A Boy, A Horse, A Love Affair

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A Boy, A Horse, A Love Affair

September 1997

That September RMHA International sported glorious, lazy fall days. The sun was warm, the company good, and the horses were happy.  It was 1997 and a love affair was about to bloom.            

 It had become the custom for Arley Doug Hatton of Slate View Stables and Pam Hofer of Tunnel Hill Stables to show with us.  All of us are Kentucky amateurs, and we attend the RMHA International show for fun. With stalls numbering about 10, we were decked out in our finest to try for that elusive Stall Decorating trophy. That year, newcomers were in our midst.  11-year-old Sam Simpson, sister Shon and father Robert Simpson shared in our good times. Sam and Shon wanted to show in the Youth Showmanship classes. They did not own Rocky Mountain horses, but Doug and Pam were loaning a couple for that event. Except for 4-H, this was the Simpson’s first time participating in a horse show.  

The week was full as we rushed from class to class with our merry band of Rockies and amateur riders. Our band included my sorrel mare, the first Rocky Mountain we came to own—Smith’s Lucky—purchased right off the strip mines in Eastern Kentucky from Ronnie’s high school friend, Ray Smith.

At 4, Lucky, a Smith’s Ginger granddaughter and Nuncio offspring, was enjoying her second International show.  Lucky was an energetic, proud filly—she loved to perform and would put her head up in the bridle and strut her stuff around the show ring.                                                        

Sam Simpson & Smith's Lucky with a blue

Lucky undersaddle at the 1997 show                                

At 11, Sam Simpson was quite a handsome, polite little man.  He had learned showmanship in 4-H, and could not wait to get in the ring.  He and sister Shon had been practicing.  Dad Robert had just purchased Sam a suit so he would have proper attire. The morning of his class, Sam worked his horse again. About an hour before Sam’s class call, I got Lucky out of her stall. She could be a handful when she wanted. This was one of those days! Lucky danced around me as I tried to get her to calm down and stand still. 

Sam took one look at Lucky and fell in love.  He exclaimed. “She’s beautiful! Can I walk her?”  “Of course,” I said, “But be careful. She is full of energy sometimes.”  Sam and Lucky took off across the asphalt between the show barns.  Lucky walked like a perfect lady at his side. He stopped and parked her out. She stood perfectly still.  He walked around her like he would in his showmanship class. She never moved.  He walked her in a figure 8. She calmly walked through the maneuvers.  

After a few minutes, Sam brought back a placid Lucky.  He handed over her lead, gave her a couple of quick pats and reluctantly walked to his quiet showmanship mare. Sam whispered something to his father and looked longingly in Lucky’s direction. Soon, Sam and Robert sauntered over to talk to Doug and then all three approached me.  “Could I show Lucky?” Sam said.


                                                                                                     Brenda, Sam and Lucky in 1997 after the championship

In the nick of time, the switch was made. Sam Simpson and Smith’s Lucky entered the 11 to 14 Showmanship class at the 1997 RMHA International show.  The energetic 4-year-old horse that only the day before danced around the grate at the entrance gate, refusing to cross it, plodded into the ring without batting an eye. The duo went through their maneuvers; and then parked in position and waited. With several entrants, the class ran long and neither boy nor horse lost their composure or moved a muscle. 

Sister Shon’s name was called for a ribbon.  Then, I heard Sam’s name.  And, I heard Smith Lucky’s name.  The youngest participant, Sam Simpson, and a young spirited mare, Smith’s Lucky, had captured the blue.


Two days later, a little 11-year-old boy who had never shown before and a little red mare that wasn’t a kid horse, both spit shined and looking their finest, marched into a championship juvenile showmanship class. The class seemed crowded with more experienced, older children—some as old as 17—who strode confidently into the arena.  I looked down on the tough competition and knew Sam would be lucky to get a ribbon. He looked so small and Lucky seemed so young! Lucky and Sam went through their maneuvers, and the normally frisky mare was calm, and the boy never baubled.  


The class seemed like it lasted forever, and I am not sure I took a breath during it.  Finally, it was over and the placings were in.  The announcer started with last place first, and with each one, we waited to hear Sam’s name.  Surely, he deserved some type of ribbon, I thought. When it was time for the first place announcement, I was busy thinking about what I would say to stave off Sam’s disappointment.  I am not sure I understood what the announcer said until our bunch burst into cheers. At 11 years of age and as the youngest competitor, Sam Simpson and his sidekick, Smith’s Lucky, had won the class!


The Rocky Mountain horse’s easy temperament and people loving disposition is a unique and cherished breed attribute. Often, though, I find it difficult to describe in words what it is that makes this breed special.  Come to think of it, maybe we don’t have to describe it. Maybe we can just tell stories—stories like this one. After all, a normally spirited, young Rocky Mountain filly listened to the yearnings of a little boy’s heart and instinctively knew how to respond. Isn’t that what we mean?


The 1997 World Grand Championship Youth Showmanship winner 11-year-old Sam Simpson and his young showmanship mare, Smith’s Lucky, had a love affair. They showed that a boy and a horse are ALWAYS winners—especially when that horse is a Rocky Mountain.      

2007 Note:  Many of us recognized the special achievements of Sam and his horse.  From RMHA President Jake Rose, Sam Simpson received a Presidential Award for his accomplishments at the 1997 RMHA International.  Robert, Connie, Sam, and Shon Simpson became part of our extended Rocky Mountain family, and the friendship that developed has never ended. The Simpson family went on to own Rocky Mountain horses, and through his teenage years, Sam often broke and trained horses to make extra money, and continues even as an adult as a fine horseman.

Updated November 23, 2013


Sam Simpson