When a horse reaches its 20s, more than likely it is retired and living in a nice pasture. But not Zans Even Parr. The 1988 sorrel gelding still takes ropers to the pay window in both American Quarter Horse Association and Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association events. The consistent way “Smurf” handles each run makes him a sought-after mount.
Joan Crew Hoyt of San Angelo, Texas, bred the son of legendary stallion Zan Parr Bar, who is out of a Moon Fox daughter, Dusty Foot. He began his roping career in AQHA and was the 1992 Superhorse reserve champion at the AQHA World Championship Show. At the same show, he was the world champion in junior heeling and reserve world champion in junior tie-down roping. To say he started his career with a splash is being modest.
Smurf received an AQHA superior in tie-down roping and team roping, both heading and heeling, and qualified for the 1993 and 1994 world shows.
“I bought him in 1995 from Joan Crews Hoyt,” says Ernie Tannehill, Smurf’s owner for more than 10 years. “I was looking for a horse for my son, Jim, to use in the youth calf roping. He was such a solid calf horse as far as training is concerned. Jim was just starting [roping] and you always need to buy a better horse to make the rider better, and that’s why I bought Smurf for Jim.”
Together, Smurf and Jim won AQHA world championship titles in youth, amateur and senior tie-down roping. Jim says the horse’s consistency was key to his success.
“One of the most desirable traits a horse can have is consistency,” he says. “He made it to where all I had to do was just go rope. Smurf was the same every run I made.”
As youth competitors move to amateur or open, often they move on to more experienced horses. Not Jim.
“I bought the best horse up front and we used him through Jim’s whole career in calf roping,” Ernie says. “I guess our record speaks for itself. He was like a member of our family, you know. He really helped our son grow up and learn responsibility, and that hard work pays off.”
The first time trainer C.R. Bradley saw Smurf was in 1995, not long after the Tannehills purchased him from Hoyt.
“He was really solid and always did the same thing,” Bradley says. “Amateurs could ride and practice on him, and he would stay good. I have not seen very many horses you could just go practice on and have them stay really good. I don’t think he was ever with a trainer.”
When the Tannehills decided to sell Smurf, there were two requirements for the potential owner: that the gelding was well cared-for and that someone took him to the AQHA World Show to win one more title. Bradley jumped at the chance to purchase the great rope horse he had been watching win for years.
“When I got him, the first calf I ran on him he was really good,” Bradley says. “From then on, he stepped up and went from being a good amateur horse to being sharper and faster with me. I called my client Jason [Layfield] and told him to buy Smurf because he was a great horse. We have had him in our barn ever since.”
Smurf was a little out of shape and pushing 20 years old when Bradley suggested Layfield purchase the horse. A veterinarian in Maryland, Layfield didn’t hesitate at Smurf’s age; he also didn’t know the gem he had just purchased.
“They had told me how good he was supposed to be, but I didn’t believe it until I saw it,” Layfield says. “The first show at Tulsa [Oklahoma], I must have met 10 or 15 people just warming the horse up. No one knew who I was, but people like J.D. Yates rode by and said, ‘Hey Smurf, how are you?’ People just talked to him!”
In 2008, Smurf went back to his winning ways, carrying Bradley to the All American Quarter Horse Congress championship in heeling and an AQHA world championship in senior tie-down roping, fulfilling one of Ernie Tannehill’s hopes for the horse. Ernie’s other wish is carried out daily at Bradley’s barn, where the aging gelding is treated like a king. In spite of the pampering, Smurf still makes each roping run like the consistent horse he has been since his early years.
Smurf carried Layfield to his first major win, too. In 2009, the pair won the amateur tie-down at the Congress and qualified for the AQHA World.
“That’s really the only thing I have ever won, and honestly, Smurf won it,” Layfield says. “It was a lot of fun for me. Since I started roping and riding horses, I will win a little bit here and there, but for me, Congress was the first big thing I’ve ever won. It was really special. With Smurf, all you have to do is catch and not screw things up, and you will do pretty good.”
Winning in AQHA must have seemed routine for the gelding, but attending a PRCA rodeo was brand new. Bradley, who qualified for the National Finals Rodeo in tie-down roping in 2004, knew Smurf was the caliber of horse a rodeo competitor needed, and with Layfield on board with the plan, decided to show the rodeo world what Smurf could do.
“I knew he’d be good because he is older and handled the crowds better than a lot of horses do at their first rodeo,” Bradley says. “We took him to Springdale, Arkansas, and that was the first big rodeo. I won second and Fred Whitfield rode him there. Then, we took him to Cheyenne and we won fourth in the first go.”
Smurf’s talent caught the attention of Roy Cooper, who called Bradley to see if the horse was available for his son Tuf to ride in a match roping against Cody Ohl in 2010. Tuf Cooper rode Smurf on the first six of the 12 calves and won the event. Bradley also hauled Smurf to the 2010 NFR as a back-up mount for Cooper.
With all he has done, Smurf has just one accomplishment left to attain, according to Layfield, and that is to be ridden at the NFR.
“I’d really like to see someone take him to the National Finals one year. He deserves it and has been good enough for so long,” he says.
In the meantime, Layfield and Bradley continue to show Smurf at added-money events and rodeos. Bradley and Smurf won at Battle in the Saddle’s inaugural event last year in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and in February of this year, the two placed first under both judges in a class of 250 horses at the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo.
“He’s neat to have around. There are not that many great horses, and he tries so hard and does so much,” Bradley says. “Smurf doesn’t ever try to cheat, and to be sound at 23 years old is amazing.”
Layfield adds, “For a guy from Maryland to be out there with guys like Roy and Tuf Cooper, it’s all because of that horse. I deal with a lot of Thoroughbreds, and in the racehorse world, the only horse you could compare him to is Zenyatta. But, you can’t compare [them] because she wasn’t good for as long as Smurf has been good. Trying to compare him with something isn’t possible; he is just one of a kind.”
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