In the February 2004 issue, H&R featured Smart Chic Olena as a Living Legend. The stallion was euthanized June 24, 2012. Read his story, below.
The sorrel stallion stands quietly in his stall as the cowboy slips a halter over his head. The man's weathered hands move deftly, but with a gentleness that bespeaks his affection. There's an air of familiarity and mutual respect between him and his horse; clearly, they're old friends.
The two enter the barn aisle and stand for a moment. The stallion, a handsome Quarter Horse, is calm and secure in his surroundings. His attitude seems to say, "I'm number one here. This is my world?and I've earned it."
The cowboy is Jim Babcock of Gainesville, Texas, and the horse at the end of the lead shank is Smart Chic Olena, a world champion in both cutting and reining, and arguably the most potent all-around performance sire in the history of the breed. At press time (February 2004), he was the American Quarter Horse Association's number-one leading sire of open performance horses, with 22 National Reined Cow Horse Association Futurity champions Chics Magic Potion and Smart Zanolena, and National Reining Horse Association Futurity champion Chic Please?have amassed millions in reining, cutting, and reined cow horse competition.
Understandably, the buzz surrounding this horse just keeps getting louder. For those who know him best, though, the story goes even deeper.
There are many qualities that go into the making of a great performer and sire, and horsemen will argue over which is most important. In the case of Smart Chic Olena, intelligence is certainly a factor.
Dr. Khris Crowe, resident veterinarian at the Babcock Ranch, regards her 15-hand charge as one of the most unique equine personalities she's ever come in contact with.
"Intelligence is sometimes hard to measure in a horse," she says. "But Chic is incredibly intuitive. He has an active mind and he knows his environment. Subtle things affect him?for example, he wants to be the first horse to the breeding shed. He also wants to have the first and the last carrot. If I forget and give another horse the last carrot, then go back to the barn a couple of hours later, Chic won't take a carrot from me. That's just how he is."
Crowe believes Chic's personality and intelligence helped him move fluidly between the disciplines of cutting and reining, excelling in both.
"He needs that kind of stimulus and thrives on it," she explains. "A full, active environment makes him a very happy horse."
Crowe, who handles about a hundred Smart Chic Olena offspring each year, says his foals are also highly intelligent.
"They're very accepting of people," she says. "They recognize that what you ask of them is for their own good. There's no escalation of exciement."
Babcock, whose fame is linked to that of his stallion, uses a human analogy to describe another of the horse's characteristics?his great heart.
"As a performer, Chic is very much like Michael Jordan?the world-famous basketball player," he says. "Michael might not have had the most perfect basketball body, but what he did have was as much desire to excel as anyone who's ever played the game. He made what he was doing look so easy that you sometimes failed to realize the effort he was putting into it."
"Smart Chic Olena is just like that," he continues. "From a conformation standpoint, there are probably a few things I would change about him?his back could be shorter, for example. But what I've never been able to fault is his heart?his desire to be a good citizen, and do everything we ask of him, to the best of his ability.
A Star in Miniature
By Smart Little Lena and out of Gay Sugar Chic by Gay Bar King, Smart Chic Olena was bred by Emily Woodall of New Caney, Texas, and foaled in 1985 on the B.F. Phillips ranch near Frisco, Texas.
That the blaze-faced youngster would be pointed toward a performance career was a foregone conclusion, given his heritage (see pedigree chart and notes on page X). His personal journey toward greatness began at the tender age of one month, when he was purchased by a four-man partnership headed by Bill Glass, then of Lampasas, Texas.
Glass, a longtime National Cutting Horse Association trainer and exhibitor had been managing Chic's dam, Gay Sugar Chic, for owner Woodall, and had trained several of the mare's offspring.
It was when Sugar was at B.F. Phillips' being bred to Doc O'Lena that Glass got his first look at Smart Chic Olena, then a foal at her side. Liking what he saw, he took an impromptu snapshot of the leggy colt, and it captured?and reinforced?the trainer's first impression.
"Even at that young age, he had a certain air about him," Glass recalls. "For lack of a better word, I'd call it charisma. And that look resurfaced from time to time as he was maturing. As a 30-day-old colt, Chic was a miniature of the horse he would become."
For the next two years, Smart Chic Olena was allowed to grow up in a natural state on the 2,500-acre ranch that Glass called home. In the fall of the colt's 2-year-old year, he was started under saddle and seasoned in what can only be called a "blue-collar" environment.
Glass started all of his cutting prospects as working ranch horses, and Chic was no exception. For his first six months, the young stallion paid his dues on the ranch as hands gathered, sorted, and doctored cattle on him.
"The colt took to it all like a duck to water," says Glass with satisfaction. "He was a good 'outside' horse and always had the demeanor of a gelding. And that made him easy to get along with, and to train.
"I've always maintained that, if you train horses for a living, you don't always have great days," he adds. "But great horses help you get through it. Chic was that kind of a horse."
With Glass, Smart Chic Olena began to make his presence felt in the NCHA competition. A 1988 Futurity semifinalist, he came back the following year to work his way to a third-place finish in the Super Stakes 4-Year-Old Open.
It was at this point that Chic came to the attention of the man who would soon become an integral part of his life. That man was Jim Babcock.
Originally from southwestern Ontario, Canada, Babcock started showing in AQHA youth classes when he was 15 years old, turning pro at 19. For the next two decades, he continued showing in halter, Western pleasure, trail, Western riding, driving, and versatility classes.
In 1983, he relocated his family to North Texas, and by the mid-1980s, he began to get interested in performance events?especially cutting, in which he'd competed as a youth. In 1987, he found himself bowled over by a lovely mover by the name of Miss Elan, a mare he wanted to buy and show in both pleasure and cutting.
"I was ready to offer $30,000 for her," he recalls with a smile. "Then her owner explained to me that she was by Doc O'Lena and out of Gay Sugar Chic, that she'd already won more than $100,000 in NCHA events, and that he'd turned down $125,000 for her. So I decided not to make my offer."
Still, he couldn't forget about the mare or her breeding. And the following year, as he watched a young sorrel stallion work at the NCHA Futurity in Fort Worth, it didn't take him long to realize that the flashy three-year-old, Smart Chic Olena, was a three-quarter brother to Miss Elan. Though the stallion made the semifinals, he didn't have a particularly good show.
"Despite that," says Babcock, "I felt he was everything I was looking for. He had the color, size, and shape. He cut the way I thought one should cut. His ears were forward, and his tail was quiet. The only thing wrong with him was that he wasn't for sale."
The following year, after the Super Stakes, Chic suffered a freak accident when he stuck his hock through a stall grid, injuring himself severely. It was that setback that opened the door for Babcock.
"When I looked at Chic after his injury, his right hock was probably three times its normal size, badly bruised, and nasty to look at," he recalls. "Still, I agreed at that point to purchase him for $40,000. On the way home, I made a few calls, put together a partnership of five people, and put Chic in a training and advertising program."
A Cutter?And A Reiner
Taken to Babcock's Gainesville ranch and nursed back to full health, Smart Chic Olena returned to the cutting pen. Shown initially by Glass, and later by Bill Freeman, Dell Bell, and Randy Butler, the colorful sorrel went on to compete in more than 200 cutting contests.
In NCHA, AQHA, and American Cutting Horse Association competition, he amassed more than $114,000 in earnings, and received NCHA Bronze and Silver awards. In addition, he was the 1990 AQHA World Champion Senior Cutting Horse, 1990 AQHA High-Point Senior Cutting Horse, and 1990 ACHA Reserve World Champion Open Cutting Horse.
In the cutting pen, Chic had proven to be a talented, determined, and durable performer. Conventional wisdom would have dictated he be retired to the breeding shed at this point.
Not yet, said Babcock.
"Chic was such a gifted and willing individual," he explains, "that we felt the most logical thing to do next would be to turn him into a reiner."
He realized it would be a tall order.
"In human terms, it'd be like asking a professional basketball player to become a hockey player," he muses. "We knew Chic would have to forget everything he'd ever learned as a cutting horse and re-learn what would be necessary to turn him into a competitive reiner.
"But," he adds, "we'd seen enough of what he was capable of to believe he'd rise to the occasion."
And rise he did.
"Trained and shown by Craig Johnson of Gainesville, Chic competed in ten reinings, placing first nine times, and ending 1993 as the NRHA Open Reserve World Champion.
Then, in November of '93, he stunned the Quarter Horse world by winning the senior reining at the AQHA World Show, becoming the only horse in history to earn AQHA world championship in both cutting and reining. In addition, he stands alone as the only horse to win both the senior cutting and senior reining at the prestigious All American Quarter Horse Congress in Columbus, Ohio.
Chics Off The Old Block
After his sterling year in '93, Smart Chic Olena was retired to stud. All that was left for the versatile stallion was to prove that he could reproduce himself. But despite his own impressive accomplishments, Chic's breeding career got off to a relatively slow start.
"When a horse wins the NCHA or NRHA Futurity, he gets the best mares the industry has to offer for the first three years or so, and those foals get the best trainers and the best owners," observes Babcock. "Without a futurity win to his credit, Chic had to work his way up the ladder, and initially we stood him for just $750. The turning point came when his first colt crop reached the age of three and began performing. And that was four years after we started with him.
Chic proved a dominant sire from the start. His foals all looked alike. Predominantly sorrels and chestnuts, many of them had blaze faces and roaning between their front and hind legs and along their sides, just like their sire.
They were also mega-talented. From the ex-champion's first foal crop came five NRHA futurity horses. From that point on, his foals began to rack up an unprecedented string of championships in cutting, reining, and working cowhorse competition. In the process, they established their sire as one of the industry's all-time best (see "Dossier," page X). He is one of three NRHA two-million-dollar sires. (Editor's note: As of 2009, Smart Chic Olena was a five-million-dollar-sire.)
In the spring of 2004, the stallion added another honor to his ever-expanding resume: He joined the elite ranks of those inducted into the NRHA Hall of Fame.
His Life Today
At home, however, life is more prosaic for the stallion. He does live in the biggest, brightest stall in the Babcock stallion barn, and he has Jodie Hanson, a local full-time college student and part-time employee attending to his daily grooming needs.
But rather than the top-level competition of old, his activities today?apart from siring top performance prospects?consist of leisurely "ranch patrols" with Hanson. Anyone seeing the pair on their rounds might be forgiven for mistaking the famous stallion for a retired show gelding out for a stroll. With his slender rider sitting lightly in the saddle, the stately sorrel jogs around the bustling ranch. As they pass broodmare pastures, yearling and weanling paddocks, and training areas, Chic's demeanor remains calm and willing, his expression one of quiet interest and enjoyment.
He obviously knows he's got a good thing going, and he's willing to keep it thus. He's just an awfully smart, awfully good horse.
Facts to note about the top (paternal) side of Smart Chic Olena's pedigree:
- Smart Little Lena is the second all-time leading sire of cutting horses with offspring that have earned in excess of $28 million.
- Doc O'Lena was the 1970 NCHA Futurity Champion. He is a top five lifetime Leading Cutting Sire with offspring that have earned in excess of $15 million.
- Poco Lena was a three-time AQHA High Point Cutting Horse and an AQHA Hall of Fame inductee. She was a three-time NCHA World Champion Cutting Mare, a five-time NCHA Reserve World Champion Cutting horse, and the first horse inducted into the NCHA Hall of Fame.
- Peppy San was the 1967 NCHA World Champion Cutting Horse. He is an AQHA Hall of Fame inductee and the sire of offspring that have earned in excess of $3 million.
- Royal Smart was a daughter of Royal King, the 1953 NCHA Reserve World Champion Cutting Horse.
Facts to note about the bottom (maternal) side of Smart Chic Olena's pedigree:
- Gay Sugar Chic was one of the industry's top matrons, producing offspring with earnings in excess of $401,000. She was also a full sister to the winner of the 1981 NCHA Non-Pro Derby.
- Gay Bar King was the sire of five AQHA Champions. In NCHA competition, his offspring earned in excess of $732,000.
- Chicy LIttle was also the dam of Gay Bar Chic (by Gay Bar King), the 1918 NCHA Non-Pro Derby champion.
- Three Bars was the sire of 14 world champion running horses that earned in excess of $3 million. He also sired four AQHA Supreme Champions and 39 AQHA Champions. He is an AQHA Hall of Fame inductee.
- Gay Widow was an AQHA champion and a Superior Halter Horse. She was a daughter of King P-234, the sire of 20 AQHA champions and an AQHA Hall of Fame inductee.
Dossier: Smart Chic Olena
Foaled: 1985, Frisco, Texas.
Breeder: Emily Woodall, New Caney, Texas.
Owner: Jim Babcock, Gainesville, Texas.
Trainers: Cutting: Bill Glass, Rosston, Texas; Bill Freeman, Rosston, Texas; Dell Bell, Gainesville, Texas; Randy Butler, Gainesville, Texas; Reining: Craig Johnson, Gainesville, Texas.
- 2004 National Reining Horse Association Hall of Fame inductee.
- 1993 American Quarter Horse Association World Champions Senior Reining.
- 1990 AQHA World Champions Senior Cutting; AQHA Superior Cutting.
- 1990 American Cutting Horse Association Reserve World Champion Open Cutting.
- Earner of $167,471 in cutting, reining, and cowhorse events.
- One of only three NRHA Two-Million-Dollar Sires.
- NRHA #2 all-time leading sire.
- 2002 AQHA #1 leading sire of open performance horses (performance winners and point-earners); #8 National Reined Cow Horse Association Leading Sire; Top 20 leading cutting horse sire.
- Chics Magic Potion?2003 NRCHA Futurity Champion.
- Chic Kachina Olena?2003 AQHA World Champion Junior Reining Horse.
- Cowgirls Are Smart?2003 NRCHA World's Greatest Horseman with Ron Ralls.
- Smartest Chico Olena?2003 USET Festival of Champions Champion and 2003 USET All-Star Series Champion.
- Sonita Lena Chic?2003 NCHA Non-Pro Classic/Challenge Champion.
- Broadmoor?2002 NRHA Open Reserve World Champion; 2001 AQHA World Champion Junior Reining Horse.
- A Chic In Time?2002 AQHA Reserve World Champion Senior Cutting Horse; 2000 AQHA World Champion Senior Reining Horse; 1998 AQHA High Point Junior Cutting Horse; 1996 NCHA Amateur Derby Champion.
- Smokin Chic Olena (APHA)?2001 APHA World Champion Senior Working Cowhorse and Senior Steer Roping; 1998 APHA World Champion Junior Reining and Junior Working Cowhorse.
- Paid By Chic?2000 NRCHA World's Greatest Horseman with Bob Avila; 2000 AQHA World Champion Senior Working Cowhorse.
- Sailing Smart?2000 AQHA Reserve World Champion senior Working Cowhorse; 1997 AQHA World Champion Junior Reining Horse.
- Smart Zanolena?1999 NRCHA Futurity Champion.
- Chocolate Chic Olena?1999 AQHA World Champion Senior Reining Horse; four-time Reserve World Champion
- Chic Please?1998 NRHA Open Futurity Champion; NRCHA Open Futurity Reserve Champion.