Two real life heroes |

Two real life heroes

Francine Acord-BrownFrancine Acord-Brown and Hero crossing the water obstacle.

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This is the story of a remarkable horse and an even more remarkable woman – Francine Acord-Brown, and Hero, her registered tobiano Paint gelding. Driven by an indomitable spirit and determination to ride again, and spurred by an unshakable vision, Francine has come back from unbelievable health challenges and realized her dream of competing in the national horse show world. The pair are finalists in the “America’s Favorite Trail Horse” competition, with the prospect of winning thousands of dollars. It is an amazing triumph, for Francine suffered three concussions in a matter of months, resulting in a compounded Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, which dictated she would never ride again.

Francine was a single mother of two young daughters in 1998 when these setbacks occurred. She lost her job and spent most of her time going to doctors, physical therapy, vision therapy, cognitive therapy and balance therapy, all the while supporting her daughters in their 4-H and rodeoing endeavors. As teenagers, they had to assume most of the household duties, including paying the bills, as so much of it was beyond Francine’s capabilities at that time.

Having grown up on a ranch near Yampa, Colo., Francine was a good hand with cattle and was never without a horse. Despite the attentions of all her doctors and therapists, she considered her horses her best therapy, even though she still didn’t ride. Assisting with the birth of foals and witnessing their strong will to live gave new impetus to her determination to heal, and she slowly awakened to the realization that her healing was ultimately up to her. She decided to gradually wean herself off of all prescription drugs.

Francine’s mare was due to foal in the spring of 2003. Prior to the birth, Francine experienced recurring dreams of the precise markings of this foal and what it would someday accomplish in the show horse world. When the day came, she was astonished to discover the newly born stud colt bore the exact markings she had seen in her dreams. Lakotas Smart Lil Hero had arrived.

In September of 2003, tragedy struck again. A volleyball hit the back of Francine’s head and knocked her to the ground. Within minutes, she suffered her first grand mal seizure, a disorder she still deals with today. (Hero seems to know when one is coming on.) Later X-rays showed that two of her neck vertebrae had died and turned black! In 2004, the vertebrae were replaced with cadaver bones, and a plate was screwed into the surrounding vertebrae. In less than a year, the surgery proved unsuccessful, as two of the screws had broken. So Francine underwent another operation to insert two more plates to stabilize the spine, as well as bone grafts from her hip to help foster healing of the bone. Three months later, Francine found herself back in the saddle and working again.

In 2004, with her girls grown, Francine moved to Parachute, Colo. The next year, she took Hero to a cow horse trainer in New Mexico. When Hero returned in 2006, Francine put him to work breeding mares, moving cows, riding in parades and trail riding. The two bonded during this time and learned to trust each other totally. Francine continued to keep alive her dream of success in the show ring but was unsure how it would ever happen, with her limited time and finances.

Her life changed forever when she met Bob Brown in 2007. The couple was married in 2009 on horseback on their ranch high above Parachute, where they now raise Paint horses and registered Angus cattle. Bob was very supportive of Francine’s dreams and willingly agreed to send Hero to finish training and start his show career. In early 2009, the trainer began showing him in working cow horse classes and in roping. Since then, and with Francine on his back, Hero’s accomplishments are many, not the least of which was being included on the Top Ten 2010 APHA Working Cow Horse Honor Roll in both Open and Senior divisions.

Francine credits her Hero for much of her miraculous recovery. “He’s really been more than what I dreamed of. I think I have yet to discover his true potential,” she says. “I hope my story is an inspiration to others to believe in miracles and never to quit. I get all teary when I think how far we’ve both come. He’s definitely my hero.”

The latest competitive challenge for Francine Acord-Brown and Hero is “America’s Favorite Trail Horse.” They are among 100 finalists who will appear on HRTV to bring attention to trail horses and to encourage people to get “back in the saddle again.” The National Finals were filmed in Texas last May, and national horse-trainer celebrities coached the contestants to be the best they could be for the cameras. There were six miles, six obstacles the first day, followed by the “garden version of all six obstacles” in a trail course. The last day was “freestyle,” in which Hero and Francine performed a shankless showmanship pattern.  

In 10 selected episodes of “America’s Favorite Trail Horse” on HRTV, America will vote for their favorite horse. The horse with the most votes will win $5,000 for that day’s performance. Grand Prize winners will be announced and their performance shown later on a full-length, nationally televised TV show.  Prizes are: 1st place- $25,000; 2nd place- $15,000; 3rd place- $10,000.

Hero’s airdate is October 18 on HRTV. Click on and see how to vote and help this deserving pair win “America’s Favorite Trail Horse.” I think you have to agree – they are both heroes.

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