Olan Hightower & Colonel Freckles

The 1976 NCHA Futurity was one for the horse-showing record books.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

In 1970, Olan Hightower walked away from a career training horses to devote himself to a life where he could spend more time with his wife and four young children.

The couple worked side-by-side at their landscape business during the week and on weekends, they trailered four children and their horses to rodeos and playdays.

It was the best time of their lives for the close-knit family, and Olan could not imagine a horse that would tempt him to return to a life on the road and in the show pen.

Until he met “The Colonel.”

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Colonel Freckles arrived on the planet in 1973 at Marion Flynt’s ranch in Midland, Texas. The Colonel, as everyone called him, was by Jewel’s Leo Bars and out of Christy Jay by Rey Jay, who was a one-eyed stallion who had been a cutting sensation in the 1960s. “Mr. Cutting Horse,” Marion Flynt, who served as president of the National Cutting Horse Association in 1956-1958, and again in 1963-1971, owned Rey Jay, whose daughters were fast becoming top producers. Colonel Freckles would help solidify that reputation.

Meanwhile, Texan Bob McLeod wanted a futurity horse. One day, Olan went to see his friend Buddy Ralston, a bull rider who worked out of the McLeod barn. There, he had a chance meeting with Bob that would change the direction of his life.

“Bob was a real estate man, and he got talking to me about training a cutter,” Olan remembers, shaking his head. “He kept saying he’d make it worth my while, and you know, when you’re raising a family, money does grease the wheel. I told him that Mr. Marion Flynt raised some pretty good horses, and I think he went straight away and called him on the phone that day.”

Olan recalls that Bob went to look at a mare, Mia Freckles, who Flynt offered for sale. Once there, however, he spied the 2-year-old Colonel Freckles and immediately inquired about the price on the bright sorrel youngster.

“If Mr. Flynt didn’t like you, there was no amount of money that could persuade him to sell his horse to you,” Olan says. “Bob went back to Mr. Flynt with $8,500 in his pocket to spend, and came home with the colt … But I have to tell you, his money didn’t look too safe!

“The Colonel was a little guy – 14.1 with brand-new shoes on – and maybe 850 pounds. When Bob, who was 6-foot-3 or 6-foot-4 got on him, that little horse looked like a Shetland. But even worse, when I put him on a cow, he dang near ate it alive!”

It was April, and there was a lot of work to do before the NCHA Futurity in November. Olan climbed into the saddle and started riding.

“What I really wanted to do was get him to trust me,” Olan says. “That was the goal. If a horse trusts you, they’ll work for you. Of course, I tried every trick I knew to get him interested in cattle.”

There was an old hay field on the ranch, about 4/10 mile long and 400 feet wide. And there were some heifers in a pasture that Olan moved to the hay field.

“I’d ride up there by myself and rope cattle with The Colonel,” Olan says. “I even worked goats with him. I did just about anything to make it interesting and get his attention, and he slowly started to focus.”

And Olan slowly started to revise his opinion of the handsome blaze-faced colt.

“The Colonel was real quick off his hocks,” he says. “Man, he could run. Frankly, he would’ve made a great barrel horse. And once he trusted me, he’d try his heart out to get the job done. He started to focus on the cows, and when it was time to go to the Futurity, he was looking pretty decent.”

Today, the 1976 NCHA Futurity open division is considered by many horsemen to be one of the toughest events in the history of the Futurity, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2011. The finals included future greats like Freckles Playboy, Doc’s Oak, Doc’s Remedy, Doc Athena, Montana Doc and Doc’s Becky. The savvy crowd knew it was in for some fantastic cutting, and it would not be disappointed.

“I wanted to cut a real bad cow first,” Olan says, “so she’d get The Colonel’s attention. We were in luck, because there was one cow that everybody ahead of us cut around; I just thanked the good Lord for blessing me with that cow. She definitely got his attention. As we worked, the crowd got so loud, I couldn’t hear his feet hitting the ground. And that old Colonel never did anything but try to help.”

With a 223 score, Olan Hightower and Colonel Freckles were the 1976 NCHA open champions.

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The two went on to win a junior cutting in Sweetwater and an open cutting in Louisiana, but interest in breeding to the stallion overtook his cutting career.

“When we came home after winning, the phone rang off the wall,” Olan remembers. “People who wanted to buy him and people who wanted to breed their mares to him. A few years later, he sold for $1.5 million.”

Colonel Freckles, a 2004 inductee into the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame, went on to become one of the most successful and versatile sires of the day. By 1981, 36 of his offspring entered the NCHA Futurity; four made it into the finals, including Colonel Lil, the ultimate champion.

Colonel Freckles sired champion reining horses, and his grandson, Colonels Smokingun, aka “Gunner,” won the 2001 United States Equestrian Team Reining Championship and the 1996 National Reining Horse Association Futurity open reserve championship, and made a name for himself as a top sire.

The Colonel Freckles son Nu Cash earned more than $100,000 and won the 1987 National Reined Cow Horse Association Snaffle Bit Futurity. Nu Cash then sired three NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity winners.

Colonel Freckles died in 1986 at 13 years of age, but his influence continues to this day. And Olan smiles at the indelible memories of his time with The Colonel.

“He was real sweet to ride, and I rode him a lot more than I worked him. You know, if you have a horse you have to work every day, you haven’t got much. But The Colonel was a sweet one; he was just made that way. He helped me and Momma get our place. He’s gone now, but I’ll have the memory of him forever – and there’s nothing in the world I’d trade for that.”

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