BY VYLA CARTER
Charlie Carrel is used to being sent young and troubled horses to train. He and his wife, Hilary, run a program called Colts Unlimited out of Sheridan, Wyoming. They specialize in bringing along young horses, training amateur clients, and competing in Grand Prixs and are known for their ability to turn troubled horses around. “I’m a place that people send horses when they are having trouble with them, and I’ve turned a lot of the around,” Charlie said. But out of all the horses he has worked with, one stands out to him from the rest- Utopik.
Nearly six years ago, Utopik came to Charlie after his owner decided she could no longer handle this difficult horse. His owner bought “Pik” in hopes for him to become her young rider jumper. He showed scope so they bought him as a green jumper, but soon things went wrong. He began to show very nervous tendencies in the ring, and was super quirky and difficult, making it hard for his owner to ride him. The final straw was when he became so anxious during a show that he stopped breathing and collapsed in the show ring.
After multiple sessions of testing at Colorado State University, the vets could find no explanation for the episode. They found absolutely nothing wrong with him even after extensive tests. After that, the owners decided to send him to Carrel.
Carrel ordered that Utopik spend several months out in the field, with no one bothering him so he could decompress. Then, Carrel went to work with him in a non traditional manner. He worked Utopik out of the ring for 6 months, never showing him a jump. “I rode him out in the hills and countryside, moving cattle and crossing rivers and just developed a major relationship with him,” Carrel explained. “I never showed him a jump.” Carrel made sure he never pressured Utopik with stuff that was already bothering him, and together they built up confidence. “By changing his program, he has become one of the most confident, reliable Grand Prix horses I have ever been around,” Carrel said.
Not only did Carrel work on building up Utopik’s confidence, he also built a special bond with him. “He’s become like a real true friend to me,” Carrel said, “He definitely looks to me for a lot of security and advice, trusts me and in the ring I trust him.”
Carrel hopes his method of building trust with the horse first can change the way trainers approach handling troubled horses. He describes some of his training methods in his book for others to use. Carrel’s book, Starting the Young Jumper, outlines his program and gives a step to step guide on how to give a good start to young horses in any discipline.
Over the past years Utopik has come to be a very reliable Grand Prix horse, and together him and Carrel have competed successfully together in Grand Prixs, one of the most recent accomplishments being a 4th place finish in a Grand Prix at Hipico Santa Fe. “He had a great class there,” Carrel said, “It’s a good venue for him because its out on the grass. I do think he enjoys getting out on the grass like that because I’ve done so much work with him out in the hay meadows and out in the hills. I think it’s one of his favorites.”
Although Utopik is close to the end of his Grand Prix career, Carrel hopes to finish it with a bang knowing this horse will always hold a special place in his heart. “I’ve trained horses my entire life and his success is one of the most rewarding things to me that I’ve ever done in the horse industry,” Charlie explained, “He was kind of at the end of his rope and was about to be given up on and now he is a seasoned veteran and loves his job.”
To learn more about Charlie Carrel and expand on this incredible story, please enjoy this short documentary by Georgia Griffis which is a source for the above article.