What’s your dream ride?

joebanner02.jpgIf you could ride any horse on God’s green earth you wanted (past or present) but had to pick just one which would it be?

I love all kinds of riding, and have a dozen favorite breeds… but nothing like riding a good cuttin’ horse. A good cutting horse loves his work and will, with no cue from his rider, “duck and dive” dramatically in order to hold a cow.

Cutting horse events evolved originally in Texas, where cowboys took special pride in owning a horse who would work cattle on his own volition. A cutting horse separates a cow from the herd under his rider’s direction; when the animal is parted away from the group, the rider drops the reins and allows the horse to “hold” the cow on his own. The cow, being a herd animal, will usually make a strong effort to return to the others, and the sometimes spectacular gymnastic efforts the horse will make to keep the cow separate are the basis for the cutting horse event. Horses are judged on how well they do this job, and points are taken away for specific mistakes.

In this next video a horse continues to cut after his rider takes a clumsy fall. It shows the cow instinct these horses have.

Smart Little Lena one of my favorite cutting horse legends recently surprised the industry and the nation, becoming the only Quarter Horse to be cloned and the only horse in the world with five clones. Cloning this living legend makes sense considering his mind boggling impact of $300 million dollars on the performance horse industry


But then, most of the life of Smart Little Lena has been mind-boggling.

From the moment Smart Little Lena hit the ground as a son his legendary sire, Doc O’Lena (the only horse to win all go-rounds and the finals of the NCHA Futurity), he was different. Out of Smart Peppy, a daughter of 1967 World Champion Cutting Horse Peppy San, he had a stellar pedigree and he should have looked and acted regal. However, that wasn’t the case.

“He was no bigger than a German Shepherd when he was born,” said Antoinette Chatham, wife of his breeder Hanes Chatham, who at that time lived in Pilot Point, Texas. And he wasn’t exactly “the pick of the litter,” as he was scrawny and dubbed by some as “the ugly duckling.” In fact, the other horses in the pasture shunned him, so for entertainment, he chased butterflies.

Smart Little Lena soon became the family pet but Hanes needed income to help support his expensive horse habit. Since Smart Little Lena wasn’t born until July, Hanes waited until he was 25 months old before he broke him. Since he wasn’t able to sell him privately, Hanes paid to have him put in the lucrative NCHA 2-Year-Old Futurity Sale; however, after having the colt on cattle for 60 days, he had second thoughts.

“I’d been trying to raise a colt like him for the past 10 years,” said Chatham, realizing that he could be making the biggest mistake of his life. But he still needed some additional income, so he decided to sell just half of the colt.

However, cutting horse trainer, Bill Freeman, who also lived in Wichita Falls, was willing to try the colt for a couple of days. Probably it was because his father, Shorty Freeman, had ridden Doc O’Lena, Smart Little Lena’s sire, to cutting stardom — or maybe it was just “a feeling.”

In an article in Horse & Rider, Bill said that the first time he rode Smart Little Lena, he knew he had something special. After three days, Freeman called Chatham, telling him “he was his partner.” Freeman said that Smart Little Lena was the best prospect he’d ever ridden – but he didn’t have the $30,000 that Chatham was asking for half interest and his bank had refused his request for a loan. Making matters worse, a freak snowstorm had just killed 43 head of cattle on which Freeman had borrowed $88,000.

But Freeman had enough faith in Smart Little Lena’s ability that he sold the remaining cattle, and instead of paying the bank off, he paid for half of Smart Little Lena. Obviously, the banker was unimpressed and gave Freeman 90 days to pay off the cattle loan.

It was then that the idea to syndicate the stallion originated.

“We decided to divide Smart Little Lena into 80 shares,” said Chatham, “and planned to sell 20 at $5,000 each before the NCHA Futurity.”

But Smart Little Lena was young, unproven and had never bred a mare, so only 17 were sold, Freeman was able to pay off the bank and buy more cattle. However, before the honeymoon started, the marriage was almost over. Smart Little Lena and another 3-year-old had ingested blister beetles in a flake of alfalfa hay. The other colt died, but Smart Little Lena had not eaten as much, and miraculously survived, even though he was near death for two days. He was rested for a month and then headed to the NCHA Futurity.

The rest is history. Smart Little Lena went on to win the NCHA Futurity and Super Stakes and tied for the NCHA Derby title. He was named the NCHA’s first Triple Crown Champion.

“After I won the Futurity, I went in and laid the win check, which exceeded a quarter of a million dollars, on the bank president’s desk,” said Freeman.

Lena would go on to win $743,275 lifetime earnings, in just 8 shows!

My pick for dream ride is Smart Little Lena …the legendary cutter with a humble beginning and a fairytale ending…


10 Responses

  1. Cutting horses are wonderful to watch. I don’t know if I could stay on one though! (For some reason I’m more prone to falling off in western tack, go figure)

    A friend of mine was riding her QH one day and noticed that the barn owner’s cows had gotten out. Her horse perked up immediately and went after those cows like he’d been doing it all his life. All she could do was hang on to the pommel of her English saddle and laugh her head off. 🙂

    As for my dream ride…I’m awfully partial to Morgans; if I could get hold of a wayback machine I’d love to take a spin on ol’ Figure himself.

  2. I love the Cutting horses. I love the Event horses. I love the Dressage horses. I love the Trail horses. I love them all.
    1 Pick!? Ok. It took me hours to decide.
    I pick Gem Twist.

  3. Facinating post. There are so many horses I have yet to learn about, but if I was to pick a Paso Fino, it would be Maraquita, an awesome classic fino mare who wowed the crowd at the 2003 PFHA Grand National Championships. She may not have been the best that there ever was, but she stole a lot of people’s hearts.

  4. Yes, Smart Little Lena would definitely be a cool ride. It’ll be interesting to see if the cloned horses can really do the same.

  5. A few years back, when DD was about four, we’d sit here and look at horses for sale online. I asked her one morning if she could have any horse in the world, what kind would she want? Her answer, “A mustang, because God made the prettiest!”

    Can’t argue with that…and now we’ve got two!

  6. barrel racing all the way i would want a ride on scamper =]

  7. I am printing your page regarding Bill and Smart Little Lena. I am Bill’s widow and although I appreciate your nice article….there are some things that I and Bill’s lawyers know to be inaccurate. I will be in touch with corrections regarding your wording.

    Thank you
    Jill Freeman

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