By Delores Kuhlwein
The fat, scruffy yearling was waiting his turn to be sold as a Barrel Racing prospect at the 2001 Denver Stock Show sale when Tim Gillespie spied him. Bred for Halter, and spunky enough to be speedy, the look in the horse’s eye and the way he moved, with a flat knee and deep hock, promised something more. Gillespie took a chance and took Brokers Lucky Kid home; never imagining the yearling would eventually become the stuff of which every Paint Horse owner’s dreams are made.
While in Gillespie’s hands, the young horse nicknamed “Denver” excelled, earning Western Pleasure points. He was soon purchased as a three-year-old by Tracy Shelhorn and was to be shown in Western Pleasure and Hunt Seat. Then, in early 2004, Breann Preston tried him out at Scott Suggs’ training facility in Pilot Point, Texas. “When I saw him, I fell in love with him. He had that big body, and he drove his hocks so hard,” says Breann’s mother, Michelle.
However, it wasn’t love at first sight for Breann. In fact, it was the complete opposite. “My mom had already fallen for him, but I didn’t want a brown horse,” Breann admits. “I wanted a bay horse that was loud, and I didn’t like blue eyes.” Understanding the horse’s sheer talent, her trainer explained that from where Breann was sitting in the saddle, she couldn’t see his eyes. “If he wins on Saturday and Sunday, you’re going to love him,” he persisted.
It took a special, private moment to convince Breann that he was the one. “Scott had told me not to go into his stall; because, back then, he wasn’t very nice,” Breann reveals. “We were walking through the barn, and I said hello to him. He left his food to come to say hello to me. To this day, that’s why you’ll hear us say that he chose me. He picked us.”
Afterward, Michelle, her husband, Mike, and two daughters, Breann and Mackenzie, ultimately became known as “the family that owns Brokers Lucky Kid,” not simply because of their own talent; but, most of all, for their love and support of a horse that was a force in the show pen for an extraordinary span of time.
Breann and Denver
Breann started showing in all-around classes with Denver during APHA’s heyday. It was a time when the Youth World Show Western Pleasure classes numbered well over 100 entries. But first, the Preston family let Scott put the finishing touches on Denver’s rail performance before adding pattern classes. “They were fantastic with waiting for him to be finished. It’s one of the reasons he lasted as long as he did. They did whatever was in his best interest from the beginning,” Scott explains.
The two were destined for greatness, but Denver didn’t exactly hand Breann her titles. As a horse with a strong personality, he made her work in the events that weren’t his favorite–classes like Equitation. “When he was younger, if he didn’t like something or someone, he made it known,” she explains. “If you were making him do Equitation, or if he was mad at you, he did the pattern with his head upside down. I even had him sneeze on a judge during Showmanship.”
A textbook representation of his strong opinions came when Scott asked fellow trainer Arturo Maestas to show Denver in Trail. Denver wasn’t pleased to have a new rider and, as a result, purposely hit each pole on the course, dragging a back foot across an obstacle if he missed it with his front. “Denver had to stop showing in Open Trail; because, for some reason, he decided that he’d show in Trail for my sister and I, but not for anyone else,” she laughs. Breann also explains that showing Denver in Hunt Seat events was also tricky because her didn’t like when a rider kept contact with his face. She recalls, “He was such a bulky guy, but he had a great trot stride, and there was no horse better in the pen at that speed.”
As they grew together, their success blossomed against very stiff competition. The duo racked up awards, points, and World Championships, but Denver still occasionally reminded Breann that he had a big personality. “We were leading the nation in Hunter Under Saddle one year, and he pulled ‘a Denver’ at a show, and we lost by three points,” she says.
When she transitioned into the Amateur division, Denver persisted by excelling in both Hunter Under Saddle and Western Pleasure during a time where most riders had begun switching between horses for each discipline. But, most of all, he secured his recognition and World-worthy talent in his favorite class- Western Riding.
Breann acknowledges that Denver influenced the future paths of both her and her sister. He helped give them the confidence to seek out colleges with equestrian teams and gave them consistency during the tricky teenage years. “Having that rock in your life, especially during your teenage years, is invaluable,” she says.
Mackenzie and Denver
In 2011, Mackenzie began showing Denver in novice youth classes. He’d been a presence in her life since she was five, but mostly as her sister’s best friend. Once Mackenzie began showing Denver, herself, their bond was unmistakable.
“Being 20 now, the majority of my life thus far has had him in it, so I truly don’t know a life without him,” she explains. “I’ve never had a bond so strong with another horse, and I’ve ridden quite a few. He knew the sound of my walk. The way my boots sound with only one spur dragging on the ground was his indication that I was home. Every time he would hear me coming, he would perk his ears up and stop what he was doing just to come to greet me. He also learned the sound of my voice. I would talk to him on my way to his stall, and he would greet me with a nicker.”
Mackenzie explains that Denver’s soul was pure gold. He allowed her to hold him and cry into his muzzle if she was having a bad day. Also, he was sweet with small children. “He loved little kids. He knew that they were small, and he would always drop his head to their height and be the gentlest boy,” she explains.
However, as an athlete, he was all business, and he challenged her to become the rider she is today. “From bucking through the warm-up pen in an English saddle to winning a World title and becoming High Point Western horse, he helped me and taught me how to do all these things.”
She says that he knew he was a champion. “One of my favorite things about showing Denver happened in Western Pleasure at the World Show,” she explains. “When he would jog down the centerline, he would turn his head and look at every single judge on his way by them. There’s nothing he loved more than being the only horse in the arena and getting that blue ribbon on his neck.”
For Mackenzie, Denver was her unicorn. “When I rode him, it was what I would imagine riding on a feather would be like–smooth and soft. It made me feel like I was floating. Denver was truly my once in a lifetime horse,” she says.
Scott Suggs and Denver
For Scott, Denver proved to be the most faithful, reliable, and dependable show horse he’d ever had. Denver lived with Scott for almost a decade and through Breann’s entire show career. “Denver was truly a member of the Preston family,” he reveals.
“I know he taught me more than I ever taught him,” Scott says. “He didn’t allow you to be mean to him; he wouldn’t tolerate it. He taught me to have patience and wait on him, and he taught me how to get along with horses that weren’t going to fit into a mold. The better you were to him, the better he was.”
When Scott went through his personal struggles, Denver displayed that soul of gold, becoming Scott’s best buddy, playing tag with him, and banging on the door of his stall so he would come back to see him. “He picked who he liked and who he didn’t like, and I’d never had a horse like that,” he says. “He was really a good judge of character.”
As a competitor, Denver was as pure the last time he showed as the first time. Suggs says, “I would always tease and say that you could show up late and not prepare him, and he’d still go show and do his job. He wasn’t a cupcake about everything, but he was always sound, and he never cheated.”
In 2012, Denver won his first World title with Scott in Senior Western Riding. During that same year, both Breann and Mackenzie were Reserve World Champions in their Western Riding classes- Classic Amateur and 13 & Under.
What impressed everyone about this horse throughout his career was his ability to adapt as styles changed. Scotts says, “He was still relevant and competitive, and he was around for lots of change in our business to being more specialized, yet he could still compete at whatever level you wanted. For one to last that long is so rare. He was truly the greatest.”
aka “Pork Chop,”
aka “the Goat”
Somewhere along the line, Breann’s friend, Jane Stone, deemed Denver “Pork Chop.” Another memorable nickname was “the Goat.”
“It’s because he was like a goat. He ate everything!” Breann confirms. “He took a bite of my tuna sandwich one day,” agrees Michael Davis, who was Denver’s trainer when he lived in Seattle, Washington. “His favorite food was Cheetos and really any food that anyone else was eating,” Mackenzie adds. “At horse shows, our pregame treat would be the free donuts they always provide at the show office.”
“He liked to be in the first stall of the barn so he could say hello to anyone who walked by, and mooch treats,” reveals Breann. Mackenzie says that anytime anyone had food around him, he would put on his best-begging face. “His big blue eyes would light up, and he would stretch his top lip out to really show you how adorable he was,” she says with a laugh.
The quirky character that made him great extended into other areas, Breann explains. Known as a horse with a very intense entrance to turnout time, he worked hard and played hard. She says, “A barn helper, who knew he was this great show horse, hopped on him in the pasture one time, and Denver bucked him off because he interrupted his fun. That’s the reality. Pasture time was his fun time.”
Michael explains that he found out about Denver’s playtime the hard way. “When Michelle first brought him home, she wanted him on turnout. One day, I went to turn him out, and he jumped away really fast and stomped on my feet. He took off bucking and kicking,” he says. When he called Michelle to let her know how her horse had behaved, he found out that this was his regular routine. “Michelle said, ‘Sorry, I forgot to tell you about that,’” Michael laughs.
A Lifetime of Memories
The impact Denver made on all those who knew him–and those who simply watched him show–is immeasurable, and the memories are countless. But, for his family, Denver was more than a show horse. “He was a teacher, a friend, a goofball, and a life-changer,” Michelle says. “Denver loved being the center of attention and would truly bask in all the wonderful and kind words spoken about him. He was definitely the girls’ unicorn for the fact that he has done so much for one family. What he did was keep us close and allow us to have some amazing experiences, and we got to do it for 15 years. He gave us so much.”
“My grandparents always joke that they don’t have any pictures of us without Denver,” Breann says. “He touched every member of my family in different ways. If the epitome of the American Paint Horse is having heart, I’d say Denver was it.”
As a show horse, Michael says he was the kind of horse that every trainer should have at least once in a lifetime. “He was always a joy to ride, and he made my job pretty easy,” he says. Michael explains that while Denver had a huge work ethic, he would often sit on Denver to text and teach other clients. He recalls, “He would just stand there, and people joked that he was my desk.”
Scott concurs by saying, “He was, without a doubt, the greatest show horse I have been around, and it’s amazing that he did it for the number of years that he did, and at the level he did. I’ll probably never have another. We were all lucky to be around him. He made us all look a lot smarter than we were.”
Brokers Lucky Kid, lovingly known as Denver, was humanely euthanized, with his family by his side, on June 29, 2019, due to colic surgery complications. “We had to make the hard decision to lay our best friend to rest that day,” Mackenzie says. “It was evident it was the right choice, but it was a hard one nonetheless. He was so happy to have all of us Preston ladies by his side. Denver, you were the most amazing partner, horse, and treat-eater there has even been. You made me a better person and impacted so many. May you buck and snort your way into the greenest pastures on the other side.”
The Preston family would like to thank all who reached out to them following Denver’s passing. They are forever grateful for your kindness and outpouring of love.