“Trigger was without doubt the greatest horse ever to appear in motion pictures,” said Joe Dortch, executive director of the Happy Trails Children’s Foundation, a nonprofit that provides a safe haven for severely abused and/or neglected children, named in honor of Rogers and wife Dale Evans, who were passionate supporters.
Dortch said that before Rogers’ first film, the star began his search for a suitable horse.
“As soon as he got on a big golden palomino stallion sent over by the Hudkins Brothers Stable, he knew that he had found the horse he wanted and did not need to look any further,” Dortch said, observing, “In truth, it was a match made in heaven.”
Smiley Burnett, Rogers’ sidekick in his first two films, commented to Rogers that the big horse was “quick on the trigger,’ so Rogers decided that Trigger would be a good name for him.
“Trigger was very fast,” Dortch said. “The beautiful golden horse was athletic and could stop on a dime and give you nine cents change. He could cut and spin so fast that a less experienced rider could be left in mid air, and yet his disposition was such that Roy could put three or four kids on his back at the same time without any worry they would be injured.”
Rogers eventually purchased Trigger, who in a former movie role under his original name of Golden Cloud had been ridden by Olivia DeHavilland in the Errol Flynn film “The Adventures of Robin Hood.”
For nearly two decades, Trigger appeared in 81 of Rogers’ films and all 100 of Rogers’ television episodes – a remarkable record unmatched by any other motion picture animal.
“Roy used doubles for Trigger in long shots and for some of the chase scenes,” Dortch said, explaining that making Western pictures is very hard on horses, so Rogers was protective of Trigger’s safety and health.
Trigger proved to be exceptionally intelligent, mastering tricks for bits written into the movies after being shown what was expected only a couple of times.
“He quickly learned the movie business, and when he heard the words, ‘quiet on the set,’ he would perk up, sometimes from dozing in the sun, ears alert, waiting on his cue, ready to work,” Dortch said. “Likewise when he heard ‘cut,’ he would relax.”
Dortch said Trigger was not only smart and professional, he was fearless, performing stunts that other horses would refuse to do. It’s no wonder Trigger had starring roles in three of Rogers’ films, “My Pal Trigger” (1946), “The Golden Stallion” (1949) and “Trigger Jr.” (1950).
Rogers made numerous personal appearances with Trigger, who was almost as famous as his owner. More than once Rogers escorted Trigger up three or four flights of stairs at hospitals to visit with sick children, according to Rogers’ autobiography “Happy Trails.” Trigger was so popular, he even had his own series of Dell comics in the 1950s. After Trigger’s 1965 death, Rogers had the hide professionally stretched over a foam likeness of Trigger, which was displayed at the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum in Victorville, Calif., and later at Rogers’ museum in Branson, Mo.
“Roy and Trigger had a true unity and partnership unmatched by any other cowboy star and his horse,” Dortch said.
In 2010 Trigger’s preserved remains sold for $266,500 to the television channel RFD-TV.
For more information on all of Rogers’ and Evans’ animals, visit www.happytrails.org.
– story by Claudia Johnson, Country Reunion Music © 2022