Romancing Trigger By Gina McKnight

Legend has it that when North America was new, horses were magical. The original North American Horse evolved from great posterity, the offspring of prized horses owned by kings and princes. The North American Horse’s ancestry can be traced back to the beginnings of antiquity; into the thick canopy of tents of the Bedouin tribe, nestled deep in the sands of the Arabian Desert.  The Spaniards coveted the Bedouin’s agile horse, capturing and transporting a few to Spain.  The Spaniards breed the Bedouin horse to Andalusian and Barb breeds, creating a magnificent stalwartly horse to be treasured throughout time.

Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger

Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger

In the sixteenth century, the brave Spanish Conquistadores sailed with their Bedouin-mix horses to North America.  Following the Conquistadores was Christopher Columbus and his cargo of enchanting horses.  The voyages were long and dangerous for both sailors and equines. All of the horses melded together in North America’s vast terrain.  They intertwined to create a new breed – the American Horse.

Trigger was an American Horse. His original name was Golden Cloud. He was named for his beautiful golden palomino coat and owner, Roy F. Cloud.  Trigger came into this world on a glossy July 4th morning in 1934 in sunny San Diego, California. His dam was a true American Horse and his sire, Tarzan, a Thoroughbred, from the original Conquistador linage. Tarzan was a well-known racehorse, racing in Mexico at the Caliente Racetrack.  Trigger inherited his sire’s golden good looks and his dam’s sweet disposition. His ancestry is rooted deep in American soil.  He was the product of Bedouin tribe posterity and Conquistador ruggedness; America’s Horse.

Stories tell that Trigger was not the average foal.  He was more agile, perceptive and keen than his stablemates. But, most of all, he was drop dead gorgeous.  He became the groom’s favorite and the love of stable hands.  After affectionate handling and beginning etiquette, Trigger was sold to Hudkins Stables, in Hollywood, California.  Hudkins Stables was the major source of equines for Hollywood’s movie industry.  Trigger was schooled by the best trainers and wranglers.  He was fashioned for nobility and groomed to be a starlet. Trigger had charisma, intelligence, screen presence, beauty and glamour.  His classy markings included his famous white blaze flowing down to his nose and left rear white stocking.  He was about two years old when he was started under saddle.

Trigger’s movie debut was in 1938. Olivia de Havilland, the famous movie actress, fell in love with Trigger when he was her steed in “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (Warner Brothers). She starred in the film as Maid Marian.  Olivia, with her crimson medieval attire, gallops sidesaddle through Sherwood Forest in search of Robin Hood (Errol Flynn).  Trigger is mesmerizing in his movie debut, wearing a full-body caparison, as is custom for gallant medieval horses. He sashays through the movie with the utmost confidence and poise.  At only four years old, he steals the hearts of many.

Leonard Slye, aka Roy Rogers, was a new singing cowboy on the rise and needed a blockbuster icon and an obedient ride.  From Duck Run, Ohio, Rogers personified the ultimate backwoods country boy. He was an avid equestrian and horse-lover.  He was 26 years old when he met Trigger, who was four years old, at Hudkins Stables.  It was 1943. Rogers knew when he first saw Trigger that they were destined to be together. Rogers purchased Trigger for $2,500.00 (over $30,000 in today’s market).  It was a steep sum for Rogers at the time, so he set up a payment plan.  Rogers is later to have said that it was the best money he ever spent.  Smiley Burnette, Rogers’ cowboy movie sidekick, said that the horse was ‘quick-on-the-trigger’.  Rogers liked the name and from that day forward Golden Cloud was known as Trigger.

At 15.3 hands, Trigger made the perfect stunt horse. With his amazing good looks, he was on his way to stardom. He had a sultry, silky stance that made him stand out from all the other movie horses.  He was equine congenial and eager to please.  Stunningly photogenic with a compelling cinematic flair, Trigger was more than just a cow pony. He was an iron horse; he was a partner and a pal. He was in his element; lights, cameras, fans, pampering, quality oats and…silver studded tack.

Apart from all of the royalty that celebrity brings, Trigger earned his keep. He was challenged with new scripts, new tricks and places to go. He was constantly bombarded with sound trucks, camera equipment, film crews, boom mikes, and the rigorous stress of working through a scripted day. Trigger was an exceptional learner.  Glenn Randall, world-famous master horse trainer, was Triggers main trainer.  Randall is famous for training the four whites (Rigel, Antares, Aldebaran, and Altair), the winning horses Charlton Heston charioted to fame in the blockbuster movie ‘Ben-Hur’ (MGM 1959).  Randall was a true horse whisperer.  He had ‘equus’, the language of the horse. His soft voice, gentle guidance and groundbreaking training techniques are still admired today.

Trigger responded instinctively to subtle hand movements and the slightest touch.  Patted twice under his mane he would back away.  Patted two inches lower from the same spot; he would rear to his famous pose. Seldom using reins, Rogers used non-verbal signals and commands.  Trigger knew what was expected and that people were watching him.  He responded to ‘ohs’ and ‘aws’ and the never-ending applause.  “Any cowboy worth his stuff owes half of what he gets to his horse,” said Rogers.

Rogers’ signature white hat with the famous ‘Denton Pinch’ (creased crown), along with his flashy cowboy fringed attire, wowed audiences as he waved and smiled to fame.  His handsome good looks allured all ages.  He wore smooth, round silver spurs that jingled when he walked.  Learning to ride bareback at the ripe age of eight years, Rogers quickly became a confident equestrian; he was a natural. He learned the intrinsics of the horse and how to use voice cues and leg pressure to command his horse. He never used whips or spurs.  His early years would mold and instill his inherent equestrian abilities.

In the movie, “Under Western Stars”, Trigger stars with Rogers. The star-studded team goes on to make over 81 movies and star in over 100 episodes of The Roy Rogers Show.  Trigger learned tricks that wowed audiences the world over.  He had a repertoire of tricks; he could shoot a gun, knock on doors, dance, bow, untie ropes, kiss the girls and capture hearts, to name a few.  He was called ‘the smartest horse in the movies’. Through his career he had many look-alikes that were used as stunt-doubles in his movies.  As a star, he was kept in optimum health, inside and out.

Rogers fell in love with Dale Evans, another hardy equestrian and horse-lover.  However, Evans had to learn to be an equestrian, and, upon Rogers’ recommendation, took riding lessons. They met on the movie set of “The Cowboy and the Senorita”. Evans played the lovely Senorita and Rogers the rugged cowboy.  In a scene in the movie, Rogers rescues Evans from the perils of her run-away-horse. Evans, from Uvalde, Texas, is a good match for the rider from backwoods Ohio. They melted the movie houses with their equine fanfare, tales of adventure and swooning tunes.  But, without Trigger and his good Palomino looks, they may not have been as successful.

In 1947 Rogers proposed to Evans while waiting to be introduced at a Chicago rodeo.  They were on horseback when he proposed.  She said ‘yes’, and they were married on December 31, 1947 at the Flying L Ranch in Davis, Oklahoma. Both Rogers and Evans had been married before. More children, horses, stardom and celebrity followed; the couple was married for more than 50 years.

‘King of the Cowboys’ was quickly bestowed upon Rogers and he gained a reputation for theatrical performances with Trigger, on and off the stage. With his new celebrity wife, Dale Evans, in her stunning feminine clothes, girly spunk, perpetual smile and friendly demeanor, Rogers became even more famous.  Evans was not only lovely and well-schooled, but she could ride a horse, round-up cattle, and drink cowboy coffee. Rogers and Evans were known for their feisty banter, congenial ways and gentle teasing. Evans was important to Rogers; she had star quality as an actress, a good relationship with Trigger and she supported his cowboy ventures. Together, they filled the movie houses and arenas.  Box offices around the globe were jammed-pack with movie goers waiting to see Rogers, Evans …and Trigger.


Roy Rogers' horse Trigger
Roy Rogers’ horse Trigger

Like most horseman, we are defined by our steeds.  Rogers is no exception.  It is better for some to have a life-long companion in a horse than an assortment.  “He would turn on a dime and he’d give you 9 cents change,” Roy was famous for saying.  Trigger was a superstar.  He was more than a cowboy’s horse; he was a confidant and pal. He was registered with the Palomino Horse Association. Palomino refers to a horses color, not breeding.  Trigger had a coat of deep gold with a flaxen mane and tail. Registered with the Palomino Horse Association, he was a stallion his entire life, but with no offspring.

Rogers, a die-hard patriot, traveled to many USO military bases during World War II and the Vietnam War.  He toured extensively with Trigger to visit our men and women in uniform.  During World War II, he raised thousands of dollars to raise funds for the war effort. The cowboy and his horse symbolized America; homeland and the right to be free.

Besides inspiring troops, dashing through movies, rearing on demand and wowing children, Trigger may have been instrumental in helping Evans to write 20 books, pen a catalog of songs, and guide the family through triumph and tragedy.  Trigger received an average of 200 letters a month from swooning fans.  Having his own fan club and marketing his image required an extra assistant. Fan mail was promptly responded to with a letter and an autographed hoof print.

Trigger’s tack was royal.  He had a $5,000 gold and silver saddle, complete with martingale, golden lariat, and pointed tapadero stirrups. Most of Triggers saddles were made by the famous leatherworker Edward H. Bohlin, referred to as the Michelangelo of saddle making.  Decorated in intricate patterns of silver and gold, the saddles weighed as much as 150 pounds.  Trigger’s ruby-studded saddle was referred to as the ‘crown jewels’ of saddlery.

Roy Rogers on his horse Trigger

Roy Rogers on his horse Trigger

Trigger made Rogers a fortune through personal appearances and merchandising. Before appearing in a show, Rogers would park Trigger’s horse trailer outside of the arena/venue where they were performing.  Rogers wanted the people who couldn’t afford to buy a ticket to the show to be able to see Trigger, dressed in all his finery.  Sometimes overzealous fans would snip a piece of Trigger’s lovely mane and tail as a souvenir.  After too many ‘snips’, Trigger was endanger of balding.  Showing Trigger prior to events was halted in order to save his beautiful flaxen mane and tail.  Eventually Trigger’s locks grew back to their original luxurious length. He was fed only the best hay and grain, mixed especially for his glamorous lifestyle; a diet that kept his coat shiny, his eyes bright and gave him the stamina he needed to perform on a moments notice.

Trigger died July 3, 1965, at the age of 30, a day shy of his 31st birthday.  He died at Rogers’ ranch in Hidden Valley, California.  Dying of old age, they found him in his familiar pasture. His thinning flaxen mane and tail had grayed and were without luster.  His luxurious coat had weathered and wrinkled.  He was fragile, as an old man, feeble and devoid of musculature. His body was sent to Bishott’s Taxidermy of California to be skinned and cast in plaster.  His internal organs – heart, brain, eyes – were disposed of and never buried.  No grave, no stone.  Jokes abounded about Trigger’s demise. “More hay, Trigger? No, thanks, I’m stuffed.”

Millions of people came to see the new, stuffed Trigger.  ‘The Smartest Horse in the World’ drew crowds from around the globe.  Trigger was displayed in the celebrities California home for awhile, then moved to the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Victorville, California.  Finally, Trigger was on display at the new relocated museum in Branson, Missouri. His gem-studded tack was also on display, as well as mementos from the family’s cowboy rein.

Roy Rogers on his horse Trigger

Roy Rogers on his horse Trigger

Rogers died on July 6, 1998; Dale on February 7, 2001. Their legacy is not complete without the love, life and joy of Trigger.  The Branson museum that housed Trigger is gone now, it closed in 2009.  The contents were sold at public auction.  Trigger galloped off for over $266,000. One of his gilded bridles and saddles sold for over $386,000.  It is the end of an era, the end of the trail.  Trigger, the bright palomino horse that wowed audiences throughout the universe, will forever remain in the hearts and minds of those who remember his stunts, fanfare, beauty, anecdotes, movies, and more.


Happy Trails gorgeous Trigger.…

Roy Rogers Riding Club Prayer by Roy Rogers
Lord, I reckon I’m not much just by myself,
I fail to do a lot of things I ought to do.
But Lord, when trails are steep and passes high,
Help me ride it straight the whole way through.

And when in the falling dusk I get that final call,
I do not care how many flowers they send,
Above all else, the happiest trail would be,
For You to say to me, “Let’s ride, My Friend.”

Happy Trails, The Lyrics by Dale Evans

Some trails are happy ones, others are blue.
It’s the way you ride the trail that counts;
Here’s a happy one for you.

Happy trails to you, until we meet again.
Happy trails to you, keep smilin’ until then.
Who cares about the clouds when we’re together?

Just sing a song and bring the sunny weather.
Happy trails to you, until we meet again.

Guess post by : Gina McKnight is a writer from USA.
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