Chasing a Childhood Dream: Smallwood family overcomes challenges to make childhood dreams a reality
Smallwood Horses, a breeding operation located in Powell, was established in 2005 by Ashley and Lance Smallwood, a couple who started riding horses at a young age and eventually shared in this passion to chase their childhood dreams.
The road to success certainly hasn’t been easy for the two of them, but with grit and perseverance, Smallwood Horses has become a leading force in breeding versatile equine athletes.
Passion at an early age
Ashley notes she has had a passion for horses since the early age of three, when her parents purchased her a pony after she quit sucking her thumb. Lance’s family has always used horses for hunting, and he began riding at the age of four.
Ashley continued to pursue this passion by riding and training horses at Northwest College in Powell. During this time, her and Lance started their horse business.
“Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease during my sophomore year and had to quit school to try to figure out how to manage it,” Ashley shares, further noting she went back later to finish her degree.
“At this time, I was still training horses, but my health didn’t allow me to train full time for other people,” she continues. “Then, an old stallion was given to me. He’d been starved and was really thin, but they told me I could have him.”
Ashley was able to get the stallion healthy, with the hopes of using him in the Smallwood breeding program. However, she soon realized he was no longer sound and she wouldn’t be able to get any foals out of him.
“But, I got to thinking maybe I would raise a stallion,” she says.
Raising standout stallions
So, raising a stallion is exactly what Ashley did.
“We raised a colt out of one of our mares – Talking Te King – out of King Rocky Jet and Talking Whizz, the foundation mare of our program. Her colt is a 2010 red dun, sired by a son of Sun Frost. His name is CEtalkNdirtyNspanish, but we call him Romeo,” she says. “He is the best stallion anyone could ask for – kind, forgiving and never loses his manners.”
The Smallwoods quickly saw success with Romeo, as he has produced money winners in barrel racing, heeling, calf roping and steer roping. Awhile later, they decided they needed a fancier stallion, so they went to Oklahoma to buy Friendly Fury from Lea and Craig Stodart of C Hangin C Performance Horses in November 2015.
According to Ashley, Friendly Fury, fondly known as Compadre, is a 2012 American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA) sorrel by Furyofthewind by Joanies Alibi.
Compadre was trained by Glenn for a year following the purchase and then remained in Oklahoma to complete his run in the Barrel Futurities of America Juvenile Championships, finishing in the top 40.
After some coaching from Lea, Ashley brought the stallion home and took over as his jockey. They formed a special bond and hit the futurity trail.
Although, Compadre could have won a lot of money with a professional jockey, Ashley and Lance decided they wanted to campaign him themselves, and he has been Ashley’s main horse ever since – running barrels, showing, jumping and standing as stud.
A strong bond helps overcome challenges
The two have also created a strong bond through some very close calls.
In October 2017, when he was four, Compadre began to act colicky every three days, then developed diarrhea.
Ashley knew something was wrong, so she continued hauling him to the vet, just to be told he was okay. However, her gut instinct drove them to Montana Equine, a new facility in Billings, Mont., where Compadre underwent exploratory surgery.
In surgery, doctors discovered something had punctured the stallion’s intestine, but instead of dying, his body walled off the infection. This walled-off area was blocking food coming from his stomach, and he would colic after eating. Then, the food would slowly pass through, and he’d feel okay until he ate again.
Ashley says the veterinarians only gave Compadre a 25 percent chance of surviving the surgery.
“Not only did he survive, he thrived afterward,” she states. “But then about eight months later, I got really sick and ended up in the hospital with Autoimmune Hemolytic Anemia.”
She received 14 units of blood and remained in critical condition for many of the 17 days of hospitalization. Lance hauled Compadre to the hospital to visit her, and he seemed to sense she needed comfort. The horse placed his head on her shoulder as she sat in a wheelchair in the crowded hospital parking lot.
Ashley returned home and was able to begin riding after a few months. She and Compadre returned to competition at a fundraiser to help defray some of the medical costs of her long hospital stay.
Then, in June 2019, while both of them were recovering, a truck in front of their rig lost a tire on their way to a barrel race.
“The tire went under our trailer, locked up our brakes and ripped us off the road,” shares Ashley. “Our truck rolled five times, and the trailer smashed into an embankment. I broke my neck, back, collarbone and almost severed the artery in my neck. The wound missed it by a fraction of an inch.”
“All of us should have died,” she adds. “My mom was with us and broke both of her ankles and shoulder blades, had a brain bleed and was in the hospital for a month. The gal who rides with us, Abbey Eaton, broke her neck – a hangman’s fracture – most people don’t live through that.”
“All three horses in the trailer – Compadre, my mom’s horse and Abbey’s horse – were just standing there. The floor of the trailer was completely gone, and the horses were standing on the ground. None of them were injured,” she continues.
The horses received only minor cuts and injuries and were cared for by the Heiken family and Dr. Jessica Quiggs. This probably should have been the end, but Ashley and Compadre refused to quit.
In December of the same year, they were back in the arena running and winning 2D money and a 4D buckle in Las Vegas.
“Compadre and I have had some serious close calls, but he just keeps coming back stronger than ever, and his babies are showing good potential,” she says.
Do-it-yourself breeding program
When it came to breeding, Ashley notes she originally planned to send Compadre to a stallion station, but realized it would be expensive and a long drive from Wyoming.
“So, we decided to do it ourselves but we weren’t sure how,” she says.
In order to learn, Ashley attended an equine reproduction school in Danville, Ky. She also took courses in equine reproduction through breeders’ assistant classes in Tomball, Texas, taught by Dave and Tina Riddle and became a licensed artificial insemination (AI) technician.
The couple also became licensed in embryo transfer (ET) and ultrasound.
“We started our program to collect our own stallions. Then, people began asking if we could collect theirs so they wouldn’t have to haul them over the mountains to have it done,” she shares. “This is how our business started.”
“We don’t use ET or ultrasound technology on outside mares because it’s not legal in Wyoming unless you are a veterinarian,” she adds “We just do embryo transfers on our own mares.”
Today, Smallwood Horses is home to 20 broodmares and five stallions. The stallion barn and breeding lab are run by Ashley, her brother Karl Johnston and her mother Karen Johnston.
“We’ve had good success with the horses we’ve raised, trained and sold to people they fit with,” Ashley states. “Some of these horses are roping and a couple are with barrel racing trainers.”
She notes Compadre’s oldest babies are five this year, and Romeo’s oldest is seven.
“We look forward to them becoming more popular as they get older,” Ashley says. “We sell weanlings and yearlings, but our goal is sending solid trained horses into the world to excel.”
Other Smallwood stallions include Chewing Gum in Church, also known as Chewy, a 2001 AQHA by Reverend Jonah Black out of Hempens Chicklet; Dash N Identity, also known as Swat, a 2018 AQHA stallion by Identity Theft out of Fly Mama Fly and Ima Exec Doc, also known as Debo, a 2014 Appaloosa Horse Club stallion by The Covenant out of Ima Sweet Report.
What started as one little girl’s dream is now her family’s passion – to breed versatile horses that can compete at the highest level or stroll around the backyard with the grandkids, all in the same week.
For more information on Smallwood Horses, check out @SmallwoodHorsesandStallionStation on Facebook.
Heather Smith Thomas is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.