An “everyday” person’s horse becomes a star.
By Lesli Krause Groves
Two men named Morgan Freeman have registered horses with AQHA.
The most recent, and more famous, has a ranch in Mississippi. You’d recognize his voice if not his name. The actor Morgan Freeman was taking classes in drama and dance when the horseman Morgan Freeman of Oklahoma prepared to appear before the largest crowd of his career. If his life were a movie, this would be a pivotal part of the story.
Here’s the scene:
Black ice covers the pavement in northeastern Oklahoma, as Morgan Freeman heads south in a borrowed truck and trailer. Inside the trailer is the most expensive horse he’s ever owned. He’d hoped to make a trip like this for 20 years, but they were off to a slow and nerve-wracking start. He’s wondering if it is a dude’s dream to take his stallion to the Fort Worth Stock Show. But if Blondy’s Dude could be in the top 10 in Cowtown, it would make for a great story to tell visitors to his feed store in Skiatook.
Freeman, then 48, had only been to Fort Worth once before, back in 1941. There, he’d witnessed what felt like an historic event. It was predetermined the grand champion stallion at the historic Fat Stock Show would receive registration #1 in the new stud book. (You have to wonder if the judge was aware of the horse’s name — Wimpy — when he made his selection.) Afterward, Freeman followed other horsemen to the Ambassador Hotel for a meeting of the fledgling AQHA, incorporated only one year earlier.
A lot had changed in 21 years.
He found the new show grounds, but then realized he’d forgotten “Dude’s” health papers. He yanked off Dude’s blankets, then staked him out on a grassy median near the carnival and went off in search of a veterinarian. He saw license plates from states he’d never visited, the grandest trucks and trailers imaginable. He heard someone say, with 795 horses entered, this would be the largest show in the breed’s history.
Dude had left Skiatook wrapped up like a grandbaby going out to play in the snow. During the six-hour drive south into warmer weather, sweat had trickled down his legs. So while staked out on the median, Dude’s hair dried in the sun, cementing itself out of place. Freeman returned to find a horse who looked starched, but not ironed.
Dude was just recovering from a cold. Did Freeman dare bathe him? A goose egg had come up on the sorrel’s neck where the veterinarian at home had given him a shot. Freeman thought he could hide it by strategically combing his four-inch mane, but now the mane had a stubborn mind of its own.
Now what should he do? Freeman was used to having his son, Jerald, along at shows, but Jerald was taking care of things so Morgan could mark showing at Fort Worth off his bucket list.
He found a water hose and soaked the sorrel stallion, then looked for something to squeegee off the excess water. All he could find was a piece of broken glass lying on the ground. So that’s what he used. A good Samaritan grooming another horse nearby walked over and silently handed him a scraper.
He was not feeling as confident as when he had left Skiatook.
Facing the crowd
Nothing creates nervous energy like having a crowd of people you hope to impress watch you lead your mature stallion into a pen with 29 other stallions pumping testosterone. Several horses in the class had established show reputations, and several of their owners and handlers were like the rock stars of the industry.
The judge was Ernest Browning, a past president of AQHA. Under his leadership, judge’s clinics had been introduced to help establish show standards. His credentials were in line with the prestige of the show.
After watching the prized stallions on parade, judge Browning’s first overt move was to jerk his thumb toward Dude, gesturing him out of the line-up.
Freeman felt gut-punched.
He thought Dude had been the first one culled. He wanted to say, “Wait! This is the reigning champion of the Tulsa State Fair!”
“Trot him,” the judge said curtly.
As soon as Freeman realized they weren’t being sent out the gate, he jogged off, but Dude was jerking and bouncing more than trotting. Still, after 20 other contenders were excused from the ring, he and Dude survived.
Browning lined up the finalists with Dude at the end. Freeman, whose primary goal was to make the cut, was proud to be 10th in a group of 30 at this particular show. He’d get their picture made with the ribbon and put it up at the feed store. . .
As the announcer started calling names, slowly it dawned on Freeman that they were going in ascending order. Dude’s name hadn’t been called, and they were at the end of the line. In a moment, the announcer confirmed, “First place goes to Blondy’s Dude.”
Freeman and Dude had a brief moment in the spotlight before the other class winners came in for the championship drive. George Tyler, who was well-known to the horsemen watching, was leading Leo San Siemon. Freeman knew he’d been grand champion almost every time he’d been shown.
When judge Browning told Freeman to trot his horse, he added, “in a circle this time.” Freeman was already off with his horse bouncing by his side before the command registered. But as soon as he turned Dude into the circle, the stallion slowed down, leveled out and traveled like a champion.
“Make him reserve,” the judge said, pointing to Leo San Siemon. “Make him grand,” he concluded, pointing to Blondy’s Dude.
The judge at the show, Ernest Browning, is referred to as a “using horse” man in his bio for the AQHA Hall of Fame. Freeman, likewise, was a using horse man. And Blondy’s Dude was a using horse who became a Hall of Fame sire.
Freeman had first seen him in a reining class, then decided to buy him after seeing him at a practice cutting at his son’s house, in what may have been his first time in front of a cow.
When he repeated as grand champion at the Tulsa State Fair in 1963, he also placed third in cutting. With points in reining, cutting and halter, he became an AQHA Champion, and sired many more AQHA champions. The only well-known names in his pedigree are his paternal grandsire, King, and maternal great-grandsire, Plaudit.
Freeman was not Blondy’s Dude’s first owner — in one exchange he even went through the auction ring in Fort Smith, not known as a source for future AQHA Champions. (One trader confided afterward he’d been bidding because he had a set of papers issued to a son of Three Bars that might match him).
A short time later, Freeman was “walking on faith” when he negotiated to buy Dude for the equivalent of $5,000. Payment included a couple of mares and line of credit for horse feed, along with some cash.
There’s much more to the story, of course, most of it involving what Jerald describes as “everyday people,” like themselves.
Long after Dude died at the age of 23, horses with Blondy’s Dude’s bloodline appealed to cowboys and horse show dudes alike. The most famous current example would be the stallion Shining Spark, and his “Superhorse” mother, Diamonds Sparkle.
“Blondy’s Dude was God’s way of putting us in the horse business,” Jerald says. “On his headstone, Dad had inscribed, ‘God gives his best to those who leave the choice to him.’”