By Ruthie Stewart
Many people come into our lives through horses, but only a few stay in our hearts forever. Stanley Ryan was a special soul, who made life sweeter for everyone who was fortunate enough to cross his path. An immense talent in the horse show world, a loving father, and devoted friend, Stanley was known for his beautiful smile and attention to detail. His daughters, Courtney and Chelsea, were his pride and joy, and he was blessed with a grandson he adored. He went home to see his mama and sisters every chance he could, and he was a friend that could be relied on when needed. Stanley lived life to the fullest, and he was always there to build up others with a kind word and his ever-present grin.
The four Ryan siblings, Jackie, Stanley, LuAnn, and Jami grew up in Ryan, Alabama, a town named after their family and settled by one of their Irish ancestors. Stanley’s grandparents were farmers, and his father, Nolan, worked for the steel industry in Birmingham. LuAnn “Lulu” Ryan Williams is Stanley’s younger sister by four years. “Stanley was a lot like our dad in his mannerisms and appearance, and they had the same big ole’ smile. Stanley loved horses as a kid and always had a horse or a pony,” Lulu says. Stanley was self-taught as a rider and such a natural that by the time he was in high school, people wanted him to ride their horses. He started showing Quarter Horses in Arab, Alabama, at the Pioneer Saddle Club, and he’d help anyone who asked. In high school, he went to ride with Hoss Self, who was one of the biggest sellers of Quarter Horses in the area.
When Stanley was 17, he went to live and work as a trainer for the Scranton family. “My parents didn’t want him to leave so young, but they knew he had a calling,” Lulu says. Stanley’s attention to order and cleanliness started when he was a kid and was a notable character trait many people admired. “I was the messy one, but he was always so neat with his clothes ironed. He would let me drive his truck, but I couldn’t mess it up,” Lulu remembers. Lulu and Stanley were especially close. “All I had to do was pick up the phone, and he’d be there if I needed him. My house burned last year, and I told him he didn’t have to come, but he left Florida and came up anyway,” she says. Stanley went home to Alabama every chance he got to see Jean, his mama who passed away last year, and he never missed a Christmas.
When Courtney Raughley was 15, she met Stanley while showing horses. They grew up together, and the two were so close that Stanley’s oldest daughter is named after her. Courtney says, “I called him ‘Stan the Man,’ and he had this wonderful personality. Stanley would stop by our barn like clockwork every day to chat with his dog, Demoto. My sister Emily, Caroline Scranton, Stanley, and I all hung out together and got our horses ready for shows.” Bob Scranton helped Stanley get established as a trainer and bought him his first truck and trailer. The years he spent working for the Scranton family were happy and successful, and Stanley won at the Congress for the family with Present Me. “Stanley was a huge part of our lives,” Caroline Scranton says. “We all loved him and those were the best years of my life.”
Then, Stanley went to work for Bill Coffman. Around this time, he met his wife, Nancy Sue. Courtney says, “Nancy Sue was working for Jack Finney and was known as a hand. All the young trainers wanted to date Nancy Sue, but she was focused on her work. Somehow, our Stanley got her attention, and the rest is history. He was my best friend, and I thought the world of him. He had my back and knew I had his, and I would do anything for him.”
“He was the kindest and the sweetest. His daughters were part of my family,” she says. In fact, Stanley’s daughters call Courtney, ‘Mama C.’ “Stanley and I had a very special friendship. Since we were kids, he’s always meant a lot to me, and I’m glad his girls were by his side in his final moments. My heart will always miss him. May we all hold on to the wonderful memories he left us with,” Courtney says.
Courtney Suzanne Brockmueller is Stanley’s oldest daughter. As the progeny of horse training legends, she inherited her parents’ talent. She’s the Leading NSBA Non-Pro Exhibitor with over $100,000 in lifetime earnings. She and her husband, Mark, have a five-year-old son named Brim. Together they run MB Construction LLC, and they build show horse barns and facilities.
Courtney Ryan says, “My dad came from a very close-knit family that didn’t have a lot of money, but a lot of love. During every Christmas, he saw his mom and dad. His favorite thing was cornbread and chocolate gravy. Whenever we make it, we think of my dad, because that’s the recipe we all use from my Maw Maw Ryan.
“The thing I take away most from my dad was how to be humble and modest. He kept his illness close to his chest, and we saw him a lot in the last year. We’re all neat freaks and, whenever I clean stuff, I think of him.”
Chelsea Ryan, Stanley’s youngest daughter, lives and works with her mom and Nana on the family farm in Nacona, Texas. She earned the name “Chelly Belly” from her dad for the funny way she’d stick out her tummy as a kid. Chelsea loves all animals and runs a rescue program. She has her master’s degree in finance and economics and was working as a vet tech until her mom was injured. Then, she moved back home to help out with the foaling and farm operations.
Chelsea’s memories of her dad are filled with love and family get-togethers in Alabama. “Every summer, and during the holidays, we’d fly down and stay with my grandma and my aunt Lulu. My dad had a soft spot for his side of the family, and we’d go to Ryan Church, and my grandma would cook special dishes for us,” she says. “My dad would always tell us how proud he was of us. After he passed, I found out he kept every single card I sent him. He was much more sentimental than he let on. I knew he loved me and was proud of me, always.”
During his time in the hospital, Stanley won the nurses over in a day, and they snuck him into a private room. “He was so charming,” Chelsea recalls. When Chelsea and Courtney were little, their mom and dad would squeeze their hands three times in a row to say I love you. She says, “My dad did that the whole time he was in the hospital. We were by his side at the end, and I think he was at peace. As heartbreaking as those last few days were, they were also beautiful and touching, and I wouldn’t trade being there for anything in the world. I’ll always remember his smile and how he made me feel. The way he treated people is what he deserves to be respected and honored for.”
Todd Sommers and Stanley were friends for over 35 years. They met when Todd was training Western Pleasure and Reining horses, and Todd would catch ride horses for Stanley at Appaloosa shows. Todd says, “Everybody loved Stanley. He was always a name in horses, a great horse trainer, and just a great guy. Stanley was the kind of person that you could go five years without seeing, and he’d be the same. He’d have you happy and laughing when you were having a bad day.” Todd remembers a funny story when Nancy Sue jokingly said to Stanley that he couldn’t spend his time smiling his whole life away. “But that’s exactly what Stanley did,” says Sommers fondly. “Stanley spent every day smiling. He had a way of lifting people up and making them feel better. He realized that there was a lot more to life than showing horses. He played golf, rode motorcycles, and knew how to enjoy himself. The last time I saw him was at a Christmas party at Ronnie and Hannah Casper’s place, and he was wearing all that Har-ley gear. I hadn’t seen him in over five years, and it was like we’d never been apart,” he says.
Ronnie Casper was still a kid when he first met Stanley. Stanley was training for Richard Kelly in Birmingham, Alabama at the time. Bill Coffman and Stanley were hauling a well-known halter mare, Maid of Luck, for the Honor Roll. When Stanley moved back to Florida, to live and work for Stanley and Susan Scott of Haylo Farms, Ronnie and Hannah had also moved to Ocala. “We did a lot of things together, Stanley and I,” Ronnie says. “We were together almost every day after work, either riding motorcycles or talking BS, like guys do.”
During this same time period in Ocala, Stanley went to work for Tim and Lou Petty. Ronnie also stood stallions for the Petty family. One of those stallions was A Certain Potential, the sire of A Certain Vino, the horse Stanley rode to win the Reichert Celebration. Around this time, Stanley switched his career focus from horses and took his affinity with Harley-Davidson motorcycles to a professional level. He became a sales rep for Derek Kelly’s Harley-Davidson of Ocala. Ironically, Derek is the son of Richard Kelly, one of the early clients from whom Stanley trained horses.
Stanley called Ronnie, “Bubby,” mimicking his wife’s pet name for him, and Ronnie called Stanley “Big Dog.” “I’d see that Harley coming down the driveway and that smile would turn a bad day around. Stanley valued people – his mother, friends, and his daughters. He always talked very proudly of his daughters. I talked to him after we found out what was going on this year with his health. He had a private side too, and, knowing Stanley, he didn’t want to burden people as he was the guy who would make people laugh. He was the best friend I ever had,” Casper says.
Donna Miller first met Stanley when her trainer and friend, Gordon Downey, found her an unbroke 4-year-old in a pasture and told her they were going to send it to Stanley. Donna knew nothing about Stanley Ryan, but he was breaking into Appaloosas at the time. She recalls, “I got to the horse show, and I took a look around the corner and saw Stanley for the first time. I said to Gordon that was the nicest thing he’d ever done for me! I loved Stanley immediately, and we showed the horse for the first time that fall. It was Stanley’s first World Championship win in the Appaloosa breed in Men’s Pleasure on Alibis Cool Dude.”
“He was a great coach and took me up another level on how to show a Western Pleasure horse right. I won the Tom Powers, and I was the only rider with an Appaloosa in the Non-Pro and we beat three Congress Champions,” she says. When Donna left the horse industry, they stayed friends and talked at least once a month. “I called him on his birthday this year, and he was diagnosed that day with inoperable lung cancer. He said he was going to fight it. I couldn’t wrap my head around it,” she says. When Stanley told Donna not to tell anyone that he was sick, she kept her promise to her friend. “He was a good guy, and I feel very fortunate that a lot of people know of Stanley. But, few really knew him, and I felt part of a chosen few. The memories of him are as fresh as can be, and those were the best years of my life. Knowing Stanley was a gift.”
For the last four-and-a-half years, Stanley was the farm manager for Running Stag Farm, owned by Leslie Bacon. Leslie met Stanley when he was working at Harley-Davidson in Ocala. “A customer there kept telling him I had a wonderful Blazing Hot daughter. One day, he showed up at my gate. I was on my way to get gas, and he followed me to the station where he filled my car’s tank. I remember thinking that chivalry is not dead,” Leslie says. Stanley started riding the Blazing Hot mare, and the two quickly became friends. She says, “I didn’t know the full extent of his history in the horse world until he took me to the Congress. Everyone was trying to see him and talk to him. Later that night I said to him, ‘Who are you? You’re like Mick Jagger!’ Stanley had no idea of how many World Championships he had, and he wasn’t about promoting himself. He just wanted to be happy, but he deserved the accolades.”
“Early on, I knew I adored Stanley, and we had a great time together. We made some staff adjustments and started the process of getting the farm and barn going in the direction we wanted. His OCD and my OCD got along perfectly, and I soon realized we were a great team and that he was someone I could trust. He was my biggest cheerleader, and he was so excited about where we were going to be in five years. Stanley loved his daughters and his grandson. His kids were important to him, and he was always thinking about them. I have nothing but love and respect for Stanley,” she says.
John Hardin shared stalls with Stanley at the ApHC National Show. The two met in the late 1980s, and both shared a passion for fancy, clean trucks. “Stanley could be your best friend in an hour. He was that kind of person. He never had anything negative to say. We played golf together and, when I was going to play with Stanley, I’d pack extra balls, because I knew Stanley would run out. He didn’t care if he was bad at golf. He loved it, and if he hit one where he couldn’t find it, he’d just turn around and smile,” John laughs.
Stanley Ryan knew what it took to get a horse ready to go into the show pen and win. He kept his horses soft and rode them lightly. John adds, “He would say that if it takes two hours to get a horse ready at home, it’ll take half a day at a horse show. He was very conscious and knew when a horse was ready to show. He wouldn’t show one until it was ready. Stanley was very happy with what he was doing at Leslie’s farm. He enjoyed his new role as barn manager and instituting the program where he was working on breeding nice Quarter Horses.”
Stanley had one big superstition and, if anyone had ever been to dinner with him, they got to know it quickly. “Salt was never passed from hand to hand, and he would tell you leave it on the table,” John laughs. Stanley was also dedicated to his daughters, and if there was a basketball game, and they were in Dallas, Stanley and John would go watch Chelsea play. “John’s a good man. He has been there for me in so many ways. He truly just wants to watch out for us, like my Dad asked him to. He checks in on me every week,” Chelsea says.
Stanley and Susan Scott met Stanley Ryan over 40 years ago. He lived with the Scott family at their home, Haylo Farms, when he first moved to Ocala. “Stanley cared about people and loved animals,” Susan says. “He had an unbelievable work ethic and knew when to quit on a horse and get off and think. You couldn’t help but like Stanley. He had that killer smile and charisma.”
“He was extremely talented as a trainer and had a unique way of getting it done. We had a lot of jokes about sharing the same name, too. He was a great guy and we were friends for so many years. I know his daughters well, and they are great people,” Stanley says.
Gordon Downey is a familiar face at the horse shows as the Advertising Director for The Equine Chronicle. He has been involved in the horse industry since he was a child and made a career as a trainer because of Stanley’s influence. “I wouldn’t be in the horse industry if I hadn’t met Stanley. He had that cowboy image and gave horses a curb appeal that was really alluring. He made it seem like a lifestyle. Stanley was the Marlboro man before it was cool, and he looked the part. He had these natural attributes that appealed to a young person, and I was looking for direction,” he says.When Gordon started working and riding for Stanley, his cleanliness and structure rubbed off on Gordon. “To me, it was a leadership quality, the way Stanley was so neat and organized and how he kept his horses,” Gordon remembers. “I rode his B-string horses and learned from him.”
When Stanley made the move to Appaloosas, Gordon went to work for Stanley again at the National and World Shows. In 1995, Stanley introduced him to his clients, Tom and Amy Grabe. Gordon went to work for a new magazine they were starting called The Equine Chronicle. Working for The Equine Chronicle combined Gordon’s knowledge of horses and love of people into a new career, but he never lost touch with Stanley.
Gordon says, “We used to text and I’d send him pictures of Brim and his daughters when I’d run into them at shows. He was a great friend. At every horse show, he would always introduce me with such pride. It was wonderful how he spoke of me. As a kid starting in horses, I wanted to be like him. I appreciate his friendship, and his beautiful cowboy style will always be in my heart.”
Tom and Amy Grabe knew Stanley by reputation long before they met him in person. They were living in Ft. Lauderdale when they called Stanley because they were looking for a Western Pleasure horse for Amy. Tom says, “Over the years, we came to know him, not only as an outstanding trainer, but also a great horseman who, in our opinion, could look at a pasture full of rough stock and pick out the great one.” Stanley’s ability to look at the potential of a diamond-in-the-rough earned the couple’s respect, and their trainer/client relationship yielded numerous World Championships and futurity wins.
“There is a difference between being a great trainer and being a great horseman. Stanley was a great horseman who also had the talent to take a young prospect to the top,” Tom says. “Stanley’s sudden passing was a shock to us all. Personally, Amy and I will miss Stanley as a friend and a mentor. When viewing his passing from a broad-er perspective, I think the industry lost a talented horseman who had the a-bility to choose prospects and develop them into world-class competitors, which is rare in the sport today.”
Early on in his childhood, Stanley Ryan knew what he was destined to do with his life. Because of his tenacity, innate skill, and keen eye for detail, he was sought after by some incredible people to achieve their goals in the horse industry. Stanley made dreams come true for his clients, and he made life more beautiful and fun for everyone around him. Stanley will always be known for his unforgettable smile and the greatness he achieved as a horse trainer, but his greatest legacy is how he made people feel. He will be forever missed.