Everybody Loves Trigger!

TriggerA 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 in The Adventures of Robin HoodTrigger – – 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”.

Trigger the HorseIn 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!

TriggerRoy 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.”

Trigger Jr.
Trainer Glenn Randall and Trigger Jr.

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.

TriggerAll 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.

Little Trigger
Little Trigger

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!

1Trigger 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!
Anita Lequoia

12 Replies to “Everybody Loves Trigger!”

  1. I. See riders every day that have not mastered the horsemanship shown in just these clips. It something to show our children what we admired as children growing up. He and Dale gave children the example of great parents, great Americans and being kind and good was the goal, not the attitudes we see in the world today. Really nice history, thank you.

    1. Hi Sue! I totally agree, Roy was an excellent horseman and a wonderful person. I miss him! Thanks for stopping by the blog, and thanks especially for your thoughtful comment.

  2. I enjoyed this article you posted on Roy and Trigger.When I was very young I couldn’t wait to go to the movies and see Roy Rogers movies.At that time the cost to go was only .10 cents.That’s going back a ways.He and Dale were wonderful people,a lot different than the stars today.I also a article on the auction of his belongings and the prices,that was really interesting.Thank you.

    1. Howdy Sharon, so happy that you enjoyed it! Writing this story brought back many childhood memories for me, and I love watching those old videos! Thanks for stopping by!

  3. So glad to find this video of Roy and Trigger doing dressage. I miss Roy, Dale and their wonderful family oriented programs. They were both such great Christian examples…examples needed so badly today.
    Thanks for posting this and if you know of any other videos of Roy and Trigger doing dressage I would love to see them and forward to my equestrian daughter and grand daughter.

    1. Hi Barbara, so happy that you enjoyed this little look back in history! It is fun to reminisce, isn’t it? I think that there are quite a lot of videos of Roy and Trigger on YouTube.com, just enter “Roy and Trigger dancing” into the search field. Thanks for stopping by!

  4. I love reading stories about Trigger, especially in the age of the Internet. My great-grandfather was Jimmy Griffin through the adoption of my grandmother and I even have a plaque which states to be Trigger’s first horse shoes. My grandmother has countless photos of herself as a young girl posing with Trigger!

  5. Thanks for sharing this story, this brought back powerful memories of my childhood… Watching them on TV, I also loved Trigger! My twin sister’s and I were put into a froster home while our parents went through a divorce in 1964, we got to see our parents once a month. Every time I saw my father, I begged him to get us out of there and begged for a pony named Trigger! Well I’m happy to say a year later my sister’s and me got to come home. I was 5 years old and my father kepted his promise and bought me a paint pony and I named him Trigger! He even took me to Sears and I got to pick my own new black saddle, bridle and chest strap with metal shaped diamonds on it. I was the happiest little girl in the world! My dreams had finally came true… Happy Trails!!!

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