Q&A With G.R. Carter Jr.

A few questions for American Quarter Horse racing's all-time leading rider.

OQRHA Press Release

A young G.R. Carter Jr. practices a back flip at a rodeo. PHOTO: Courtesy G.R. Carter Jr.

Native Oklahoman G.R. Carter Jr. is AQHA’s newest all-time leading jockey by number of wins, a goal he’s dedicated 28 years of hard work to accomplish. With over 30,000 career starts (including other breeds), Carter is a consistent presence in the winner’s circle not only in Oklahoma, but across the country.  Given the opportunity to visit with him, one quickly realizes he’s a lot more than first meets the eye. 

Where are you from?  

Pawhuska, Oklahoma…born and raised. I currently reside with my wife of 22 years, Shaena, in a gated community on the northwest side of Oklahoma City where we have lived for 17 years. We also own 35 acres on the northeast side of Oklahoma City, and that is where I spend most of my time. It has a barn, shop, arena and I keep my horses there.

Tell us about your upbringing

We grew up with horses, my dad was a steer roper. On the weekends, we went to rodeos. My heroes growing up were cowboys like Roy Cooper and Arnold Felts. 

How did you make your first dollar?

My very first job was the summer after the eighth grade and it was galloping racehorses. I can’t really remember what it paid, but the first trainer I worked for was ex-jockey Jerry Dailey. Jerry rode 1974 champion Pacific Dan who was trained by Gene Herren. I also rode for Gene and can remember him telling my dad early on, “As athletic as that boy is, and as much horse sense as he has, he’s going to make a good jockey.” Guess he was right. 

Where did you learn to backflip?

I started taking gymnastics in third grade. This was when I finally learned to tie my shoes and when I learned to backflip. Yes, true story…I always wore boots and never had a pair of tennis shoes. When I started gymnastics, I learned to tie my first pair. Gymnastics was a big part of my life until the eighth grade. I did all six events and even won the State All-Around title at 11 and 12 years of age. I was injured during preparations for the junior Olympic team when I lost my grip on the high bar performing a “one-arm giant”. I flew off, hitting the cement corner of a foam pit and broke my tailbone. During my time off to heal, I had the chance to run around town with the rest of the kids my age and decided not to go back to gymnastics.  

When did you first backflip off a horse?

I can remember showing off as a kid, back flipping off of my horse and actually have a photo doing a flip off the fence at the 1984 Green Country Junior Rodeo Finals. In 1988 when I won the Shebester Futurity (G3) for Rex Brooks aboard Navy Blues, it was a close photo finish. As we were circling on the track waiting for the results, the groom asked me if we won the photo would I do a backflip. I said sure and we ended up winning. That was my first back flip at the racetrack. I have started limiting back flips to stakes victories, and have slowed way down, mostly due to age.  

What do you do for fun?

I team rope and steer rope and attend a few PRCA rodeos here and there. I’ve had a little success, like winning the 2007 Pro-Am Division of the World Series Roping in Las Vegas with then-17-year-old Cody Doescher from Oklahoma City.  I could be pretty good at it if I took the time to put my heart and soul into it like I do racing.  

Outside of the horses, what do you enjoy in your downtime?

Shaena and I are season ticket holders and big fans of the Oklahoma City Thunder. It’s great to see how Oklahoma City has embraced them and what they’ve been able to accomplish as a team. The games are a lot of fun.

Tell us something most people wouldn’t know about you?

When I quit gymnastics, I started wrestling and was pretty good at it. As a freshman, I wrestled at 82 pounds and didn’t even have to pull weight to do it. As a senior, I won the state title at 108 pounds. It was probably one of the most memorable moments in my life…even more so than the big race wins. Wrestling was mentally and physically challenging.  It’s you against one guy, no excuses. 

How do you prepare mentally before a big race and do you get nervous?

You can’t let the fact that ‘it’s a big race’ affect your performance. Concentrate on doing all the little things the same way you would do to win any race; warming up, standing in the gates, focused and right. You can’t get caught up in the moment.  I don’t remember the last time I got nervous, I’ve been doing this so long... over 30,000 starts including Paint and Appaloosa races.   

What are a few things the sport of racing has taught you?

I have learned that any sport is really a parallel for life. You have to make a plan, dedicate yourself to it and work hard to succeed. You get out of it what you put in. This formula for success works in sports and in life.  

What will you do when you retire from racing?

Shaena and I invested in a pipeline service company a few years ago and I plan on getting more involved in the business when I retire. I also plan on doing a little more roping and will go to a few PRCA rodeos.  

Closing thoughts?

Looking back at what it’s taken to get here, I realize it (racing) runs you more than you run it. I haven’t really taken a day off in 28 years. I’m fortunate since 1987 to have won at least 100 races each year without suffering any major injuries and am extremely thankful to be healthy.

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