Second Career Star: OK Black Panther

Second Career Star: OK Black Panther

Loved on and off the track, this retired racehorse is now a liberty performer.

former racehorse in a new career

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By Andrea Caudill

The black horse is completely free in the arena. No rope keeps him attached to his handler, yet he chooses to stay by her side. In fact, he willingly leapt through a hoop of fire to get to her, and now he shows off to a crowd the bond they’ve built—he performs about 20 tricks, from rearing on command to fetching her a rose thrown into the arena to performing high school piaffe and Spanish walk. 

OK Black Panther is a pleaser and loves a crowd almost as much as he loves the people that care for him. The horse known as “Panther” is a 2007 black son of the champion stallion Panther Mountain and out of the Bully Bullion mare Classic Bully. 

He was purchased as a yearling by Toni Fry of Muldrow, Oklahoma, a second-generation racehorse trainer who helped oversee his development as a runner. In his racing career, he would light the board in nine of his 17 career starts and was a stakes-placed runner and earned $54,995 before retiring.

Toni brought him home, and at first used him for everything from being a pony horse on the racetrack to being a beloved trail horse. When she began having some health concerns, she called a close friend, Windy Lattin, and asked if Windy could use him as a barrel horse. 

“I thought, well, ok, I’ve got friends that run barrels it’d be fun to have something to run barrels on the side,” Windy remembers. “It was always with the understanding that he was her horse, but I could keep him as long as I wanted him.”

Windy brought him home and got him in shape, and began hauling him to jackpot barrel races. 

“He just didn’t take to it,” she says, noting that he had difficulty making the turns and never appeared to have a real heart for the game. “I thought, he could probably be made to be a barrel horse, but I didn’t feel like he wanted to be a barrel horse, and I didn’t feel like he enjoyed it, and I sure wasn’t enjoying it.”

The horsewoman has had a lifetime of experience; she was raised on the rodeo circuit learning how to perform as a trick rider, and had become friends with Toni when she was working as a pony rider on the racetrack. Thus, she noticed that while Panther wasn’t a fan of the turn-and-burn, he effortlessly offered her some highly sophisticated athletic maneuvers. 

“I noticed I could get him so collected he’d almost do a piaffe naturally,” she says. “He could switch leads, and you could keep him collected so easily. He’d sidepass beautifully. It all came so natural, you barely had to show him what you were asking and he just took to it.”

Windy called Toni and told her she’d like to train the gelding to perform in a liberty act, the kind performed at rodeos between events. 

“I started tinkering with him, teaching him how to bow, and he just took to it really easy,” she says. 

Panther had found his new career. In time she taught him a plethora of tricks, from laying down to rearing, waving to the crowd to standing on a pedestal, sequences of lead changes to piaffe.

When she gets him in front of a crowd, it makes his light shine. 

“He’s just so smart, and he’s such a pleaser,” she says. “He loves the crowds. He absolutely eats it up when people pet him. He wants to be petted, he’ll stand next to the fence and let kids just crawl over him. He just loves the attention.

“He does (his tricks) so easily that in practice, sometimes he’ll be bored and barely try,” she adds with a chuckle. “But you put five people out there to watch him and he just perks up and does a beautiful sidepass. He just loves it.”

His racing career, she says, probably helped him in his new career. 

“Those colts get out there in front of the crowds and jumbotron and all that, and it’s really not been a bother to him to see the rodeo lights and noise,” she said. “The racing helped him bypass a lot of that seasoning you have to go through. You really can’t recreate a crowd to practice in, the energy, without just hauling them and going through it. But the racehorses have already gone through those lessons and know not to be scared. “

Look for Windy and Panther performing at a rodeo or event near you—but beware, you’re likely to join his extensive fan club.

“He’s just an exceptional horse,” Windy says. “Everyone that ever sees him just loves him. He’s got one of those kind eyes and people just think wow, he’s pretty special. He’s just been a favorite of everybody his whole life.”

Second Career Stars is an ongoing series on retired racing American Quarter Horses in new careers. If you know of a horse that should be featured, write to acaudill@aqha.org. AQHA News and information is a service of the American Quarter Horse Association. For more news and information, follow @AQHA Racing on Twitter, "like" Q-Racing on Facebook, and visit www.aqha.com/racing.