It was always the goal for Madison Park to retire sound and healthy from top level competition. With an Advanced and 5* career that lasted well into the Thoroughbred gelding’s teens, it became a simple decision to retire “Parker” officially in 2017. Partnered with Kyle Carter, Madison Park represented Canada at the 2007 Pan American Games and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing en route to a 12-year international eventing career. As recently as the spring of his retirement at age 19, Madison Park was happily competing at the Advanced level with Kyle.
Prior to his eventing career, Parker was a racehorse. “He’s just that tough Thoroughbred that doesn’t know when to quit,” laughs Jennifer Carter, who’s become the gelding’s partner in crime during his “active retirement”.
These days, she and Parker will tack up for a spin once or twice a year, typically opting for a skip around Training level, something Jennifer says is fun but still gives them a bit of a challenge to take seriously. A former 5* rider herself, Jennifer’s no stranger to the adrenaline rush that comes with a beefy cross country — but these days, she says, she finds the most enjoyment in the focus on the horses at home, in supporting Kyle with a string of competitive young horses as well as their two daughters, Trista and Riley, with their respective endeavors — and having a bit of fun with an old friend.
“We both wanted him to retire from the top level not having an injury and feeling good,” Jennifer explains. “He means too much to our family. He easily probably could have continued on at Advanced but we just felt for him — we didn’t want him to run Advanced until he had to be out in the field because he did so much. And it paid off; he’s in such excellent health now, people that don’t know him can’t believe he’s 25 now.”
Parker has maintained a fairly active schedule even in his retirement, as the Carters believe that activity is the best way to stave off the effects of an aging body (they would know, I suppose: the whole family can generally be found running marathons, so I’m not sure what’s in the water down in Citra!). While Parker isn’t in “training”, Jennifer typically rides him daily just to get him working loosely through his body.
“He still does something every day,” Jennifer says. “And he just has a great work ethic. He hacks or walks every day before I ride him and we just keep him limber. It keeps him from getting stiff, and honestly I think that’s been the key to his longevity. We do use a BEMER blanket on him each day, and he gets regular massages, but aside from that we don’t inject him or use anything else. And he’s just been in great condition.”
Those who followed his heyday eventing days will remember a fractious, high energy horse that often had antics to display on a bright day. While age may have mellowed Parker in some ways, Jennifer says, she still has to laugh when she sees him pull an old stunt now and then — typically on an unsuspecting working student. “Every now and then, he’ll pull those out,” she says. “All we can do is laugh now!”
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And for Jennifer, having the chance to enjoy the sport again with Parker is something she doesn’t take for granted. “I did definitely step back a few years ago. I think after Kyle lost his horse at Red Hills [in 2015], it made me question my place in the sport and how I felt about it,” she says. “So I didn’t really want to do anything at the top level after that. Parker makes it fun. There’s not much stress to it.”
“I don’t really have a desire to do this at any other level,” Jennifer continues. “For a while, we were so busy at the shows with students and clients and Kyle’s horses, and my children were young, and I felt like I was being pulled in fifty directions at once. For me, the thing that made sense was to not compete so I could focus. It also took some stress off Kyle because he could focus on his riding. It transitioned well; I do enjoy the shows and teaching. I haven’t really missed [competing]. It’s fun to get on Parker, but it’s not like, ‘Oh my God, I miss this’. I just love riding and I ride every single day. I really enjoy that part.”
For both the Carters, life has shifted its focus as they’ve decided to focus their energies more on the important things. Their program is smaller than it was before, and they’ve gotten involved with the growing online education app, Ride iQ, as a way to sustain their careers outside of riding and training.
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This shift allows them to enjoy things more (at least, more days than not). This year, Parker will come back out to do an event or two. Jennifer likes to pick new or fun venues to go and experience, so the pair competed at TerraNova last year, and she always lets Parker tell her how much he wants to do.
“He’s an exception,” Jennifer says, sharing a memory that highlights Parker’s embracing of his role as family guy. “It’s been really fun that he’s been such a family horse. He’s more than a horse — he’s a family member. He’s so kind. I remember when Riley was a baby, she went and sat in his stall — and we freaked out! But he just put his head down and was so kind. He’s always been that to us, and so the least we can do for him is to make him as happy as we can. And I think we’ve accomplished that.”