Just One Horse

Just One Horse

Okie Leo made a big difference for a lot of disabled people.

Thad and Doug Cox in the saddle on Okie Leo.

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

By Becky Newell

Every equine event I attend, I learn stories of how just one horse has changed multiple people’s lives.  Last fall, I heard a story about newly inducted American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer Okie Leo.

Bred by Leo’s owner, American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer Bud Warren of Perry, Oklahoma, Okie Leo was foaled in 1956, one of 13 foals out of Sorrel Sue, a daughter of King P-234. After running a couple of races as a 2-year-old, Okie Leo was sold to Dick and Helen Robey, who were jumping into the horse business. Okie Leo became an AQHA Champion when that was the highest honor attainable.

While his show career was impressive and his bloodline had far-reaching effects on the Quarter Horse as a breed, Okie Leo was doing something far more personal for Thad Cox and his family.

Thad was born in 1960 in southwestern Oklahoma. Three years later, another little boy arrived in the Cox family.

“He was born totally disabled,” a choked-up Thad says. “In 1963, we didn't have any information about those things. In March of 1964, my dad, Dick Cox, got an offer to train horses with Dick Robey. Dick and Helen opened their home to us. My folks were of the opinion that it was going to be a better life for my brother, Doug.”

Once they were settled at the Robey place at Perkins, Oklahoma, Thad’s mom, Nova, set about trying to find a way to educate Doug.

“She could not find any accommodations for my brother,” Thad says. “She couldn’t find a better way of life for him. So she spent three years developing some kind of school system for him, but she didn’t have any money.”

Dick and Helen hosted a benefit horse show and gave away breedings to Okie Leo to raise money for Thad and Doug’s mom.

“Dick and Helen put Okie Leo in a stall,” Thad says. “They set up the entries in the tack room right beside his stall. People would go by and get to see Okie Leo. He was the selling point of that show. Now keep in mind, this is ’67, ’68…it cost $5 to enter an open class, $3 to enter a youth class. We have this horse show outside and it’s drizzling, raining. And when all the smoke cleared, because of Okie Leo, they handed my mother a check for $2,500.”

That money started what is known now as EARC (formerly called the Edmond Association for Retarded Citizens) in Edmond, Oklahoma. It then developed into a work center called The Meadows, where people with developmental disabilities and permanent brain damage as a result of trauma work and can draw a wage.

“There are also several group homes where disabled adults have the ability to go live on their own,” Thad says. “It has also grown into a full-time facility that’s named after my mother, The Nova Center, where 20 children can live cost free.”

That’s also where Thad’s brother lived and thrived until his death in April 2018.

All because of just one horse.