Smart Little Lena

Truly a LEGEND in every aspect of the word. There are few things in life that give you the same feeling as standing in front of a Legend….Smart Little Lena himself. I had the chance to get to see him in person and spend a little bit of time with him and that was an experience I would not trade in for anything.

It’s was no secret that Smart Little Lena was a bit of an ugly duckling as a foal but even at that stage he had something special about him. While other foals were busy running around bucking and playing Smart Little Lena was busy following butterflies around as his attraction to movement was so great that this was a game for him. And so the ledgen begins.

His largest legacy is as the cutting world’s leading sire for more years than two hands can count, and his offspring are responsible for over 36.5 million dollars in earnings in all performance arenas, a figure that continues to tick upwards.

He sired World Champions, Reserve World Champions, a whole slug of Register of Merit foals, and, after proving themselves in the performance pen, his daughters are a force in the breeding shed: Just a dozen of them, to list a few, have produced get with earnings of over 5.5 million, and, of course, there are more to come.

Smart Litte Lena was born in July of 1979 and was born to cut. His pedigree had cutting written all over itself. Sired by Doc O’Lena and out of a Peppy San mare carrying the blood of Leo and Royal King the future is no surprise.

He just didn’t look like it. Being a mear 13.3 hands, the same size as Royal Smart, his maternal grandsire. That however did not slow him down in leaving his mark in history by siring more than 5,500 foals, over 2,000 of them performers. He’d prove his mind and his instincts.

In the beginning, his breeder, Hanes Chatham, saw him as a sale colt, and to that end the colt that was born late was started late, when he was over two years old, and he was aimed directly at a Futurity sale. Until, that is, Chatham’s neighbor and cutting trainer Bill Freeman put the horse to cattle. Good cutting horse trainers can figure out pretty darn quick when they’ve got a diamond, and Freeman’s happy assessment of the red colt found fertile ground in the colt’s owner. Quick as a cutter anticipating a cow, they changed directions: Smart Little Lena was headed to the Futurity instead of a Futurity sale.

Chatham sold half ownership of his colt to Freeman, and before the world even knew about Smart Little Lena, in a burst of confidence based on what Freeman could feel, they had syndicated him. But a few months before the Futurity, the horse with all the promise, along with a Futurity buddy, got his nose into some blister beetle-infested hay.

Blister beetles are a concern for forage and livestock producers from the alfalfa fields of Colorado south into the arid Southwest. If the beetles get scooped into hay the toxic chemical they produce, when eaten, causes internal blisters, colic, and a nasty, painful death. All livestock can be affected, but it seems to kill horses best. Smart Little Lena’s Futurity pal died.

It was touch and go for the little sorrel for a couple of days, and then he had a whole three months to recover and get ready to prove his promise for his excited owners.

He did, too. Even though Smart Little Lena had just been very ill and was competing against 781 of the cutting world’s finest 3 year olds at the 1982 NCHA Futurity and although he made the finals with 19 other Doc Bar grandsons in a field of 23, like cream rises to the top he swept both rounds, was second in the semis by one point, and scored the first ever 225 in the finals to win the event and $264,085 for his delighted owners. That, considering the competition, is what’s called a decisive win. And with a win at the 1983 Super Stakes and another at the 1983 Derby, Smart Little Lena became the first horse ever to win the cutting horse world’s Triple Crown.

Like Smart Little Lena’s career was almost derailed by blister beetles, Poco Lena’s life as a broodmare almost didn’t happen. After a long and bright cutting career with Don Dodge, the mare was set to retire to the broodmare pasture when she was forgotten in a trailer for several days with no feed or water as the rest of her world searched for her owner, B.A. Skipper, who had died in an airplane crash. When found, she had foundered so badly it would make the two Doc Bar foals she conceived little miracles, and would eventually shorten her life.

Doc O’Lena, Smart Little Lena’s sire, was also a small foal; they said he could run under his crippled mama without touching her belly. No matter. Doc O’Lena showed his arena cred early; trainer and showman Shorty Freeman swept all rounds of the 1970 NCHA Futurity with him. Look out world. He was a thinking kind of horse, cowy, smart, with a good disposition and “a connection with the cow,” and he passed those traits along to his babies.

The trainer buzz on the horses feeding Doc O’Lena’s pedigree is that they are naturals at cutting, but you can’t force them – you show them what you want and then back off and let them find it themselves, and Poco Lena’s long-time owner Don Dodge, and his wife at the time, Barbara Worth, both noted the mare would fight back if her opinion wasn’t respected.

The Doc Bar horses that have gone into the performance industry, which is just about all of them, have the reputation for “sting,” and finesse. In training parlance, “finesse” can be a codeword – in addition to meaning a horse with special grace and ability to read and beat a cow, it can also mean a horse that demands extra diplomacy and subtlety from its rider, a horse that prefers to figure things out on its own.

The bottom side, his mama’s contribution to Smart Little Lena’s genetic river, hangs on horses known for their “cow” and for being solid performers. This usually means these bloodlines can take a little more instruction, and, when necessary, correction.

Smart Little Lena was out of Smart Peppy, a 1966 mare sired by Peppy San, a horse with Joe Reed blood through Leo and Leo San, and tapping into the King Ranch breeding through his dam, with a pinch of 6666 Burnett breeding; there are those old Texas ranchos again.

They say Peppy San looked like a stud prospect from the start. He was described as a cow horse with lots of action, and he won the first ever NCHA World Championship, and was the first sire to produce another NCHA World Champion. The scrappy horse was entrusted to Matlock Rose for his career by his breeder Gordon Howell, until Howell went to racing Quarter Horses, and Peppy San went to Canada.

C. N. (“Chunky”) Woodward, affiliated with the Canadian retail chain of Woodward’s Department Stores, bought Peppy San from Howell (through Don Dodge, Poco Lena’s long-time owner) to build an empire of cutting horses on his Douglas Lake Cattle Company in British Columbia, Canada’s largest working cattle ranch. He also bought a pretty little mare, Royal Smart, by Royal King, and bred her to Peppy San to produce Smart Peppy in 1966.

For awhile, Peppy San pasture bred the Douglas Lake mares, until he went back on the road, competing again between Matlock Rose’s batwings. In 1967, the year after Smart Little Lena’s dam, Smart Peppy was foaled, Peppy San showed 52 times, and collected 50 checks. Since Douglas Lake was a little unhandy for hauling to the big competitions, Woodward sent Peppy San to Texas under the management of Rose, and there he stayed until he died in 1989, at the age of 30.

Woodward sold Smart Peppy to Hanes Chatham in 1982, and she was eventually syndicated while still under Chatham’s management, who bred her to Doc O’Lena to produce Smart Little Lena.

The rest, of course, is history. Living up to the hopes of his owners, Smart Little Lena competed eight times in his third and fourth years, and won $743,275. He could sweep down under the cattle, read their minds, and block their every move while filling his rider’s boots with dirt. His blood seeps into every performance pen in the industry, into the reining world and the high stakes, high tail reined cow horse arena.

His trainer and rider for his entire life was Bill Freeman, son of Shorty Freeman, who campaigned Smart Little Lena’s sire, Doc O’Lena. Who says the symmetry of the cutting horse world ends in the pen?

The Smart Little Lena syndicate retired their solid gold nugget of a horse to the breeding shed in 1984, and in his career as a stallion he has produced Quarter Horse, Appaloosa, and Paint champions who are now at stud. His most high-profile offspring might be Smart Chic Olena, a son, and Highbrow Cat, out of Smart Little Kitty, a Smart Little Lena daughter, although picking any two from such a pool is a risk because everyone is going to have their personal favorites.

Smart Little Lena, “The Legend,” spent his later years as the stallion of honor at Manion Ranch in Aubrey, Texas. Technology will assure his continued influence on the horse world: Smart Little Lena leaves frozen semen in the bank, and he has been cloned multiple times.

After 31 years; after collecting checks for over $37,000,000 for himself and his offspring; after siring horses that are cowy, full of heart, keenly intelligent winners and producers; after providing the horse world with some of the best broodmares in the industry; surviving blister beetles, friendships and lawsuits and leaving multiple clones, the little horse with the big heart had a stroke on Monday, August 30, 2010, and was humanely put down by his long time veterinarian, with the people who knew him best at his side.

So with all that said……one can understand the honor of getting to meet this horse in person and the EXTREME pain that was felt when he passed away by everybody that knew him.

I found a HUGE amount of great information for this blog post all over the internet but have to say that Kathy Peth article at Cascade Horseman helped the most.