A cowboy without a horse is, well. . . simply a bow-legged pedestrian carrying a saddle. Thank goodness that Roy Rogers had Trigger! But don’t think for one minute that Trigger was just a large hooved movie prop or just some Western extra. Trigger was a star, in his own right!
In 1938, Roy Rogers was on the brink of major stardom. To help drive his popularity, Republic Pictures, to whom he was under contract at the time, put out a casting call to local stables for an extraordinary horse. DOINK! Of course, everybody loves a beautiful horse! When Rogers found the palomino that would eventually be called Trigger, he knew the search was over.
Trigger – – a stallion by a Thoroughbred sire out of a palomino grade mare – – was born in 1934 and was originally named Golden Cloud, after his first trainer, Roy Cloud. Golden Cloud was already an experienced movie star, as he had served as Olivia de Havilland’s mount in The Adventures of Robin Hood and Priscilla Lane’s horse in Cowboy from Brooklyn. Rogers landed upon the name “Trigger” when his on-screen sidekick, Smiley Burnett, commented that the horse was “quick on the trigger”.
In 1938 Roy Rogers purchased Trigger from the Hudkins Brothers Stables. I’m thinking that Trigger may have been Roger’s first big time, movie star splurge, because he paid a whopping $2,500.00 ($41,000.00 in today’s dollars)—on time payments. (Let’s see. $75 a week will go into $2,500. . . carry the one . . . a bunch of times!) That was some investment!
Roy Rogers clearly understood that Trigger was not just any ol’ horse. Trigger was a gifted student and Rogers hired a gifted horse trainer, Jimmy Griffin to fine-tune the horse’s performances. Again, the investment paid off. Trigger was not some one-trick pony; he knew over 100 different trick cues. Some of his best-loved tricks were: Addition and subtraction, as well as counting to twenty. Trigger could sign his name on a sheet of paper by making an X with a pencil. He could drink milk from a bottle. Not only could he rear when asked, but he could also walk 150 feet on his hind legs. All cues for the tricks were from subtle hand motions from Rogers.
But wait, there’s more! Trigger was also trained in dressage, and he had a few fancy moves that could even impress one of the Lipizzaner Stallions. Just check out Trigger’s fancy dancin’ footwork (known in dressage circles as a piaffe) here in the video below, of his performance with Roy at the Hollywood Canteen in 1940. Rogers said of Trigger, “He could turn on a dime and give you some change.”
When Jimmy Griffin left to go to work in the defense industry during WWII, Roy Rogers hired Glenn Randall to train and care for his horses. That was a good call, because Randall didn’t just train the horses, he also trained Roy and helped him to become one of the greatest horsemen in Hollywood. As a side note (because I just love side notes!), Glenn Randall’s sons followed in their dad’s Hollywood footsteps. Corky Randall became a Hollywood wrangler and horse trainer, while Glenn Randall Jr. has had an illustrious career as a stuntman and stunt coordinator.
All told, Roy Rogers and Trigger appeared together in more than 80 films, 101 television episodes and more public appearances than you could shake a stick at. During World War II they toured the country, raising millions in the sale of bonds to aid the war effort. Rogers was proud to point out that throughout that heavy workload, Trigger never once stumbled.
Urban legends abound about the idea of multiple “Triggers”. While look-alikes were sometimes used in film sequences, the real Trigger was always on the job. Roy Rogers also purchased a quarter horse they named “Little Trigger” (no relation to Trigger) to help ease the pressure of Trigger’s public appearance schedule. And in the 40’s, Rogers purchased a Palomino Tennessee Walking Horse, named Trigger Jr., which he trained himself to do all of the famous “Trigger Tricks.” Hey, the guy couldn’t be everywhere! Crowds always loved Roy Rogers and Trigger. Trigger even had his own fan club and comic book series!
Trigger passed away in 1965, at the age of 31. Upon his death, Trigger’s hide was stretched over a plaster likeness of himself. Roy Rogers was quoted as saying, “When I die, just skin me and put me up on old Trigger and I’ll be happy.” (I, for one, am happy to report that Rogers did not get his wish!) For years, the taxidermied Trigger could be found at the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Victorville, California, which later relocated to Branson, Missouri.
When the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum closed, in 2009, Trigger went to Christie’s Auction House in New York. In 2010, Trigger was auctioned for $266,500 to RFD-TV, a cable channel in Nebraska. That’s not a bad price when you considered that Roy Rogers only paid $2,500 for him. Rumor has it that the president of RFD-TV intends to start a television memorabilia museum. I sincerely hope so. But until then . . . Happy trails to you, Trigger, until we meet again!
Happy Trails, y’all!