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Roy and Trigger: the perfect match

When Roy Rogers began his career with Republic Studios, he needed a good horse. The first horse that Hudkins stables sent him was Golden Cloud who had played in Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood. Roy fell in love with Golden Cloud immediately; the horse was beautiful, fast, and intelligent and could stop on a dime.  The horse was so fast and quick that Smiley Burnette suggested Roy name him Trigger. The name stuck. Roy and Trigger became famous as a pair.

Early in Roy’s career, Herbert Yates, president of Republic Studios, was pushing Roy to play in some non-western bad guy roles. Roy did not like it so Herbert threatened Roy saying he would replace him and put some other cowboy on Trigger. Yates told Roy that Trigger made him famous, not the other way around. Unbeknown to Yates, Roy had purchased Trigger and when Roy told him that, Yates became very angry but he gave in to Roy’s wishes.

Yes, Roy had gone to the stables’ owner and asked to buy Trigger. The price was $2500 and Roy was making $75 per week so in today’s dollars that would be a very expensive horse. Roy had to buy Trigger on time but he considered it the best investment ever.

Roy and Trigger made 88 movies and 104 TV shows together. Roy said he was the only silver screen cowboy to use the same horse throughout his whole career. Trigger never let him down. He was very smart and knew over 100 tricks that could be cued by touching a certain part of his body. He was a natural ham. Most male TV horses were geldings but Trigger was a stallion and yet gentle enough that Roy could put children on him.

Trigger had several doubles to use in the more dangerous scenes or just to give him a break. But Trigger was quite capable of doing about anything. One day the film crew had taken several shots of Trigger’s doubles running up beside a moving locomotive. None of the doubles would get very close to the train without spooking. Finally, Roy said let Trigger do it. So, he and Trigger pulled off the stunt perfectly.

Director Bill Whitney once said that Roy was so athletic that he could have been a stunt man himself. He was pretty tough and could hang with the best of the stuntmen. And Trigger was also very athletic so the pair made a real team. In Roy’s autobiography Happy Trails: Our Life Story, he recalls one of his fondest memories was when he was doing a personal appearance at a movie set in Palm Desert. There were some cowboys hanging out and ragging on Roy about how Trigger really wasn’t much of a horse. Trigger was in his 20’s at the time. Roy recounts the story: “Finally I decided I had to call their bluff. I said, ‘Okay, boys, let’s race’. I put a wad of bills on the table. They matched my bet and four of them mounted their ponies. We lined up, someone dropped a flag and the horses took off. Fifty yards after the start, Trigger was nosing out in front, and a few hundred yards after that, the other horses were eating his dust. I’ll tell you, the money I picked up from the table that day wasn’t anywhere as satisfying as seeing the look of respect for the palomino on those men’s faces after the race”. Of course, those guys probably did not realize Trigger’s father was a thoroughbred.

All of us know that actors are just that: they are pretending to be something or someone they really aren’t. But, as near as I can tell, both Roy and Trigger were pretty tough dudes; about as close to the real thing that a silver screen cowboy and his steed could get.

The Wannabe Cowboy, November 20, 2013