Luke Brown has headed for an impressive list of heeling headliners to qualify for the last 13 straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeos. But never has he had a more game-changing partner than his signature sorrel steed Slim Shady, who helped Luke over the hump to make his first Finals in 2008, and is what he rode his first seven trips to the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas through 2014. Luke lost his beloved Slim to colic in May at 28. But not before Brown made more than $2 million worth of roping memories with his horse of a lifetime.
“Slim wasn’t just a horse—he was family,” said South Carolina native Luke, who now lives with his wife and daughter, Lacy and Libby, in Lipan, Texas. “He made the dream of ever qualifying for the NFR come true. I believe with all my heart that I never would have made the NFR without him. Slim started it all for me. I wouldn’t have had the money to keep going long enough to get my first NFR jacket without him.”
The breeder of record on Slim’s papers was Oklahoma’s Ed Fanning, as in dad of 1985 BFI champs and brothers Tim and Mark Fanning. Slim made it through a few hands before finding his forever home with the Brown family. But get this—the baby born on March 8, 1993 and registered as Red Rattler is not American Quarter Horse Association-registered. Slim has a Jockey Club Certificate of Foal Registration, which means he’s a Thoroughbred with racing papers.
“I bought Slim from (NFR header) Keven Daniel,” added the ageless Luke, who made his first Finals at 34 and will turn 47 in August. “Keven bought him from a guy in Oklahoma, who bought him from NFR brothers Jay and Randon Adams. Keven let me take Slim in the spring of 2007. Later that spring, I lost both of my horses. One broke his neck tied up to a fence, and the other one foundered and had to be put down. So Slim was all I had, and I didn’t even own him. I rode Slim through the 2008 regular season to make my first NFR. After I won second with Jade (Corkill) at the USTRC Finals in October of 2008 (Jade also was Luke’s first-ever NFR partner that December), I finally paid Keven for Slim. He let me make the Finals on him first.”
Slim collicked May 15 while Luke was away at a rodeo. He’d actually had his first belly ache last December, when during the NFR he spent a couple days in the ICU with Dr. Reese Hand at Equine Sports Medicine & Surgery in Weatherford, Texas.
“Before that, Slim had never collicked, been injected, had a bump or limped,” Luke said. “I ran my last steer on Slim at a rodeo in Killeen, Texas, in 2016, and had no reason to retire him other than he was 23 years old and had been so good to me, and I didn’t want anything to happen to him. When Slim collicked the other day, Lacy ran him to the clinic in Weatherford. They called Dr. Hand in at 2 the next morning, because the pain was unbearable. Dr. Hand was pretty sure Slim had a major blockage in his small intestine, and thought he had a tumor in there. The thought of putting him on the table and through all that pain wasn’t fair to Slim. So I made the call to put him down, which Dr. Hand agreed was best for Slim.”
Luke picked out a peaceful spot under a huge oak tree when they bought their place, and told Lacy that’s where they would one day bury Slim, his other special sorrel Cowboy and her dog Wilson.
“Slim was tougher than nails,” said Luke, who won two of his three NFR team roping titles on Slim in 2010 (with Martin Lucero) and 2013 (Kollin VonAhn). “He was a little snorty and he never bucked, but he’d run off before he’d get too quick. Slim had a lot of gas. He was so fast. He liked me, Lacy, our good friend Bambi (Robb) and let Libby give him treats. But he did not like strangers or concrete—you had to shoe him on the grass and he did not like walking into barns. Slim was fast-footed and free, and that made him good everywhere from Pendleton (Luke won the 2008 Pendleton Round-Up with Monty Joe Petska riding Slim) to the Thomas & Mack. Slim was a little tricky to score, but we worked that out. He could fly, and he faced good. Slim will forever be the best horse I’ve ever had.”