After leading a quiet life of leisure, 2003 National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) Futurity Open Champion One Smart Lookin Cat passed away on Oct. 22 in his pasture alongside his equine friend of more than a decade.
His death resulted from the infirmities of old age, said Craig Morris, his trainer.
“That horse is one of maybe three horses in my entire career that I stepped on and the first time I rode him and worked a cow on him, I stepped off and said, ‘This is a very, very special horse,’” said Morris, an Equi-Stat Elite $2 Million Rider.
With Morris aboard, One Smart Lookin Cat became the first of a line of High Brow Cat progeny to win the prestigious Futurity Open title. The sorrel horse earned more than $226,000 in the cutting pen, helping dam The Smart Look (by Smart Little Lena) achieve $1.8 million in offspring earnings, according to Equi-Stat. Notable half-siblings of One Smart Lookin Cat include Dual Smart Rey and WR This Cats Smart.
One Smart Lookin Cat, nicknamed “Rocky” because he was purchased within view of the Rocky Mountains from breeder Wiens Ranch Co. Inc. of Sedalia, Colorado, led a Rocky Balboa-esque life, according to Morris, overcoming many obstacles on his way to becoming a champion.
During his 2-year-old year, Rocky had an accident while his slinky was being pulled over his head. A handler didn’t notice he was still tied and, in his panic, Rocky fell, straining muscles in his neck.
“When I finally got him cut loose and untied, he couldn’t lift his head up,” Morris recalled. “There wasn’t anything [the vets] could do for him. So he overcame certain things like that. I think he wanted to be a winner; it was just in him.”
In the 2003 NCHA Futurity, One Smart Lookin Cat topped the semifinals with a 223 before winning it all in the finals with a 226, banking $200,000.
“He just had a very, very unique way of moving and a way of controlling his body — and his athleticism, that wasn’t normal. He was a special horse,” Morris said.
During the Abilene Spectacular in 2004, Rocky slipped and fell, hurting his stifles, an injury that followed him the rest of his life. Owner John McClaren retired him after the NCHA Summer Spectacular the same year, hopeful Rocky could become a breeding stallion.
But Rocky was a bilateral cryptorchid. After unsuccessful surgeries at Colorado State University and Texas A&M University, Rocky couldn’t produce viable semen.
“He never had any offspring. It was a real disappointment on that side of things and what could have been. But he still did plenty,” Morris said.
Rocky was gelded as a 6-year-old and went home to McClaren’s property in McGregor, Texas, to live the peaceful, tranquil life he earned. Morris was insistent that even though Rocky no longer competed and couldn’t be bred, he had value and deserved a comfortable life.
“He loved to be scratched on, and we spent a lot of time with him [giving] him the best care we could ever give him,” McClaren recalled.
According to McClaren, Rocky’s pasture mate of approximately 13 years, “Lena,” still misses him dearly. Both Morris and McClaren miss him, too, and are grateful for how the horse changed their lives.
“He was a really unique horse to train. He didn’t require a lot of encouragement; he was a very willing horse. He was unique in the sense that a lot of times he would do things and show you he could do things,” Morris said. “One of the things I give him credit for is teaching me that a lot of time, you don’t have to ask for more to get more. If you let them get comfortable, then the good ones a lot of times will give you more.
“It was sad to lose him; he was a very special horse. He changed my life and changed my family’s life. Winning the Futurity is a pretty special thing.”