Sampson’s Story – The Cirque Lodge Stallion

FOSH 2008 Horse Of The Year

Horses play a unique part in alcohol and drug rehab at Cirque Lodge.

Residents within our addiction treatment programs can discover for themselves the therapeutic healing that comes from working with horses. This is the story of Playboy’s Sampson, the FOSH 2008 Horse of the Year in the North American Pleasure Gaited Horse Championship.

This story tells how the love and support of caring individuals helped this rebellious horse overcome so many problems (including the forced use of cocaine), to become a Grand Champion Fox Trotter horse. “Sampson has been the greatest teacher of all – to many people in so many ways. His beauty inside challenges the beauty on the outside.” We are grateful and proud to have this horse as a member of the Cirque Lodge family.

"I Just Couldn't Keep my Eyes Off of Him" Bud Blankenship

The first time I saw Sampson, was late one night in the practice pen at the World Celebration Show.

He was this big tall skinny colt, dark palomino, short mane and tail, not especially attractive, but I could not take my eyes off of him. He had a big long stretchy Foxtrot and he shook from his ears to his tail. There were a lot of good horses in the practice ring that night, it was Wednesday and the Open horses qualified on Thursday night. I watched some of the other horses but kept coming back to him, I just couldn’t keep my eyes off of him. I knew he must be a 2 year old because I had never seen him before and he wasn’t in any of the earlier shows that year. I knew the trainer who was riding him, he was a good friend of mine, but I didn’t bother him that night.

I got back to the motel and told my wife, Tori, about this big ol’ ugly colt I had seen. She wasn’t carried away about a 2-year-old stud. “What are you going to do with that?” she said. I told her she would see tomorrow night when he qualified.

Sure enough, he came in with about 20 more 2-year-old Studs & Geldings. Nothing was said for about 2 rounds, then she said “Oh My…He is something!”. You just couldn’t take your eyes off of him. Don’t get me wrong, he wasn’t pretty – he was just good. When they called out the winners, Sampson was second, beaten by a very pretty horse – but I’ve got to admit, I didn’t even see the other horse go. The only horse I saw in that class was Sampson. The 1st and 2nd place horses had their picture taken, then I saw his owner start to Center Ring and it was Lee Hackler. Lee and I had traded horses many times in the past. I had bought his last 3 or 4 3 Year Old Futurity winners, we were good friends. After the ceremonies were over in Center Ring, Tori and I went down to the stalls. I went to the trainer first to get the story on the horse. I asked him if this horse was as good as he looked. The trainer said, “Bud, he is one of the best if he lives”. I asked what the problem was, he said he didn’t know but they had him on a lot of drugs just to keep him going and he was getting worse all of the time. Lee asked me if I was interested, I told him I might be if the horse got well, but not now.

As that was the last show of the year, I lost track of the horse all winter. The next time I saw Sampson was in March of the next year. He had been sold to a man in Arkansas. He was at a show in Ocala, Florida. I learned that he had been licking an old battery in his paddock area and had almost died before they found out what was wrong, but now he was healthy, fat and pretty. The man in Arkansas that had bought him was trying to show him. He was having trouble with him, and Sampson reared straight up in the show ring and tried to run off. I tried to buy him then, but his owner did not want to sell.

The next time I saw Sampson, was at the World Celebration show again and he had a new trainer, another friend of mine also. Sampson again came in Reserve World Grand Champion 3 Year Old. Beaten by the same horse as the year before. Again, I tried to buy him – no deal. The next time I saw him was at the next World show as a 4-year-old.  They had to put a canter on Sampson for the 4-year-old classes, he didn’t put on as good of a show as he had in the past. Sampson came in Second Reserve that year. I talked to the trainer about him and he said the owner was breeding mares all summer with Sampson and he hadn’t had much time to work with him to try to put a solid canter on him also.

"He Had Never Been Shown Any Kindness"

Now, you have to have some idea what it takes to make a winning horse in the Professional classes at the World Championship Show.

I won’t go into detail, but it takes heavy shoes, sore feet, sore mouth, sore head, sore teeth and sore noses, sore ears, and chin. This is all done to improve or enhance front foot reach and headshake. The horse must have some natural talent, but then they take that talent and hand shape it into what we call a handmade horse. Sampson had been getting this treatment since he was 18 months old and now he was a coming 5-year-old. They had spurred him and pushed him so long and he was so big and strong that now they couldn’t hold him in gait. They had to resort to wrapping his bit with wire. He had never been shown any kindness. They asked him to breed mares, then never allowed him to act like a stallion, punished if he looked or talked to another horse in the show ring or at his home. He was in a stall at least 22 hours a day and the 2 hours out of the stall were most likely misery for him. This is about the time many show horses just rebel, become unrideable, are not able to be handled and then they just disappear, you never see them again.

Sampson was at that place and he was so big that he was intimidating. Around December 2005 I received a call from the man that owned him. He had bought some property and needed money, he was willing to sell Sampson. A deal was made. Our Florida State Championship show was in January, I had his owner bring him to a trainer friend of mine in Arkansas who would work with him kindly to get him ready for that show. He won the State Championship in January 2006. That’s when we took him to our home and the second chance for Sampson’s life started when he met my wife Tori.

"Did He Expect Me to Actually Ride This Horse?" Tori Blankenship

When Bud told me that he had bought Sampson – I was totally against it.

I was nervous at the thought of being responsible for the care and housing of a stallion first of all – and then the reputation of Sam was of this powerful outlaw. "Did he expect me to actually ride this horse?"

Bud and I drove north with the truck and trailer to pick Sampson up for the Fl. Champ. Show. The trainer was to work with me for the 2 days we were there to help me get a feel for the horse that I would soon be riding and caring for in our own barn.

The trainer rode Sam first. Years of trainers getting on his back and immediately spurring him on had taught him that he was supposed to bolt the second he felt weight in the saddle. There was no convincing him any other way. He would get mad if you held the bridle to try to make him wait, that just made it worse. There all 3 of us stood in the arena, it was time for me to hop on – understandably, it took a few minutes for me to get up my nerve. I will always remember the trainer saying “just because he is Sampson, it is no different”. Sampson was a whole lot different than any other horse I had ever seen or been around.

I hopped on and we took off, he gave me a really great ride. Later that day I clipped, bathed, and got him ready for the ride home to FL and the show. I was still so nervous around him, Bud and the trainer were gone – I felt like I might as well be clipping a rattlesnake. I honestly did not know how he was going to react to any of this. He was patient and very respectful. Then we loaded our new stallion in the trailer and headed towards Jacksonville for the Championship show.

Sampson won the State Championship, with the trainer aboard. During the travel time and show, he began to show the softer side of his disposition to me. He started to relax and so did I.

He moved into our barn in Sarasota towards the end of January 2006. The first time we turned him out in the pasture was an event. Many of our boarders were there to witness it – I was not sure if I would ever be able to catch him again. Sure enough, after a couple of hours, he did not move when I went to put the lead rope on him. He walked quietly to his stall with me.

A few days later after getting to know this new place and people, it was time for me to ride him. Bud and I were standing in our small paddock with Sam all tacked up and ready to ride. 15 minutes probably. That was about how much time it took for me to get the nerve to put my foot in the stirrup. Bud kept telling me not to hesitate, just get up there and get on him – sure…. Honestly, he used to be like mounting a speeding bullet.

Time went by and Sampson must have realized things were pretty good.  He started to relax a little when the mounting process took place, thankfully. Eventually, he was as easy to be around and work with as were the rest of the horses we had. Jan through April I had a great time riding Sampson in our arena and caring for him.

It was close to April when Bud and I decided we wanted to show him at the Breeder’s Cup in August and then The Celebration in Sept. We sent him to a training barn around May to prepare him to be at the top of his game. The barn was close by so that I could take an active part in riding and getting a good feel for his show gaits. I had never had a horse informal training and this was one of the best Champion producing barns, I was excited. I consider myself a decent rider, but the longer Sampson was in training – the harder it became to ride him. I blamed myself for not being the caliber of rider it took to have Sampson perform his best. We traveled to the Breeder’s Cup and to the Celebration in August and September of 2006 and were not able to show at either one of the events, Sam was not gaiting properly – I thought it was my not being able to ride the way the trainers did, turns out when the trainers got on after me – he still would not perform. Discouraged and done with it all – at the end of the Celebration in 2006, we moved Sampson to our stalls on the Celebration grounds from the Trainers stalls. Loved him, fed him carrots, and then made the trip home to Florida. By the time we were home, Sampson developed oozing sores on his lower legs. Whatever training “treatment” they must have done resulted in these sores. No wonder he wouldn’t perform, he was in pain. That’s when everything changed.

I consulted my Veterinarian about the leg problem, she recommended Oxydex soaks twice daily and antibiotic topical treatments until healing began and hair growth started. Most likely a chemical burn of some sort. The process of massaging the Oxydex on his legs at first was tricky – he wanted nothing to do with anything on his hurting feet. Then slowly he started to look for me and nicker when I came to take him out of his stall, he didn’t mind this new massage thing at all anymore.

After treatments and the healing process, I began to ride him “softly”. The next month we took him to SC for their Championship show and won the Reserve Open Championship competing against men trainers. Many who knew the past year’s show record finally could see what this horse and I were capable of – all-natural and absolutely no pain.

We had competed at some of the FOSH (Friends of Sound Horses) shows within our state in the past. I never fully understood the whole picture of their Mission Statement, with importance placed on education about the humane care, training, and treatment of all gaited horses. Having witnessed some of what that organization is trying to prevent – I became a FOSH member, supporter, and voice for their mission to everyone who would listen.

"So Much Trust and Feel Were Developed"

The re-training of Sam for the FL Cowboy Challenge at the beginning of 2007 was a turning point for Sampson and I.

So much trust and feel were developed during that time. We began to take him to some of the Florida Fox Trotter shows and compete in the Versatility classes – he did great in those classes as well as the Performance classes. We traveled to VA for the 2007 FOSH Regional Championship show. Sampson competed alongside 8 different breeds of gaited horses and was named the Overall 3-Gait Grand Champion. To ensure compliance with the Horse Protection Act, all FOSH shows employ a USDA DQP (Designated Qualified Person) to inspect each horse before they enter the show ring every time for evidence of “soring” and to make sure the shoes and tack are legal by the strict FOSH rulebook. The DQP at that show was a DQP in training at the 2005 Fox Trotter Show – he remembered Sampson and commented to Bud how good his legs looked in comparison to the past.  He said he almost did not get through the DQP station back then. Bud told him how he was working on getting show horses that had been through past treatments sound (mentally & physically), and having them perform the same, if not better without any false aids. I was so proud of my Husband. He had been raised by his Uncle who was inducted into the MFTHBA Hall of Fame. He grew up within the Fox Trotter breed and had been in countless trainers' barns and had seen so much. My tough Cowboy had taken a stand for the wellbeing of these horses – Sampson is responsible for that!

Sampson and I would take leisurely rides around the grounds. So many people stopped and talked to me about him. He had become a well-known horse for his beauty, his past outstanding performances, and also for his bad ones with the bad attitude. This was not the same horse he used to be at all. Of course, I would tell them all about the FOSH organization and about the diverse things this happy horse was now doing – and doing well. People would tell me stories about Sam’s past. Someone once told me that the wrapping of the bit with wire one year, so that the trainers could hold him in gait, resulted in a cut tongue prior to the class he was to be shown in. He then told me they packed his tongue with cocaine to stop the bleeding so he could pass the inspection station and compete. So many stories and so many tears for this brave horse who endured all of the past abuse.

"Sampson Has Taught Me More Than All of The Horses"

I set a goal for 2008 to follow and compete within the FOSH circuit.

They have a National Points System that recognizes outstanding achievement for all gaited horses within separate regions as well as the nation overall. My goal was to have this horse recognized for his ability within an organization that has the strictest rules, to prove that it can be done without the use of artificial aids or “treatments”.  We hauled Sampson from Florida to Virginia and Missouri. We showed in front of 9 different judges and entered the arena gate 57 different times. He earned 9 Grand Championship honors within the FOSH organization and also placed top 10 at the MFTHBA National show in Performance and Versatility divisions. Sampson was named the North American Reserve Grand Champion Model Horse. He was also named the North American Grand Champion Fox Trotter. Tear stains of pride, joy, and accomplishment adorn his neck ribbon from that Championship. In his last 2 Championship shows he was shown barefoot and outperformed the majority of all gaited breeds that were represented. Sampson had accomplished every goal and desire that I put in front of him. Even attending a Reined Cow Horse 2-day clinic alongside all Quarter Horses that year too. He faked his bravery to impress the Quarter Horses that stood next to him when the cattle first came into the arena. I could feel every muscle in his body tighten and his breaths got shorter, but he did not move. He watched the Quarter Horses go out and take their turn with the instructor and the cattle, with each one he relaxed more as he watched intently. When it was our turn, he strolled out like he had been doing that his whole life.

Several of our customers were now also taking part in the FOSH organization and showing their horses alongside Sam and I. They knew the whole story of his past and celebrated every achievement with us. I let everyone know that after his last show, Nov. 1, 2008, I would be retiring him from the show ring. After his last class at that show, we all got together in recognition of the amazing journey this special horse had taken. Now he could enjoy downtime on the trails and loafing around in his pasture – he had certainly earned it.

Sampson has taught so many people so much about the heart and soul of a horse. My husband gave me the greatest gift in the world when he put this magnificent horse in my hands, and let Sampson and I figure it all out together.

Sampson has taught me more than all of the horses, and probably people too, that have been a part of my life put together.

His beauty inside challenges the beauty on the outside, he will always be a part of me.

A Lesson For Recovery

A Lesson For Recovery

Early in 2009, Sampson became a member of the Cirque Lodge family. 

Difficult circumstances had forced him to rebel and many thought the cause was hopeless. However, with the care, support, kindness, and rehabilitation, he once again found his place.

For those suffering from alcoholism and drug addiction, we urge you to make the choice to get help. Like this noble horse, care, support, kindness, and rehabilitation can be the means to getting your life back. We feel that activities such as equine therapy not only help to make recovery more achievable but also fun and engaging at the same time.

Sampson A Horse in Recovery

Recovery is Just a Phone Call Away


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