SHERIDAN — There’s nothing quite like when a horse takes flight looking to clear a jump during competition. The rider has little control. The split second of airtime comes down to training and a horse’s willingness to reach deep into its athletic bounds and fly over a jump.
Charlie Carrel can’t get enough of that feeling. Carrel runs and operates Colts Unlimited in Sheridan with his wife, Hilary. The dream started long ago and has grown perhaps more quickly and successfully than the duo could have imagined.
“I think it’s from years and years and years of dedication and hard work to the sport until I finally had a client base that would support horses of the caliber that I have now,” Carrel said. “That all just came from keeping my nose to the grindstone, and the harder you work the luckier you get.”
Casanova provided recent proof of the tremendous strides Colts Unlimited has made, winning the 10K Welcome Stake and 25K Grand Prix in May. But the stallion imported from Holland provides just one example of the success and high aspirations of the couple’s locally-rooted company.
Colts Unlimited started in 1994. Carrel discovered a niche in the area and began showing horses in southern California to build up a good reputation and help grow a business in Sheridan. In 2000, Carrel met his wife and the two combined their knowledge in the show-jumping world.
Hilary Carrel brought a lifetime of experience on horseback along with expertise in buying and selling show horses. Helping the duo’s cause was the fact that no one in Wyoming had a foothold in the show-jumping business. This has spawned one question Hilary Carrel is somewhat tired of answering.
“People always ask, ‘Why do live in Wyoming?’” Carrel said. “It takes a day to get to the closest horse show — Denver, eight hours — with the truck and trailer. … But it’s the quality of life when we come home. Many people live where maybe they want or closer to their business, but it’s easier for them to do business? And I don’t know if their business is any better. … I get asked that all the time. ‘Wyoming?’ … It works good for us.”
Wyoming isn’t for the faint of heart. The frigid winters can stretch into May and the isolation isn’t for everyone. Charlie and Hilary Carrel have made it work, finding the advantages within show jumping that the Equality State provides.
The husband and wife combo, along with their team of three trainers, have the wide open landscape, which helps to break young horses. Typical western horses are bred to herd cattle and ridden for pleasure. Show jumpers have a little more wildness in their blood. They want to buck and jump, and taking them for rides out in the wilderness helps with that process.
“It’s good to get them out to get them to learn to look forward and get their balance on the ground and see things they’ve never seen,” Hilary Carrel said. “They’re animated horses in the first place, and the best ones are very aware of their surroundings. Point them at that fence, and they’ll say, ‘I’m jumping that fence,’ where a western horse will just stand over there and eat grass.”
For years, Charlie and Hilary Carrel used to break horses on their own, but as their company and reputation grew — and more and more clients craved their tutelage — the demand for some help presented itself.
Julia Bargmann, Phillip Flynn and Kristine Hardwick have all found their way to Sheridan, from far and wide, in the last couple of years to work as trainers. Bargmann came from New York, Flynn made his way from Fort Collins, Colorado, and Hardwick resides just down the road in Big Horn. All three help to break and train show jumpers while owning and selling horses of their own.
The Carrels’ client base also has a national scope; however, at the moment, the Carrels three most promising horses have local backing.
Bart Taylor, who lives just across from Colts Unlimited, owns the distinguished Casanova. Taylor got tied into show jumping due to proximity. Taylor’s daughter, Samantha, would observe the Carrels’ thriving business from her front yard just across the street and practice regimen and wanted a slice of it — she wanted airtime.
“I used to sit out in the yard and watch Charlie jump the big horses, and I told my mom and dad that I wanted to do that,” Samantha said.
Samantha steered away from barrels and ropes and gravitated toward jumping horses — much to the surprise of her father.
“I’ve been around ranch horses and that type my whole life, and I never pictured that I’d ride show jumpers. But you know as a dad you want to do something with my daughter,” Taylor said. “She wasn’t into race cars, and she didn’t want to do the barrel racing thing or any of the roping stuff, so I decided to do what she wanted to do, so I’ve kind of gotten into it.”
Fast forward a few years and the pony Taylor bought for his daughter has evolved into a barn comprised of eight horses, including Grand Prix contender Casanova along with a couple more promising stallions in the works.
Charlie Carrel currently trains and shows numerous horses with plenty of high-level potential. Utopik came to Colts Unlimited as a problem horse, very difficult to ride, and has Grand Prix capabilities while Fortado’s ceiling remains even higher. Fortado found his way to the Carrels on the same plane as Casanova, but perhaps with even more scope — the ability to jump a big jump.
Fortado is still a couple years away from competition, but if Carrel can mold the stallion the way he wants, the possibilities are higher than any show horse he’s ever ridden.
“I’m giving him another year or two to really hit his prime and I’m going to jump him in the million-dollar class in Palm Springs,” Carrel said.
Carrel has show jumped for 25 years and would like to continue for as long as he can at the level at which he currently jumps. Carrel, along with his show jumping resume, has won the American Quarter Horse Association World Show twice, and Hilary Carrel has three titles to her name.
The two have impressive marks and distinguished trophies in their equine career, and the dynamic duo remains hungry for more.