Carol Harris, renowned horsewoman, dies at 98

Carol Harris [Submitted]

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Posted August 9, 2021 | By Carlos Medina,

Carol Harris [Submitted]

Carol Harris, a renowned quarter horse and dog breeder and trainer, died on Sunday. She was 98.

During her career, Harris used her horsemanship, charm and charisma to make her mark in the industry.

She was among the pioneers that helped establish the quarter horse industry in Marion County. She also gave freely of her time and knowledge.

“She is a legend. She was a pretty special woman. So much class. She gave back so much,” said Dean DeRenzo, who remembers Harris spending hours with him at her farm in the late 1980s.

DeRenzo, who eventually transitioned to the thoroughbred industry, started breeding quarter horses.

“She spent time with me when she didn’t really know me from a hole in the wall,” he said. “I was just out of school then.”

Don McDuffee, worked with Harris for several years before establishing his own quarter horse breeding operation in Marion County.

“I was proud to call her my friend. I was proud to call her a mentor. What she did for me and so many other horse trainers was invaluable. She gave so many people their start, and she was happy to do it,” McDuffee said.

Harris grew up in West Orange, New Jersey and had a variety of horses before she fell in love with the quarter horse in the 1950s.

In 1963, Harris establish Bo-Bett Farm on about 400 acres in Reddick on a former thoroughbred farm.

She began a stellar breeding program that produced multiple American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) champions.

But one horse typified Harris’ career. Rugged Lark was a quarter horse, thoroughbred cross that transcended breeds and became an ambassador for the horse industry in general.

Rugged Lark excelled in several disciplines including reining, dressage, driving and hunter. He won two AQHA Superhorse titles and sired two horses that also won the title.

His Breyer collectible figurine was also one of the all-time best-selling.

Harris recognized Rugged Lark’s intelligence and trainability and would give the colt free reign of the office at Bo-Bett farm. The stallion would famously lie at Harris’ feet in the office.

She took advantage of his gentle nature to showcase him at meet-and-greet events with fans and made him world-famous.

But she never made Rugged Lark do anything he did not want to do and was always mindful of using only positive reinforcement when training.

Dominique Powers, who met Harris in 2009, said she always respected Harris’ focus on stress-free, gentle training.

“She loved her animals. She was always worried about animal welfare,” Powers said. “She had a deep understating of animal behavior.”

Harris also bred whippets and Italian greyhounds. She produced dozens of champions. And she was just as generous with her time mentoring dog breeders as she was to those in the horse industry.

Tom Power, Dominique’s husband, knew Harris for more than 40 years.

“Carol was always a proponent of the natural way to train,” he said.

As her prominence in the industry grew, she fought to include more animal-friendly rules and techniques in the horse show business.

Harris did not approve of keeping horses in stalls for extended periods of time. She allowed them to run in the pasture and enjoy the open air.

“She was a big advocate of animal rights for horses in the show horse industry,” McDuffee said.

She also broke ground when she became one of the first women to become an AQHA judge. In 1981, she also was the first woman to judge at the AQHA World Championship Show. She helped establish the East Coast Cutting Horse Association, the forerunner of the National Snaffle Bit Association and the Florida Quarter Horse Association of which she also served as president.

Harris was inducted into the AQHA Hall of Fame in 1997.

“She was well respected across the board in the horse business. When Carol showed up everyone would always take note,” Tom Powers said.

Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.

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