Conversations With Equestrians: Carleton Brooks

By Jackie McFarland

Dual Inspiration

In a conversation with Carleton Brooks regarding the horses he’s worked with over the years, I was fascinated with the sincerity of his connection and the methods that evolved from this union. The inspiration was two-sided: he was inspired by each horse’s innate desire to perform, and through innovative training, the horses were encouraged to enjoy being at the top of their game.

Carleton considers himself a producer, not a rider. He doesn’t just train; he channels the horse’s focus, bringing out the best in a horse by allowing them to do what they do best. His methods are inventive, inspired by the horses themselves, and by legendary horsemen from a variety of disciplines. “One of my favorite ways to allow a horse’s hind end to come up underneath him I learned from cutting horse trainers.” He wants the horse to guide him as to what works in their program.

“All my horses went in a snaffle, or occasionally a thick sweet metal twisted wire because they would like to balance on it. I also created my own bit by taking a piece of cotton rope, re-braiding it and attaching to two D-rings. They liked to suck on it.” He further explained, “I tried to feel what they were going through, to see it through their eyes. Once I did, I could figure them out.”

Carleton was often asked to work with horses that were refusing to jump, not performing to their potential. “I would spend days just trying to figure them out. Once we were on the same page, many of the horses became overachievers. They wanted to give and give.” After investing this time, Carleton would know what made the particular horse tick or not, and then gave as much breadth as possible for success.

As a horseman, “I didn’t dominate my horses – I allowed them. I allowed them to think. I was the guard rail, keeping them from going off the road.”

The Horses

We discussed the stories behind some of the horses in his rich history. The list is extensive – “Looking down five columns of horses over two pages (handwritten), I can tell you I learned something from each and every one of them.” Below is a small sampling of horse stories with more on his website.

This just in: Just for Fun, one of Carleton’s first conformation horses, will be inducted into The National Show Hunter Hall of Fame later this month!

Doubletake – The word is WOW. An amazing horse. Wise and extremely talented as well as subtly sensitive. He was a 2nd year horse out of the Northwest. I rode him in a warm up class and bought him. I competed on him at Indoors with a broken elbow. And later sold him to Eva Gonda.

Trinity – A 16h Thoroughbred, he was the little train that said ‘I think I can, I think I can… I know I can.’ He never ceased to amaze me. Who would have thought he would jump 3’9”, let alone 4’. Just kept firing. He won so much we gave him a year off showing.

Vested – Extremely intelligent Thoroughbred with an amazingly spectacular jump. He was one of the overachievers. We never schooled him in the warm-up ring. A bit quirky, you had to be a horseman to deal with him. Just incredible in the air.

Penn Square – This was a horse that could fill Vested’s stall (and shoes). Another that we never schooled, he went straight to the ring.

Both Vested and Penn Square communicated with me from a distance, they would look at me when I came around the corner of the barn. I spent hours riding these horses at the walk, just becoming a part of their team.

Calvin – When I purchased him he had a difficult lead change. I didn’t ride him until the horse show. We went to the back ring and jumped off a bank, and I asked him for a lead change. By teaching him to change his balance in the air via the bank jump, he was able to carry that over to changing leads across the ground. He didn’t have a problem after that. He was also a Thoroughbred and an overachiever.

Buccelatti – A Thoroughbred that had a mentally rebellious personality. The day before the winter circuit started I went out to the paddock and worked with him for 30 minutes on the ground. He was 3rd in his first two classes and then he started winning everything and never looked back. His warm-up was vertical-vertical combinations, maybe at 2’6” or 3’. Never a single jump.

Carleton Brooks photo © Cathrin Cammett.