Hollywood Horse­woman

Pat Denton rode jumpers, reiners, and cow horses, plus mod­eled, acted, and did stunt and dou­ble work for tele­vi­sion and the movies. An ex­tra­or­di­nary life? You de­cide.

Horse & Rider - - Contents - BY BARRY DENTON

She was a rider, model, and stunt­woman. An ex­tra­or­di­nary life? You de­cide.

She called the late, great ac­tor Henry Fonda “Hank” and knew the quin­tes­sen­tial Mr. Si­na­tra as “Frank.” These were her friends and neigh­bors. They were also peo­ple that her then-hus­band, stunt co­or­di­na­tor Robert “Buzz” Henry, worked with and dou­bled. But while Pat Denton loved her friends and her Hollywood life, she had an­other in­ter­est that came first. Her story is all about horses, and if you don’t be­lieve me, just ask her.


I first met Pat when I was en­ter­ing a Na­tional Reined Cow Horse As­so­ci­a­tion Show in Phoenix sev­eral years ago. When a show of­fice is jam-packed with peo­ple sign­ing up the first day of an event, tem­pers can get testy. This par­tic­u­lar lady at the counter, how­ever, was han­dling the chaos re­mark­ably well. When your turn fi­nally came, she’d put you at ease with her pleas­ant face and re­as­sur­ing smile.

Af­ter we left the show of­fice, I turned to my wife, Lau­rel (you know her as the “Thor­oughly Mod­ern Cow­girl” of the July is­sue).

“Who was that lady?” I asked, as the two of them had ex­changed greet­ings.

“Oh, that’s Pat Denton,” she replied. “Great gal. I’ve known her for sev­eral years.”

Nat­u­rally, I thought Pat had a good sur­name—the same as mine! But I fig­ured there had to be some­thing else spe­cial about her be­cause I liked her right away, un­usual for me.

NRCHA shows came and went over the years, and I got to know Pat a lit­tle bet­ter. I es­pe­cially en­joyed the shows she ran, be­cause you could al­ways count on her be­ing kind and pleas­ant to work with. But be­yond that, Pat ex­uded an el­e­gance that seemed al­most out of place at a horse show. Sens­ing there was a deeper story about her, I be­gan ask­ing around. There had to be some­thing in­ter­est­ing in her back­ground, but I knew Pat wasn’t go­ing to pro­vide any clues.


I even­tu­ally learned Pat Denton grew up in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia at Grif­fith Park, a large mu­nic­i­pal fa­cil­ity at the eastern end of the Santa Mon­ica Moun­tains, near both Bur­bank and Hollywood. It in­cludes a pop­u­lar eques­trian cen­ter, and there her fa­ther, Fran­cis Fo­ley, was an ac­com­plished trainer of show horses and her mother, Grace Fo­ley, was an of­fice man­ager.

Mr. Fo­ley trained and showed Amer­i­can Sad­dle­breds and Hack­ney Ponies. Pat grew up around the sta­ble, help­ing her fa­ther and be­com­ing a good horse­man her­self.

“My par­ents were good to me and gave me ev­ery op­por­tu­nity they could,” Pat tells me. “I took ev­ery les­son avail­able, from fenc­ing to piano to pretty much ev­ery­thing in be­tween.”

Of all the things she did, though, rid­ing horses was her fa­vorite. Pat wasn’t al­lowed to show in gaited-horse events be­cause she’d be com­pet­ing against her fa­ther’s clients. In­stead, she’d go to the shows to help out and so­cial­ize.

Af­ter high school, the strik­ingly at­trac­tive young woman at­tended the John Roberts Model­ing School. A horse caught her eye at about the same time, a geld­ing a friend of hers was rid­ing one day. Pat told her friend she felt sorry for the horse, not­ing that the geld­ing, named The Sa­cred Ox, didn’t even seem to know what a good pet­ting was. Pat de­cided she wanted the for­mer rodeo bronc for her­self—and was in­tent on learning how to jump with him.


She signed up for lessons with Red Burns, a well known jump­ing horse trainer in the area. Be­cause Burns no longer at­tended horse shows, Pat ended up go­ing to events with Show Jump­ing Hall of Fame train­ers Bar­bara Worth and Jimmy Wil­liams.

“I was lucky to be around both train­ers, as they were com­pletely dif­fer­ent from each other,” she re­veals. “Mr. Wil­liams taught me the fi­nesse of jump­ing, and Miss Worth taught me more a seat-of-the-pants style.”

Pat showed The Sa­cred Ox at are­nas across south­ern Cal­i­for­nia, in­clud­ing Del Mar, Santa Anita, and Grif­fith Park. Soon her fa­ther ad­vised her she needed to find a job to help sup­port her new habit.

With her movie-star looks, Pat be­gan tak­ing model­ing jobs and en­ter­ing lo­cal beauty con­tests. Such com­pe­ti­tions and the re­sult­ing pa­rades were ex­tremely pop­u­lar at the time, help­ing to ad­ver­tise and pro­mote a va­ri­ety of busi­nesses. At one time Pat held dou-

ble titles: “Miss Sher­man Oaks” and “Miss Laun­dro­mat.”

Soon she learned of an au­di­tion in Hollywood for Sammy Davis Jr.’s stage show at the Sands Ho­tel in Las Ve­gas. The au­di­tion went well, and be­fore long she was on her way to an­other ad­ven­ture. The stint there lasted three-and-a-half months.

“Mr. Davis taught me the art of ‘quick draw’ as part of a skit I did with him,” says Pat. “He was ex­tremely adept at it and a pa­tient in­struc­tor, too. He was also ex­cep­tion­ally kind to me and the other eight girls I worked with in the show,” she adds.

While she was in Las Ve­gas do­ing Sammy Davis Jr.’s show, she was re­cruited as a jockey in the Pow­der Puff Derby (fe­male riders only) held at the Las Ve­gas Race­track.

“I took the job as an ad­ven­ture, and it cer­tainly was,” she says with a laugh. “We were able to prac­tice work­ing out of the start­ing gate just once be­fore the race, and we ran the horses in West­ern sad­dles. It was fast and it was fun!”

When the Davis show fin­ished in Las Ve­gas, Pat went back to Los An­ge­les and landed jobs ap­pear­ing in sev­eral tele­vi­sion com­mer­cials. One was for Chevro­let, where she ap­peared along­side singer and dancer Di­nah Shore.

Pat also did com­mer­cials for then-pop­u­lar Dial Soap. She even made ap­pear­ances on such tele­vi­sion shows as Day in Court, a much­watched day­time pro­gram on ABC from 1958–65.


One of the place-to-be hang­outs in Bur­bank at that time was the Pick­wick Bowl­ing Al­ley. The ac­tress De­bra Paget, who was sta­bling a horse with Pat’s fa­ther (then at Pick­wick Sta­bles), used to fre­quent it. One night, De­bra and her hus­band, Bud Boetcher, brought along to the bowl­ing al­ley a fel­low Bud was work­ing with at the time, Robert “Buzz” Henry.

“When I met Buzz, I wasn’t ter­ri­bly im­pressed,” Pat re­calls. “But he kept show­ing up to see De­bra’s horses. I thought that was odd, but then he fi­nally asked me out.” Af­ter about a year of dat­ing, Pat and Buzz took her par­ents with them to Las Ve­gas and got mar­ried.

The mar­riage started a new life for Pat. She of­ten trav­eled with Buzz to movie lo­ca­tions, and even started do­ing stunt work on horse­back. In

1969, for the movie Mackenna’s Gold, she dou­bled Julie New­mar dur­ing the horse-chase scene on the rocky ledges of Canyon de Chelly in Ari­zona. In an­other scene, she jumped a horse off a raft and into the Rogue River in Ore­gon. Pat re­mem­bers hav­ing to re­peat that par­tic­u­lar scene three times.

“The horses were schooled to jump off the raft into shal­low wa­ter, so they had no fear go­ing off the raft the first time,” she ex­plains. “But get­ting them to jump off into the deep wa­ter the sec­ond and third times—that was tough.”

To add to the chal­lenge, the raft was teth­ered just short of a large water­fall.

“I had to get my horse off the raft and over to the shore quickly, so we weren’t swept over the falls,” she says. “You had to be care­ful not to get near the horse’s head in the wa­ter, too, as he’d try to climb over you—you had to drop back and hold onto the tail.”


Buzz and Pat worked on other ma­jor movies as well, in­clud­ing The Wild Bunch, Ma­jor Dundee, and The Guns of Navarone, to name a few.

In 1972 Buzz was the sec­ond-unit di­rec­tor and stunt co­or­di­na­tor on the John Wayne movie The Cow­boys. The crew was just get­ting the film fin­ished up when Buzz was killed in a car ac­ci­dent in Bur­bank. His un­timely death left Pat with­out a hus­band, and their 3-year-old daugh­ter, Cristina, with­out a fa­ther. Buzz and Pat had been mar­ried just nine years.

Pat had a horse-trainer friend at Hollywood Park. For a change of pace, Pat started pony­ing race­horses for him in the early morn­ing hours. Dur­ing that time she also did stunt work on the tele­vi­sion show Won­der Woman, with Lynda Carter. At the track she dou­bled Carter in a fight scene that in­volved crash­ing through a glass door, vault­ing over one car, and spin­ning out in an­other as she was “get­ting away.”

“That’s the only time I ever did stunt work with­out a horse,” she notes.

Be­cause this dou­ble work was tak­ing place at the track, all her fel­low morn­ing ex­er­cise riders and jocks came over to watch her. One won­ders what the race­horses thought of all that ex­cite­ment.

As you can imag­ine, Pat holds stunt­men and -women in high re­gard, as she knows many of their chal­lenges first­hand. But she mod­estly down­plays her own in­volve­ment.

“The stunts I per­formed were mi­nor com­pared to the work real stunt peo­ple do,” she says.

About five years af­ter the ac­ci­dent in­volv­ing her hus­band, Pat em­barked on an­other ad­ven­ture. She packed up Cristina and her own mother, Grace, and moved to Du­rango, Colorado, a nice, small horse com­mu­nity on the banks of the An­i­mas River. Af­ter a few years there, Pat de­cided it was time to look for a horse for Cristina.


On the quest to find this spe­cial horse, she met the renowned Quar­ter Horse trainer Jack Denton. He hap­pened to have avail­able a nice palomino rope horse called Poco Sir Bar, also known as Hot Shot. Jack trained a va­ri­ety of horses for hal­ter, rop­ing, and showring plea­sure. As it turned out, there de­vel­oped a per­sonal con­nec­tion be­tween him and Pat, and a year later they were mar­ried.

Shortly af­ter that, Jack and Pat were vis­it­ing friends in Ok­la­homa who told Jack of a good job open­ing up at En­sign Farms, a Quar­ter Horse breed­ing and train­ing sta­ble, work­ing for a man named Ce­cil John­son. Jack ap­plied and landed the job as man­ager. While Pat and Jack were liv­ing in Ok­la­homa, Pat de­cided she’d like to add rein­ing to her grow­ing list of eques­trian ac­com­plish­ments, and started look­ing for a reiner.

John­son had a 5-year-old geld­ing, Chica Tom, that was just stand­ing in the pas­ture. Pat had a nice English mare at the time, so they made a trade.

Pat com­peted in rein­ing at sev­eral shows, with good success. Then she de­cided she wanted to try some cow horse classes. Af­ter all, her horse was by Doc Tom Tucker, a top sire of cow horses. Pat turned for as­sis­tance to cow horse trainer Mar­i­lyn Peters of Ed­mond, Ok­la­homa, who lived just down the road from the Den­tons.

With Mar­i­lyn’s help, Chica Tom did in­deed be­come a tal­ented cow horse—and seemed to love it as much as Pat did.

There were some hairy episodes, though. The first time Pat showed Chica Tom in a cow horse class he slipped in the mud, fell, and cracked Pat’s ribs. Un­de­terred, she showed him again… the very next day. All told, Pat showed Chica Tom for 10 years. Three times he qual­i­fied for and com­peted at the Amer­i­can Quar­ter Horse As­so­ci­a­tion World Cham­pi­onship Show in Ok­la­homa City, Ok­la­homa.


One par­tic­u­lar year when Pat was at the AQHA World Show with her geld­ing, she ran down and made her first turn with the cow on the fence and was flung down on Chica Tom’s neck. She stayed on and gal­loped down the fence for the sec­ond turn. Again she ended up on the side of her geld­ing’s neck. She never did come off, though, and re­cov­ered each time—to the crowd’s de­light.

“How fool­ish I must’ve looked,” Pat muses, “and, as you can imag­ine, I was dumb­founded when I made the fi­nals.”

She didn’t win that year, but be­came a crowd fa­vorite for her tenac­ity and wound up fifth in the world. Pat and her horse went on to earn Regis­ters of Merit in both rein­ing and cow horse.

Be­cause Pat loved show­ing so much, she even­tu­ally be­came a show sec­re­tary for AQHA and NRCHA events. This new ad­ven­ture took her to New Mex­ico, Ari­zona, Utah, and Colorado. Pat lost Jack to ill­ness in 2007, but to this day she’s the cat­a­lyst for keep­ing the ranch go­ing. She boards horses, rides, and is still a busi­ness­woman as a no­tary public.

“I guess I haven’t led an or­di­nary life,” she ad­mits, “but I can tell you this…it was all for a horse.” 

FROMwas Rogue jump­ingTOP: River One­for a horsetheof Pat’s movie­off a dan­ger­ous­raft Mackenna’sinto Ore­gon’sstunts Gold. A show­girl in Sammy Davis Jr.’s 1959 Sands Ho­tel pro­duc­tion in Las Ve­gas, Pat also mod­eled and en­tered lo­cal beauty con­tests. She...

TOP: Pat Denton to­day, pos­ing with the au­thor’s geld­ing, Snoopy. ABOVE-LEFT: Pat show­ing her first horse, for­mer rodeo bronc The Sa­cred Ox, at the Los An­ge­les Eques­trian Cen­ter at Grif­fith Park in 1961. RIGHT: Thanks to her par­ents, Fran­cis and Grace...

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.