Jeffrey Carver and Whiskey Cat Quarter Horse Congress 2021. Photo by Shane Rux Photography
“He is a thousand miles from kids who have gone through the same thing,” expressed Janet Carver when discussing the extraordinary journey her son, Jeffrey Carver, has endured. If anyone had told her over ten years ago that Jeffrey Carver would become an American Quarter Horse Congress cutting champion and would be hauling across the country to horse shows, away from their farm near Cleveland, Ohio, she may not have believed them.
When Jeffrey was merely four years old, his parents, Tim and Janet Carver, received staggering news—a brain cancer diagnosis. Doctors discovered that a tumor was rooted in a brain stem and grew through the fourth ventricle, impacting Jeffrey’s speech development and causing head pain. After significant bedside crying and the help of countless wonderful people along the way to push through 19 hours of brain surgery, Jeffrey endured 33 radiation treatments, as well as an eye surgery, to defeat the cancer—all by the age of six.
Now at 17, he is one of the oldest survivors of his diagnosis. To top off his remarkable recovery, Jeffrey Carver is a force to be reckoned with in the cutting pen and wears a smile wherever he goes, radiating positivity. His passion for horses did not start with cutting, though. When Jeffrey was working to regain his health as a child, he could not walk in a straight line. As a result, his grandfather suggested riding in hopes that it would help him regain balance. Horses quickly became a way for Jeffrey to heal both psychologically and physically. Even though there is a possibility that his cancer could return at any time, Jeffrey has not left the saddle since.
Growing up, Jeffrey competed in team penning and western pleasure, but he eventually wanted to find something else to do with horses. He soon attended a clinic that was held in honor of his grandfather, known as the Jeff Carver Memorial Clinic, with Scott Amos, a cutting trainer from Loma, Colo. Jeffrey quickly formed a bond with Amos, who lost part of his leg a long time ago and understood what it is like to overcome obstacles in life. This clinic, held by Amos, quickly got Jeffrey hooked on cutting horses.
Over two years ago, Jeffrey Carver and his parents were in Fort Worth, Texas, for the National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Futurity. Before they went to the event, his parents contacted Amos, who had maintained a connection with Jeffrey, that they were in search for his first cutting horse. While him and his parents were in Texas, Amos lined up some horses for Jeffrey to try, leading to his current mount, Whiskey Cat. “Whiskey” put a huge smile on Jeffrey’s face as soon as they started practicing on cattle, a sign that the High Brow Cat gelding, now 11, was destined to be his partner in the show pen.
Together, Jeffrey and Whiskey have traveled across the country to various NCHA shows, primarily under the guidance of his trainer, Tyler DeLange of Fort Gratiot, Mich. Similar to the way Jeffrey and Amos bonded, Jeffrey and DeLange share a special connection through a “big brother, little brother” relationship. Jeffrey spent many weeks at a time during the last show season with DeLange and his family in Michigan as they hauled around. He even mentioned that Amy DeLange, Tyler’s mother, is his “Michigan mom,” and that he enjoys watching football with the people who have become his second family.
Jeffrey Carver and Whiskey Cat in the show pen. Photo by Dalbor Photography
With the help of DeLange, Jeffrey and Whiskey showed locally across Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Indiana, with goals of entering larger scale NCHA shows. Jeffrey is homeschooled, allowing him to learn at his own pace and maintain a busy show schedule. Local schools were unable to provide him with appropriate support, so his parents stepped in to be his current teachers. Janet mentioned that showing has interrupted his intervention time with specialists, but Jeffrey has seemingly not lost progress. His positivity at horse shows radiates throughout the grounds, where he continues to talk with everyone and absorb the surrounding environments, boosting both his confidence and learning.
Jeffrey kicked off the 2021 season at Eastern Nationals in Jackson, Miss., as his first big show with Whiskey and with multiple judges scoring. By the second day, Jeffrey made it to the top ten in the Senior Youth class.
A few months later, Jeffrey competed at the National High School Rodeo Association Finals in Lincoln, Neb. He won his first go, putting him fourth in the first go-round of the boys cutting and landed in the top 20 overall. This show was one of Jeffrey’s favorites due to the experiences outside of the show pen, like meeting riders from all across North America, including Hawaii, Canada, Mexico, and the Bahamas. Jeffrey credited cutting horse trainer Mitch Farris, of Midway, Texas, with coaching him at the finals and convinced him to enter in the NCHA Foundation Scholarship Cutting event held that summer in Fort Worth. The Scholarship Cutting was also fun for the time spent away from competing, such as learning how to two-step by one of the other youth riders.
By fall, Jeffrey and Whiskey were an unstoppable team. Adding to his expanding list of NCHA achievements, he walked into the Coliseum at the Ohio Expo Center at one of the most esteemed breed shows in the country, the American Quarter Horse Congress in Columbus, Ohio. Jeffrey felt a wave of almost every emotion possible, ranging from nervousness to excitement. Yet, Congress was his favorite, and for good reason. Jeffrey Carver’s commitment to his cutting career lit up the show pen the day he went in for the $35,000 Non-Pro event.
“When I walked in that pen and I started cutting, there were points when I could not hear people cheering for me, or the music playing,” Jeffrey explained. “The only people I could hear were the people helping me.”
Jeffrey’s deep focus certainly paid off with a massive score of 150. He referred to his ride as an “Oh, my gosh, I did it moment.”
No one was prouder than Tyler or Jeffrey’s parents. At his very first Congress, Jeffrey was crowned champion, marking a monumental step in his journey.
The adventure did not end at Congress. Immediately after, Jeffrey and his father trailered straight to Casey Crouch’s barn in Corsicana, Texas. Crouch was DeLange’s trainer, so Jeffrey felt comfortable showing under the guidance of his own trainer’s mentor in order to allow for a few more showing opportunities before the next big competition.
Jeffrey Carver and Whiskey Cat showing in the coliseum at Quarter Horse Congress. Photo by Shane Rux Photography
Over a month post-Congress, Jeffrey was back in Fort Worth to show at the Will Rogers Memorial Center once again. This time, he was prepared for the NCHA World Finals. All of Jeffrey’s hard work, endless miles on the road, reminders to “breathe” from Crouch, and many walks to the herd qualified him for Finals in the $35,000 Non-Pro division. Like Congress, this show was his first time at the NCHA World Finals. Looking back on his runs, he remembered the second go-round as his best with a stunning 225 score. Jeffrey left the show as seventh in the world for his class.
At only 17 years old, with less than a couple years’ experience, he became a Congress champion and placed in the top ten in the world as a non-pro/amateur, a feat not easy for anyone.
“As a parent, how do we top this for next year? It has been a truly amazing, wild ride,” says mom Janet. He is not exactly certain about topping it, but he is continuing to aim high for 2022. Jeffrey has new plans to show in Houston, Texas, and then go back to Easterns before heading home. Likewise, he has his eyes set on National High School Rodeo Association Finals again, and wants to add Youth World Finals to his show list. He is currently staying in Texas to show with Crouch until the season picks back up in Ohio, which will help Jeffrey qualify for Youth Finals. More than anything, he wants to improve on his consistency in the show pen, which will aid him in reaching each goal.
After high school, Jeffrey is hoping to assist a cutting trainer with possible ambitions to become a trainer. Although his plans are not set in stone, he knows that he wants to work with horses or work on a large equine operation in the future. Horses have helped Jeffrey heal from cancer, playing an integral role in his road to recovery as well as the path he wants to embark on later.
Along the way, Jeffrey credited Amos for inspiring him to pursue his adventure in the cutting horse industry. They share a unique understanding that cannot easily be replicated. Amos overcame childhood issues and challenges, helping Jeffrey realize that whatever he puts into something, he will get out of it.
Tyler DeLange (left) and Jeffrey Carver (right) going in for a fist bump. Photo by Seth Petit Photography
Jeffrey discussed that his journey would not have been complete without DeLange, either. They understand each other well and can relate on a level beyond horses. DeLange discussed that Jeffrey is his “partner in crime,” who taught him increased patience and has made him a better person at the same time. As his main trainer, DeLange could not be prouder of the progress his student has undergone in such a short amount of time.
DeLange believes that Jeffrey’s success is amazing for the Carver family and that Whiskey is a “phenomenal horse, who is a great teacher and takes care of him.” Whiskey has found his forever home with the Carvers.
Jeffrey’s journey in life serves as another reminder that one never truly knows what can happen in the future. The best we can do is support each other and offer help when needed. Jeffrey is a testament that commitment to one’s passion can reach unimaginable heights. He does not live in fear. Instead, Jeffrey Carver continues to walk back to the herd time and time again, ready to fulfill his life’s passion in the cutting pen and cheer everyone else on.
Shelby Agnew is an intern for Horse Illustrated and Young Rider and is majoring in marketing at Oakland University, where she will graduate in May of 2022. In her free time, Agnew rides and shows cutting horses. She also rides hunter/ jumper for her college team. She resides not far from Detroit, Mich., with her three horses, two donkeys, and two dogs.
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