In every industry there are the titans, the people whose sheer determination make way for advancement, discovery and a new level of expectation. They trudge forward through obstacles, challenge adversity and clear a path to excellence. Simply put, they shine.
Carol Rose walks amongst these almighty figures as a formidable force within the western performance horse world. She has changed how things are done, bettered the Quarter Horse breed and amassed a legacy that will live on through both countless accolades and the bloodlines she orchestrated as a strategic maestro in the breeding barn.
Born Carol Ramsay in the, then small, town of Palo Alto, California, Carol grew up on horseback. The second daughter of much-beloved horsewoman Elizabeth Ramsay, Carol joined her three sisters in the show pen at just eight years old. Without a horse trailer for several years, Carol and her sisters rode up to 15 miles to and from local shows with their mother trailing in the car. “That’s all I’ve ever known,” says Carol of her early days atop a horse and their prophetic impact on her future. It was there in the saddle that Carol bloomed, per se, enlivened by the show pen and the people she found there. This was where she belonged. “I’d go around the arena, waving to all my friends and calling out their names while I was showing,” remembers Carol with a fond laugh. “My mother told me that if I didn’t concentrate on showing, then I couldn’t go anymore.” Concentrate, she did. Her first trophy was won the following week and the rest, as they say, is history. Carol’s mother was more than a well-versed horsewoman in her own right — she was fiercely dedicated to her daughters, ensuring that they had the opportunity to meet influencers throughout the horse world, watch them and learn. To this day, Carol credits the kindness and attention afforded to her by those great riders with fostering her deep knowledge and love of the game. “Words can’t properly explain how blessed I feel by the opportunities I had as a young girl,” she says with audible gratitude.
That’s the thing about Carol. She’s a legend, and just like any legend, her reputation precedes her. She has cemented her place in Quarter Horse history with unapologetic confidence and earned respect. Carol is tough, but then again, she’s had to be. She reached otherworldly success as a woman in a very male-dominated world. However, Carol doesn’t fixate on the female aspect of her long list of accomplishments. She knew horses, she could ride with the best of them and she proved her worth in the show pen. What you don’t see with a surface view of Carol, however, is her quiet and contemplative nature when it comes to her life’s work. Quick to give credit to her loyal team and stable of mentors that includes a statesmen-like roster of the horse world’s elite talent, Carol is astoundingly introspective and grateful to her core. She is a woman who has lived her dream, made a lasting mark and done so with purpose and gumption.
With her love of horses and passion for the show pen solidified at an early age, Carol made her way to California’s Cal Poly University, known for its agricultural focus and with a strong equine program. Elizabeth Ramsay, recognizing something special in her daughter, promised Carol a cutting horse of her own upon graduation. During her time at Cal Poly, her infatuation with the horse business pressed on. “My roommate had the Quarter Horse Journal, and I started looking at it,” remembers Carol. “I’d look at the whole thing, all the while thinking, ‘I wonder what it would be like to have a ranch and raise horses.’ ”
While riding under the tutelage of famed cutting horse trainer, Don Dodge, Carol took a trip to accompany some school friends to Texas during spring break in 1963. “Don told me, ‘You can’t go down there without meeting my friend Matlock Rose,’ ” and just like that, another chapter of her story began to write itself. Carol graduated from Cal Poly in 1965 and, true to her word, Elizabeth bought her daughter that cutting horse, and she was immediately bound for Texas. It was there that her stars awaited her in the show pen, the breeding barn and standing beside Matlock Rose, who would become Carol’s eventual husband, mentor and business partner. “Matlock taught me everything I know,” Carol says in earnest. “He was one of so many in my life who took me under their wing. I was so blessed.”
The early 1970s saw Matlock and Carol pointed north to Calgary for a cutting show. Before their truck and trailer had even cleared their driveway, Carol presented him with an idea that would change the course of their future. “I turned to Matlock and I said, ‘You know, I think we should start a breeding farm.’ ” Matlock, as it turned out, wasn’t an immediate taker. “He said, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I want to do that.’ ” Having worked for a number of large breeding farms, he wasn’t keenly interested in Carol’s proposed business plan. True to Carol’s nature, his lack of initial optimism didn’t take the shine off of her enthusiasm for the idea. “When we got to Calgary, I saw Mr. Chunky Woodward, who owned Peppy San. I told him that we’d like to start a breeding farm and asked if he would be interested in sending Peppy San down to stand with us.” Only Carol could walk straight up to Chunky Woodward, ask him to send his World Champion cutting horse to her yet-founded breeding farm to stand at stud and succeed in her request. Succeed she did, with Peppy San, the then two-year-old Genuine Doc and a handful of other studs that she and Matlock purchased as a foundation to their program. “Off we went,” says Carol, indicating the start of perhaps one of the most fabled Quarter Horse breeding programs of all time.
Carol has built her career and generations of outstanding horses on confidence in her program. She knew what she wanted, and she stuck to her guns without fail. It was a combination of innate talent and learned skill that came together to serve Carol exceedingly well throughout the years as she built Carol Rose Quarter Horses, then took it to legendary status. She constructed a team around her that included trainer Bobby Lewis and numerous young trainers who got their start with her program over the years. This team was a trusted inner circle whose devotion and attention to detail produced winners. Carol was out front, with a keen eye and steadfast idea of what she wanted. “I started looking really hard at our babies, then our yearlings,” she explains of her approach. “We put them all together, and I’d go out there every week or two with a short buggy whip with a grocery bag on the end of it. That was my flag. I’d drive out there and sit around those colts and fillies.” She’d move her flag, observing how the young horses would move in response, sometimes walking right up to one and waving her flag, just to see the reaction. “I watched to see if they’d look at me, look at the flag, if they could roll back, if they switched their tail, loped around on the correct lead or if it was easy for them to counter canter.” She knew what she wanted to see and was a keen observer to ensure that she chose the right horses to become her focus and eventual stars. “I hate to say this, but I wasn’t wrong very often,” she says in earnest.
PHOTO BY CAM ESSICK
Carol Rose has bred, raised, trained and shown some of the greatest Quarter Horses of our time. They were monumental stars in their own right who then went on to produce their own lineage of remarkable champions, setting records across the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA), National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA), National Reined Cow Horse Association (NRCHA) and American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA). These horses changed the shape of the industry and carried their pilots to astounding victories, from the reining pattern to the roping arena and well beyond.
To read the roster of Carol’s notable champions is to read a “who’s who” of American Quarter Horses that helped define a generation and continues to do so. Her famous mare, Gay Bar’s Gen, began it all, being bred to pillar of the Quarter Horse world, Doc Bar, to produce Genuine Doc, who would then go on to reach epic status as a performance horse and sire across the NRHA, NCHA and AQHA. His foals, in turn, catapulted to the top of multiple disciplines, with his daughters producing their own crops of wildly-talented champions. Perhaps the stallion who truly changed Carol’s stars above all others was the ultra-famous and diversely-talented Zan Parr Bar. Aside from his immense talent in the show pen, it was his pairing with mare of champions, Diamonds Sparkle, that would cement Carol’s position as a breeder at the pinnacle of the industry. The mare was the All-Time Leading Producer of AQHA World Champions and a member of the NRHA Hall of Fame. That match produced Zans Diamond Sun, who arrived into Carol’s life and heart just in time. Zan Parr Bar tragically died of colitis in his prime, leaving Carol heartbroken and questioning what to do next. She focused her sights on Zans Diamond Sun, and took “Sunny,” as she called him, to next-level success. He became the High Point All-Around Champion of the Nation, High Point Champion in the Calf Roping, Heading and Heeling, and a World Champion Reining Horse. “He was his father’s son,” says Carol adoringly of the ultra- athletic Sunny, who she had chosen to be her next superstar stallion.
As fate would have it, Sunny was his father’s son in both triumph and tragedy, dying young with just one crop of foals on the ground. Carol was left utterly gutted, wondering how she could continue with the loss of her two great stallions. While Carol mourned, she did what she does best, she persevered. Tough to her core, Carol was admittedly adrift. It was then that she did what some girls, even grown women often do. They call home to their mama. Elizabeth Ramsey gave Carol the greatest gift of all that day upon hearing the news of Sunny’s passing. “I had just lost the smartest horse I had ever raised,” remembers Carol with clear emotion in her tone. “I’m hysterical to Mother on the phone and she says, ‘Oh, so what, just raise another one.’ ” There you have it. Just raise another one.
“(Shining Spark) checks all four of my boxes. The first thing for me is the conformation, and Shining Spark has the very best for a performance horse. He’s made right. He’s made to stay sound. The way his legs are set under him, he just couldn’t be made any more perfectly for me. Third is a horse’s athletic ability. Fourth is their pedigree because if you don’t have the other three things, it doesn’t matter how they’re bred.”
— Carol Rose, Carol Rose Quarter Horses
PHOTO BY CAM ESSICK
PHOTO BY CAM ESSICK
“I said, ‘Mother, you don’t understand, you don’t just raise another one,’ ” recalls Carol of their conversation. “While I was talking to her, I was in the barn, looking over the stall at Diamonds Sparkle with Shining Spark by her side as a foal. They were standing there in the pen. He was getting ready to be weaned and fresh from the pasture. I don’t know whether it was an omen or what, but when she said, ‘So what, just raise another one,’ I was looking right at Shining Spark.” Wouldn’t you know it, but Carol Rose was about to defy all odds yet again with the unassuming yet “gorgeous” foal before her, as she describes him. “He has a wonderful mind and has from the beginning,” says Carol of the now 32-year-old Shining Spark. “He checks all four of my boxes,” she says of her requirements for choosing a champion. “The first thing for me is the conformation, and Shining Spark has the very best for a performance horse. He’s made right. He’s made to stay sound,” she explains of the stud, who is strong over his loin with a long hip and big stop. “The way his legs are set under him, he just couldn’t be made any more perfectly for me.” After conformation, Carol turns to the mind. “Shiner,” as she calls him, has enviable smarts and a level head. He’s known for being agreeable, trainable and pleasing, all rare qualities in a stud of his caliber. “Third is a horse’s athletic ability,” continues Carol. “Fourth is their pedigree because if you don’t have the other three things, it doesn’t matter how they’re bred.”
She credits Dr. Joe Carter of Oklahoma Equine with a vital part of her success, seen in her time-tested wellness program. This commitment has kept Shiner thriving and actively breeding at 32 years old. “This horse is a freak athlete,” says Dr. Carter of Shiner and his abilities in the show pen. “He could do it all while being such a kind, smart horse, just like his mom. He’s not an aggressive stud. He’s so well-mannered, and that is also a testament to Carol’s program,” Dr. Carter says fondly of his long-time client and friend. “When Shiner looks at you, he speaks right to your heart. With his beauty and conformation, it’s no wonder he’s turned into the sire that he’s become.” Dr. Carter considers his friendship with Carol and the ability to care for Shiner as two gifts of his career, recognizing something special in the palomino stallion who he’s admired for over 20 years of caring for him. “You look for those sires that reproduce themselves in a large percentage of their offspring,” says Dr. Carter. “They match their babies, so to speak. Shining Spark passes along his extreme athleticism to his foals, and they often look just like him. If you get them into the right hands, you’re going to be successful.” Even with Carol’s uncanny talent for choosing champions, it’s a rarity to raise and train so many elite-level winners in one lifetime. Shining Spark is preceded by the greats in his lineage, but then took his exceptional bloodlines and catapulted himself to superstardom with the help of the icon that is Carol Rose. “He’s an unbelievable horse. He’s done so much for me and for the industry. Everything we asked him to do, he did. He never said no,” says Carol of her beloved Shiner.
“I learned how important it is to consider the health and well-being of any horse, but in particular, the level of horses that we wanted to produce. I’ve always been pretty strict about how they were trained, and I’m strict about how I want them to look. I raised a lot of horses, but I knew early on that it wasn’t quantity, it was quality.”
— Carol Rose, Carol Rose Quarter Horses
Carol Rose of Carol Rose Quarter Horses and her famed 32-year-old stallion Shining Spark.
PHOTO BY CAM ESSICK
Shiner’s legacy wasn’t created by chance, of course. Nor was that of Zan Parr Bar or Zans Diamond Sun. From the outset, Carol had more than a few ideas that would set Carol Rose Quarter Horses on its own trajectory. She was adamant, to say the least, when it came to the preventive care, nutrition, veterinary attention and training that her horses received. “I learned how important it is to consider the health and well-being of any horse, but in particular, the level of horses that we wanted to produce.” Carol became obsessive over the details that she believed would elevate her program to its own level. “I’ve always been pretty strict about how they were trained, and I’m strict about how I want them to look. I raised a lot of horses, but I knew early on that it wasn’t quantity, it was quality.” From the very first days of her program, Carol valued her partnership with good veterinarians, believing wholeheartedly that preventive care and nutrition can separate success from mediocrity. “You can’t survive a program on the scale of what we did without excellent veterinarians and farriers. You can’t do it,” she insists. “So many people would come to my ranch, see our program and say, ‘You don’t need to do all that stuff.’ I let them laugh, but I promise you, we had very few sick horses.” Carol was an early adopter of good nutrition, regular deworming and vaccination and preventive wellness visits by her trusted veterinarians. “The nutrition is so important. If you have the right vitamins and minerals, you have less instances of OCDs (Osteochondritis Dissecans), and their joints stay healthy for so much longer. To me, it starts with the mare, and we always fed our mares properly, then continued it on with the foals, young horses and all the way through.”
Dr. Carter has continually admired Carol’s commitment to her horses and their care. “Carol always does the groundwork to make her horses successful,” he says with admiration. “She’s always been a person that you could speak honestly with, she was always knowledgeable and does what’s best for her horses. That combination is just something you don’t find that frequently and it’s been an honor and a pleasure. I’m thankful every day for what she’s done for me.” They’re sincere words of genuine affection spoken by a man who has cared for the legends of Carol Rose Quarter Horses for over 20 years.
Carol and Dr. Carter together encountered a challenge with Shining Spark just last year when the 32-year-old stallion was feeling the effects of his senior years. “Carol, true to form, has taken fastidious care of him,” says Dr. Carter, “but where is the horse that goes through an athletic career and doesn’t have some joint discomfort as he ages?” he asks rhetorically. After having a number of her horses on Platinum Performance® for 25 years, Carol asked for Dr. Carter’s advice on what to turn to for Shiner. “Platinum CJ has been my go-to for a lot of horses that are high-level performance athletes. Horses like Shining Spark. CJ has all of the right ingredient levels. They’re digestible and absorbable. To me, the results speak for themselves,” says Dr. Carter. “I wish I would have done it sooner,” says Carol. “He’s a different horse today, and I thank Dr. Carter for that recommendation.” Their partnership is valued by both Carol and Dr. Carter alike and has produced not only outstanding performance athletes but athletes with durability who stand the test of time in both the show pen and the breeding barn. “He’s pretty remarkable,” says Carol of her friend and veterinarian. “He’s as good as there is; a true horseman who knows and respects the horse.”
“You make your own luck, which is preparation that crosses with opportunity. (Carol Rose has) created a legend because she's legendary.”
— Dr. Joe Carter, Oklahoma Equine
Carol’s life is one of western storybooks, hardfought, with extreme successes and her share of unimaginable challenges. Carol’s story is a colorful one that will be told for generations to come. She changed things, reshaped a breed and proved that a woman with confidence in her own abilities and a vision for her future can do extraordinary things. “I’ve just been so fortunate,” says Carol looking back. “I can promise you, I was blessed because I got the opportunity to learn from so many great people, and I still learn something every day if I’m around horse people.”
The world of the Quarter Horse has given Carol her life’s work and a purpose far greater than a smalltown girl from California could have ever dreamed. “It’s given me my life. I love horses. I respect them. I wish I could talk to them, but it seems like I can look one in the eye and hear them.” It’s a gift, and one that her dear friend Dr. Carter admires greatly. “This will be my 36th year in practice,” he says. “I don’t believe there’s a brighter mind in the horse industry than Carol Rose.”
While Carol Rose is just as fiery, passionate and driven as ever, she has a spectacular life of adventures and irreplaceable memories to look back on, just as she looks ahead to what’s before her. Ask her how she wants that lifetime of achievement to be remembered and she’ll tell you to talk about the horse whenever you utter her name. “Before you can love something, you have to respect it. I truly respect and love the horse.”
Perhaps Dr. Joe Carter says it best when summing up the life and legacy of his dear friend: “You make your own luck, which is preparation that crosses with opportunity,” he says of Carol Rose. “She’s created a legend because she’s legendary.”
by Jessie Bengoa,