Absorbine® is the proud fly spray sponsor of the Kentucky Horse Park. In this Absorbine® Spotlight, we meet 92-year-young Kentucky Horse Park (KHP) employee Gene Carter and learn about his past as a Thoroughbred exercise rider and his present work as a groom in the KPH Hall of Champions.
In our last Kentucky Horse Park Spotlight, we met retired Derby winner Funny Cide and learned about his retirement. Now, it is time to turn our attention to one of the two-legged members of the KHP family. One of the dedicated staff members who cares for Funny Cide every day is Gene Carter, who is 92-years-young and still works full time every summer in the Hall of Champions. Gene got his start in the industry when he was 15-years-old as an exercise rider for Thoroughbred yearlings. His calm demeanor made him the go-to rider for the most fiery and difficult of horses, such as 1973 Travers Stakes winner Annihilate ‘em. In fact, he once sat on Man o’ War at the invitation of the famous racer’s groom Will Harbut, who also happened to be Gene’s father-in-law. Gene even tried his hand at being a jockey aboard Royal Mattar in the 1967 “High Hope Steeplechase”, winning the race and making history as the first African American rider to compete in the event. After a full life spent training yearlings and preparing them for sale, Gene found his next career at the Kentucky Horse Park, where he has been for 12 years. The horses of the Kentucky Horse Park’s Hall of Champions are lucky to have a true Thoroughbred racing treasure in their midst.
What stood out the most to you about Man o’ War?
I didn’t even really know who Man o’ War was until I saw him at stud. He was a chestnut, but he was more like a bronze color. The sun bounced off his coat. You couldn’t look at Man o’ War and walk away. You would turn around and look at him again. He just glowed. One thing that really stood out to me—and I’ve been around horses my whole life—was how big his nostrils were. He had great, big nostrils. He had so much air going in there, down to his lungs and heart, that’s what I think made him run so easily and never get tired.
What type of personality did Man o’ War have?
He was normally known as being high strung, but when (his groom) Will Harbut took him over; he had worked with plow horses, so he knew how to get a horse under control. He worked with Man o’ War like he had worked with the plow horses, and after a while he got him to settle down. Man o’ War eventually got to trust him. I would stand there and watch (Will Harbut) take care of Man o’ War, and he’d be talking to him all the time. He would say things like, ‘Step over, Red, I’ve got to get this stuff up,’ and that horse would take about three steps. I thought, ‘That horse understood what he was talking about!’ My job at Keeneland was to get on all the horses people didn’t want to get on. I was a test pilot…and I started talking to horses like Will Harbut did. I made up my own language for them. That’s how I got along with a lot of crazy horses; I was always talking to them. I learned that from Will Harbut. Man o’ War was breeding mares at the time, and Will Harbut would talk to him all day. That horse would understand and listen to him. He never had a shank on his nose… that horse would just stand there, even though he was a stud! They were made for each other. The horse trusted him, and he trusted the horse.
What’s your secret to longevity?
I’ve come up with the saying, ‘I’m staying above ground.’ When you’re dead, they forget about you…. so I say, ‘You need to stay above ground and get out of bed every day, and get out of the house, and find something to do that you like.’ I always wanted to ride a horse. It’s no problem for me to get on one; I want to do it. I don’t need an alarm clock to wake me up… at the racetrack, you’re getting on someone’s horse at 6 or 6:30 a.m. After my wife died of breast cancer, I’d look at the pictures on the wall and my eyes would fill with tears. I thought, ‘I’ve got to get out of this house.’ So I came out (to the Kentucky Horse Park) and put in an application to work in 2005.
What do you love about working at the Kentucky Horse Park?
I just like being around horses, period. There’s nothing particular I like, just being around them. Not necessarily to pet them, but I like the way they act, the way they walk. I do a lot of talking to horses; I’m always talking to them. It’s probably a crazy thing for other people to hear, but I also like that. If you have peppermints and carrots, you’re their friends. I know that’s what they like.
Gene, as well as the rest of the staff at the Hall of Champions, is happy to have Absorbine® products available to use on his treasured champions.