Feature: Miniature horse and entrepreneur are just right for each other

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WELL-MATCHED: Wilby and his owner, Karl Parker, have been getting on fine together in the Arizona countryside.

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Karl Parker calls himself the 'entremanure' of Arizona.

Several years ago, he took over the business of hauling manure at Yavapai Downs Racetrack in Prescott Valley, Ariz. He realized all that manure represented a gold mine: It could be turned into compost.

So, he created 'Thoroughbred Enterprises,' producers of 'Wilby's Compost' - Wilby being a fictional horse that represented the brand.

Parker began promoting his business with radio spots and newspaper ads, and he added an illustration of 'Wilby' to his truck. (In addition to being an astute businessman, Parker is also my brother-in-law.) The only thing he was missing was a living, breathing horse.

A real-life mascot

In truth, horses had always intimidated Parker. However, he had secretly dreamed of owning a miniature horse.

That's where the real-life Wilby enters the picture. The 14-year-old miniature paint horse, about 3 feet tall, was living in a tiny stall at a charter school for equestrian classes. It needed more attention than the students could give it - but who would buy a skinny, 14-year-old horse that was blind in one eye and had a slight clubfoot?

That would be Parker.

When he stopped by the school and met the horse, it was love at first sight. He brought his 'Wilby' home to his two-acre property in the countryside. He had lots of trees and open space for a horse, and, most importantly, lots of time and love to devote to Wilby.

'When Wilby got here, he seemed to know he would be here to stay,' Parker said.

Getting on well

Wilby has become part of Parker's family. He is comfortable around Parker's dog and the five cats that come and go on the property. The horse has filled out in areas where he was getting too thin, and he gallops freely about, tossing his mane and flicking his tail. Wilby prefers to stand out in the open, even when it rains.

The horse knows that when Parker comes home from the racetrack, there will be a carrot or an apple for him - and Parker knows he'll be treated to nudges on his arms and legs, and little 'love bites' on his hands. (Some of the bushes and plants on Parker's land have also been exposed to Wilby's nibbling, reducing their foliage to greenery along their tops.) When Wilby gets impatient waiting for Parker, two loud 'clumps' sound as the horse plants his front hooves on the doorstep.

Wilby also feeds on timothy grass and horse feed - Parker makes sure he eats them in healthy portions, because older horses have sensitive digestive systems. And his hooves are trimmed every two weeks.

Parker and Wilby are a common sight in the area. They set up a stand at the local fair and donate compost to local organizations, such as the Veteran's Hospital, for use in their gardens. Wilby manages to get right in front of the camera at these photo-ops.

'I don't mind,' Parker said, 'but it's pretty funny when I get called 'Mr. Wilby.''

Watching the two, it's easy to see that Wilby has found a loving master.

'Wilby just responds to love and kindness like all of God's creatures,' Parker said.