The Rein­ing Queen

Carol Met­calf has earned her rep­u­ta­tion as a top per­for­mance horse trainer with tal­ent, de­ter­mi­na­tion, and hard work.

Horse & Rider - - Con­tents - BY ABI­GAIL BOATWRIGHT

Carol Met­calf made her name with tal­ent, de­ter­mi­na­tion, and lots of hard work.

Carol Met­calf is a com­peti­tor to be reck­oned with. In the male-dom­i­nated rein­ing horse in­dus­try, she’s in­spired a gen­er­a­tion of fe­male com­peti­tors. Her knack for de­sign has in­flu­enced many a West­ern wardrobe. But what drives this horse­woman to achieve her goals? Grit, tal­ent, and a pos­i­tive at­ti­tude, to start. More than any­thing, her pas­sion for horses makes even the long hours in the sad­dle worth it.

Be­com­ing a Queen

Carol grew up in a res­i­den­tial area of Santa Maria, Cal­i­for­nia, the daugh­ter of ar­chi­tect Nick Carter and his wife, Na­dine. When Carol was 4, her neigh­bors started tak­ing rid­ing lessons. Carol wanted to take lessons too—an in­ter­est that just never stopped.

Carol ac­quired her first horse—a lit­tle bay pony with a roached mane named Tinker Toy—at age 7. She showed the geld­ing in trail, plea­sure, eq­ui­tation, and other all-around events. Carol trained with horse­woman Vi­vian Carter—no re­la­tion—for nearly two decades, and counts her as one of her great­est in­flu­ences.

A black mare named Jo­hanna Bar was Carol’s in­tro­duc­tion to stock horse classes—the pre­cur­sor to rein­ing—and on whom

FROM young re­la­tion­ship LEFT: horse and Carol train­ers mar­riage and in hus­band Cal­i­for­nia, in Wash­ing­ton, Steve be­gan met their and as now call Pi­lot Point, Texas, home with their son, Carter. Buck­les, tro­phies, and tack dec­o­rate their home and cel­e­brate their West­ern horse life, which be­gan when Carol was drawn to horses at an early age. That long ten­ure in the sad­dle, paired with hard work and de­ter­mi­na­tion, has al­lowed her to make her mark in the show pen. she com­peted dur­ing a golden era for West Coast horse­men.

“We would go to shows, and I’d get help from dif­fer­ent peo­ple with my black mare,” Carol says. “I spent a lot of time watch­ing, be­cause this was the Bob Knud­son, Les Vogt era. Wher­ever we went, they were there, show­ing in work­ing cow horse. It was a great in­flu­ence on me.”

Among Carol’s crown­ing achieve­ments dur­ing those years was be­ing named the 1977 Sali­nas (Cal­i­for­nia) Rodeo Queen. She counts the ac­com­plish­ment as one of her proud­est mo­ments, and she dis­plays the buckle in a shadow box in her kitchen.

“It was a great ex­pe­ri­ence,” Carol re­flects. “I think the most fun part was that whole next year, go­ing ev­ery­where for pa­rades and events. I got to ride in the [queen] car and wave, make ap­pear­ances. It was big time.”

The Power Cou­ple

At age 20, Carol went to work for renowned horse trainer Tim Whit­ney in Santa Bar­bara, Cal­i­for­nia.

Trainer Steve Met­calf worked with some of Whit­ney’s horses over the years. He and Carol met on one of his trips down from Sno­homish, Wash­ing­ton, to Whit­ney’s fa­cil­ity.

At the end of her year­long con­tract with Whit­ney, Carol ap­plied for a job work­ing for Steve.

Jan Hay, an AQHA judge and trainer—who lives in Pin­na­cle, North Carolina, with hus­band Mike Hay, a fel­low trainer—met Carol in Cal­i­for­nia when she was work­ing for Steve.

“She was like a real-life Bar­bie doll, but she had that very nat­u­ral abil­ity on a horse, even back then,” Hay says of her first im­pres­sion of Carol. “Her per­son­al­ity has al­ways been the same. She’s vi­va­cious and she fills the room with her per­son­al­ity.”

It was five years be­fore Steve and Carol’s work­ing re­la­tion­ship added a ro­man­tic layer, and sev­eral more be­fore the two got mar­ried.

“At that time, I was a worka­holic, and she was the only one who could keep up,” Steve re­calls. “The work­ing re­la­tion­ship was very good, the per­sonal part of it was very good, and that was just kind of the way it ended up. We were a good work­ing team, and we had a lot of fun to­gether. Af­ter nine years, we just de­cided it was time to get mar­ried.”

Steve and Carol trained horses in ev­ery­thing from hal­ter to cow horse, in­clud­ing trail, hunt seat, West­ern plea­sure, West­ern rid­ing, and rein­ing. A look around their Texas home re­veals a plethora of tro­phies from both train­ers’ wins. Some of Carol’s in­clude five West­ern rid­ing AQHA world cham­pi­onship tro­phies and two re­serves. She was also re­serve world cham­pion in se­nior rein­ing one year, and a fi­nal­ist the pre­vi­ous year.

Build­ing a Fam­ily

In 1990, Carter Met­calf was born, chang­ing Steve and Carol’s lives com­pletely. When Carter was lit­tle, Carol ad­mits it was chal­leng­ing to ad­just to be­ing a mom and a pro­fes­sional trainer. But the tyke was an in­te­gral part of their fam­ily rou­tine—even at horse shows.

“We both agreed early on that we weren’t go­ing to just leave Carter at home with a sit­ter ev­ery sin­gle

week­end. If you ask him, we prob­a­bly left him too much,” Carol says with a laugh, “but we did the best we could. I al­ways made sure I had some­body who could come along to the shows and take care of him [while we were rid­ing], like one of his aunts.”

Steve says de­spite Carol’s tal­ent in the sad­dle, he’s most im­pressed with Carol’s devo­tion to her fam­ily. And ex­pand­ing their fam­ily meant changes to the dy­namic.

“Carol is ab­so­lutely ded­i­cated to our son, and she al­ways has been,” Steve says. “We re­al­ized work­ing till 11 o’clock at night with a child was tough. And we felt it was pretty silly to have chil­dren and not en­joy them—watch them grow and ma­ture.”

Texas-Bound

When Carter was grow­ing up, the Met­calfs spent a lot of time trav­el­ing to Texas and Ok­la­homa for ma­jor com­pe­ti­tions. With shows back-toback, the cou­ple of­ten spent more than a month away from home, sev­eral times a year. While Carter did travel with Carol and Steve some of the time, the Met­calfs de­cided to move to North Texas in 1996, when Carter was about to start first grade. Set­ting up shop in Pi­lot Point was a big change for the West Coast cou­ple, but one that reaped im­me­di­ate ben­e­fits.

“Our busi­ness ac­cel­er­ated,” Carol says. “We brought 26 horses with us, and within three or four months, Steve had ba­si­cally sold out his en­tire show string. We couldn’t even keep any in­ven­tory. Not just our own horses, but client horses, too. It’s been good— there’s so much [horse-re­lated] traf­fic here. It’s a great deal.”

Steve says the move cut down on time away from home, and made it eas­ier to bring Carter along to the horse shows with­out dis­rupt­ing school and home life. Their ex­tended horse fam­ily fol­lowed them to Texas, in­clud­ing Hay, who worked for the Met­calfs at their Texas ranch for six years.

“I feel like now, we’re fam­ily,” Hay says. “Work­ing along­side Carol ev­ery day, we be­came a lot closer as friends, but we also had a very good work­ing re­la­tion­ship as pro­fes­sion­als. To this day, I can hon­estly say she’s my best friend.

“Carol is the kind of per­son that when you first meet her, you feel like you’ve al­ways known her,” Hay con­tin­ues. “She just opens her heart up to you. She’s very friendly and has a pos­i­tive out­look that car­ries through in her horse train­ing.”

Clothes Horse

In the late 1990s, Carol branched out in the horse in­dus­try, col­lab­o­rat­ing with the iconic Sargeant’s West­ern Wear. Al­ways a fash­ion­ista, Carol learned at her mother’s knee how to sew her own show clothes and chaps. So her work with Ch­eryl Sargeant to cre­ate a cloth­ing line, sad­dle pads, and sad­dles that ap­pealed to West­ern show com­peti­tors came nat­u­rally. And Carol of­ten starred in the com­pany’s fa­mous cat­a­logs.

“We’ve al­ways teased Carol that when she re­tires from train­ing horses, which she never will, she’ll be a pil­lowand chap-maker,” Steve jokes.

Over the years, clients, friends, and ac­quain­tances have come to Carol for her ad­vice on cloth­ing and tack choices. And Steve says Carol had a knack for tai­lor­ing sim­ple off-the-rack pieces with her own flair to make them show-ring stylish.

“All of a sud­den, there would be a line of clothes out there in stores just like [her al­tered pieces], and a bunch of peo­ple show­ing would be wear­ing them,” Steve says. “I al­ways told her that she could make more money start­ing a cloth­ing line than what we’re do­ing now train­ing horses. But she fo­cuses so much on the rid­ing, that she never re­ally had an in­ter­est in slow­ing that down.” →

FROM child—helped ways on LEFT: the cut­ting Carol’s her climb in­tent edge the of fo­cus—even rid­ing West­ern ranks. fash­ion, as Al- a Carol worked with Sargeant’s West­ern Wear to de­sign clothes and mod­eled in their fa­mous cat­a­logs. Her friends and fam­ily say her pos­i­tive per­son­al­ity per­me­ates her in­ter­ac­tions, mak­ing the at­mos­phere at the barn and at shows a lit­tle more fun. Who’d have known when she first rode pony Tinker Toy (sec­ond from right) it’d lead to her no­table suc­cess.

Chang­ing Leads

As West­ern plea­sure and all-around events evolved in the early 2000s, Carol was in­creas­ingly drawn to per­for­mance events, such as rein­ing and cow horse.

“One of the big­gest turn­ing points in my ca­reer was when I de­cided to give up the all-around,” Carol shares. “I kind of do miss the West­ern rid­ing. I was very suc­cess­ful in it. I knew go­ing into the rein­ing and cow horse that it would be harder for me to com­pete. But I’ve never re­gret­ted one day of it. It’s been great.”

Carter loved sports grow­ing up, but he de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in horses around age 11, and be­gan show­ing at a higher level the next year. In 2004, Carol and 14-year-old Carter both showed a buck­skin Quar­ter Horse geld­ing named Mr Mini Ma­cho in cow horse events, lead­ing them both to their first big wins in per­for­mance events. That year, Carol earned the re­serve lim­ited open bri­dle ti­tle, and Carter won the youth bri­dle event at the NR­CHA World Show. For many years, the fam­ily of three rode, showed, and trained to­gether. Now 27, Carter re­cently be­gan work­ing for per­for­mance horse trainer Chris Daw­son.

“Carol is Carter’s No. 1 cheer­leader, and they’re very tight,” Steve says. “The pub­lic sees her as a great show­man and a great horse­woman, but in pri­vate, she is a great mother and wife.”

No Quit

Rein­ing and cow horse are still dom­i­nated by male train­ers. But Carol has risen to the top and con­tin­ued to suc­ceed in th­ese events. She says de­spite be­ing one of the few women in the field, she doesn’t feel in­fe­rior.

“There’s good train­ers and not-so­good train­ers, and it doesn’t mat­ter if you’re a man or a woman,” Carol elab­o­rates. “We all have to get good horses, and in the cow horse, good live­stock.”

Hay re­calls the 2004 NRHA Fu­tu­rity, when Carol rode a mare named What ta royal princess. The pair won the lim­ited open fi­nals, earned the re­serve ti­tle in in­ter­me­di­ate, and tied for sixth in the open fi­nals, due to, iron­i­cally, a lead­change bob­ble. Of the top 50 open com­peti­tors in her di­vi­sion, Carol was one of only two women to even com­pete.

“At that time, for a woman to place at that level, it was re­ally unique,” Hay re­calls. “What I felt sit­ting there in the stands was the com­mon­al­ity of ev­ery­body in the in­dus­try sup­port­ing her. Even the men who’d been com­pet­ing at the top for­ever were cheer­ing for her. It was a re­ally cool ex­pe­ri­ence. She has full re­spect of the guys, not only as a horse trainer, but as a per­son, and that helps her stand on a dif­fer­ent plat­form. But she’s also just a re­ally nice per­son. It’s very hard in this in­dus­try for a woman to get to the top, but if you were to ask any one of th­ese guys, they would 110-per­cent be on her side to sup­port her.”

Part of what makes Carol such a strong trainer is her ap­ti­tude for mul­ti­ple events, par­tic­u­larly West­ern rid­ing, but Hay says her suc­cess is also due to her pos­i­tive per­son­al­ity.

“She never gives up; never quits,” Hay gushes. “She’s the most durable per­son I know. I think she’d be a great can­di­date for a sur­vival re­al­ity show. She’d make the best of any sit­u­a­tion.”

Hay says at horse shows, Carol is

com­pet­i­tive, but not blind to oth­ers or win-at-all-costs.

“She’s in­tense, but she’s al­ways con­sid­er­ate,” Hay says. “She’s ded­i­cated and fo­cused. She’ll pre­pare the horse to the best of its abil­ity, but then she’ll go and show what she has—she doesn’t show dif­fer­ently than she prac­tices.”

Carol and Steve work side-by-side in their busi­ness, each of­fer­ing their own strengths. The cou­ple shares the same train­ing phi­los­o­phy: You have to start with the mind, and train from the in­side out. When asked about their dif­fer­ent skill sets, Carol laughs and says Steve was “bet­ter at all of it.” But then she shares her spe­cial tal­ent.

“Some­times, I’ll spend a lit­tle more time on a horse, and I’d have to say I’m pretty good at the lead change,” she of­fers.

Steve says work­ing to­gether as pro­fes­sion­als has been a huge as­set to their busi­ness.

“We have a com­mon re­spect for one an­other in our abil­i­ties, and we are each other’s eyes,” Steve says. “There’s a lot of strength in us be­ing a pair, but we have to be to­tally hon­est with one an­other, whether it hurts a lit­tle bit or not. When we’re at the barn, we’re pro­fes­sion­als.”

Carol has al­ways been com­pet­i­tive. Even at home, she and Steve en­gage in lit­tle games to make their work in­ter­est­ing. She’s al­ways look­ing to im­prove her per­for­mance.

“Some­times we’ll be fenc­ing rein­ing horses, and if we take off at the same time, then it’s a race,” Carol says with a chuckle. “It’s not even train­ing; just a race! I’ve al­ways en­joyed com­pet­ing. And I think that keeps me go­ing. I think they’ll have to drag me out of the arena.”

Steve says the key to Carol’s suc­cess lies in her grit­ti­ness, as well as her out­look on life.

“She’s ab­so­lutely de­ter­mined,” Steve says. “There is no quit in her. Re­gard­less of the qual­ity of the horse she’s on, she’s an ex­cep­tional horse­woman, and she loves to show. She’s full of en­ergy, she sees ev­ery­thing in a pos­i­tive light; she’s fo­cused and de­ter­mined.”

One con­stant in Carol’s horse life is her deep-seated af­fec­tion for horses. She says this is re­ally what keeps her go­ing all th­ese years.

“I’ve al­ways had such a pas­sion for horses; a pure love for them,” she af­firms.

Hay says Carol is an in­spi­ra­tion be­cause she’s chased her dreams, and found them.

“Carol is a per­son who set her sights as a child on be­ing a horse­woman, and she’s worked to­ward her pas­sion ever since,” Hay says. “How many peo­ple can say 50 years later, that they’re do­ing what they’ve al­ways wanted to do and they’re suc­cess­ful at it? It’ll be a long time be­fore she hangs up her hat—she’s go­ing to stick with it as long as she can.”

When asked what ad­vice she’d give rid­ers in­spired by her, Carol says suc­cess with horses comes down to be­ing will­ing to work hard, de­spite the cost.

“You have to have more than a good work ethic; you have to be ob­sessed with it,” Carol as­serts. “There just can’t be any doubts on where you’re go­ing, or what you want to achieve.”

But Carol stresses that she didn’t climb the ranks with­out help.

“Since I’ve got­ten se­ri­ous about the rein­ers, I could list 20 peo­ple who’ve helped me along the way,” Carol says. “You have to check your ego and ask for help.”

Steve says Carol’s level of in­flu­ence is due to her will­ing­ness to help oth­ers.

“She al­ways sees the pos­i­tive in peo­ple and sit­u­a­tions—in train­ing and in life,” Steve says. “Even though she strives for per­fec­tion, there’s very lit­tle neg­a­tiv­ity to Carol Met­calf, and that rubs off on peo­ple.” 

Video closes coach­ing the gap be­tween you and your cho­sen trainer. Here’s how to get the most out of the op­por­tu­nity.

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