Smart Little Lena's ashes in March were moved to a new resting place. NCHA Executive Director Jay Winborn (far right) displays Smart Little Lena’s 1982 Futurity Champion trophy while NCHA Charities Foundation Director Julia Buswold accepts the remaining Smart Little Lena memorabilia donated by Manion Ranch (clockwise from top) Kyle, Tommy and Layne Manion. • Photo courtesy of Manion Ranch.

Manion Ranch Donates Smart Little Lena’s Ashes

The ashes of the first National Cutting Horse Association (NCHA) triple crown winner have a new resting place.

The legendary icon and EquiStat Elite $42 Million Sire will now be housed at the NCHA offices in Fort Worth. His ashes were donated to the National Cutting Horse Foundation on March 8 by Tommy Manion, Kyle Manion and Layne Manion of Manion Ranch, where he stood at stud from the age of 4 until his death in 2010.

The staff at Manion Ranch said in a statement the NCHA offices were an appropriate place for the stallion’s ashes to be publicly viewed, because during his life Smart Little Lena enjoyed being the center of attention. He had the reputation for being quite the ham, they said, and was considered the embodiment of a showy performer.

Smart Little Lena was the first horse to win the NCHA Triple Crown. • Photo by Dalco.

Manion Ranch Operations Manager Kyle Manion, even when this world-famous sire had the day off, if a new face made an appearance at his stall, his ears pricked up, he was instantly on, “ready for his close-up” and happy to pose with visitors.

The NCHA Hall of Fame Horse and American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) Hall of Famer needed a new final resting place due to Manion Ranch selling much of its facility in recent months, including its office building. 

While the ranch will continue to show and sell horses and remain in business – including standing Smart Little Lena’s great-grandson, EquiStat Elite $33 Million Sire Smooth As A Cat – the Manions said the sale did prompt some difficult decisions when it came to what to do with the trove of Smart Little Lena memorabilia, including his Futurity championship trophy.

“We were torn between keeping all the mementos from this once-in-a-lifetime stallion who played such a big part in the growth and development of our operation or donating the items,” Manion said. “It was not easy to part with his ashes, trophies and awards, but we felt compelled to share him with the NCHA membership to preserve his legacy and recognize his historical impact on the sport.” 

Smart Little Lena’s Impact

Smart Little Lena is one of only three horses to hold the coveted title of Triple Crown champion, retiring with show winnings of $743,275.

This exceptional sire was ranked by EquiStat as the No. 1 leading cutting sire for nine consecutive years (2000-2008), ranked as the No. 1 all-time leading cutting maternal grandsire for 16 years straight (2003-2018) and as of March, 2022 his offspring have earned in excess of $42.6 million in multiple disciplines. 

His son, Red White And Boon, remains the all-time leading cutting money winner in EquiStat with $922,063 in lifetime earnings and Smart Little Lena himself ranks as the fourth-leading cutting sire of all time in EquiStat. Daughters of Smart Little Lena have produced the winners of more than $82.1 million in multiple disciplines, led by $818,177-winning cutting horse Dual Rey Me.

Smart LIttle Lena & trainer Bill Freeman in the show pen. • QHN File Photo.

Smart Little Lena revolutionized the industry and has been the subject of countless books, articles, interviews and videos.

Standing what would become an extraordinary sire provided the entrée into the cutting business for Manion Ranch in 1984. The Manion family already had a great appreciation for the athleticism demanded by the sport itself, and of course revered Smart Little Lena’s accomplishments early on. 

When the 4-year-old came to Manion Ranch, Kyle Manion was eight and remembers this charismatic stallion immediately became part of the family.   

“He was so much fun and loved to play games with us. He continued his daily playtime right up until the day before his passing in 2010,” Manion said. “There will never be another like him.”

The impact of Smart Little Lena’s death was felt nationwide for sure and quite possibly worldwide. 

“That night, CNN acknowledged his passing with the message on their news ticker which read, ‘Legendary cutting horse and sire Smart Little Lena passed away today,’” Manion recalled.

The Manion family adheres to the tenet that the present can only be truly appreciated by knowing the past. Therefore, remembering from whence you came is the watchword around the ranch and documenting Smart Little Lena’s contribution to the industry is of paramount importance to the family. 

“He was remarkable and certainly worthy of remembrance,” Manion said. “It’s a bittersweet day. But, we celebrate with NCHA that our rock star has returned to reclaim center stage.”