With his wife Jennifer Carter dropping off their daughters Trista and Riley at school, Kyle walked up to the videographer to make sure “Parker’s” dressage test was captured.
“That day, I’m like, ‘I don’t know when I’m going to ride him again, and it would be great if I could get this on video because Jen’s going to miss it—and he’s taken us everywhere,’ ” said Kyle, of Ocala, Fla.
“You always hear about people retiring the horses when they’ve started stopping,” he continued. “Everybody always says, ‘Oh, you know, he’ll let you know.’ The problem is, a horse like him, he would never let you know because he doesn’t know how to quit.”
So instead of one last hurrah at a major three-day, Kyle plans to quietly step the 19-year-old Thoroughbred down so he can continue competing at the lower levels.
“He’s still full of himself and everything, and I’d like to keep it that way. It would be a tragedy to take such a pure heart and break it,” he said. “One last event means a whole lot less to me at this point than being able to keep him out there doing the lower-level stuff with hopefully my wife, and then I’ll jump on him occasionally and run around an intermediate or something.”
In their 11 years competing together, Parker and Kyle represented Canada in the 2007 Pan American Games (Brazil), where the team earned silver, the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Ky., where Canada took home the silver medal, and in the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong.
The gelding sustained what could have been a career-ending injury at the 2011 Blenheim CCI*** (England), slipping the tendon off his hock and tearing a ligament. But the Carters carefully rehabbed him, and he came back to finish eighth in the 2013 Volvo Bromont CCI***. At 18, Parker was the oldest horse to complete the Rolex Kentucky CCI**** last year.
“In all those events, all around the world that he’s gone, all the things he’s done, the thing I remember that really stands out is the fact that he’s very, very kind as well,” said Kyle. “His ability to morph—he’s like a light switch—he’s all on or all off, and he’s able to pull himself together and be that sensible.”
And while everything in Kyle’s barn is usually for sale, Parker is the exception.
“He’s actually the first horse I’ve kept past 10 years old,” he said.
So look for Parker having fun in the lower levels with Jennifer or Kyle—and maybe, if the stars align and Parker behaves, with Riley and Trista too.
“It’s going to have to feel absolutely right to me to do that,” said Kyle. “If they can pop around on him a little bit—the smiles I’ll get out of that are going to be bigger than anything I’ve had in his career.”