I was reading Zeenat’s post about daily methods for reinforcing your inner upside (http://positiveprovocations.com/2011/02/21/top-9-ways-to-be-positive-and-happy-everyday/). The first one listed was to Carry a positive Trigger. She was writing about having a token of something that makes you happy with you at all times. When you get sidetracked, you can use it to get back in the game of life. She did not realize that by saying this she reopened a beautiful memory from my early childhood. I’ve had a positive trigger inside me since I was three! It’s Trigger himself, the smartest horse in the movies.
Roy Rogers was a former shoe factory worker from Ohio named Leonard Slye. He reinvented himself and became a beloved singing cowboy in movies and on TV. In preparation for his first lead role in Under Western Skies (1938),Roy tried out several handsome horses the studio provided. He was carried along smoothly and rapidly by a six year old palomino named Golden Cloud , but Roy was also impressed at how intelligent and responsive the horse was. During the shoot, co-star Smiley Burnette remarked that the horse was so quick Roy ought to call him “Trigger”. And quick he was, a fast learner and a fast runner. The name stuck.
Trigger went from A-budget films to B-Westerns in order to work with Roy. He had been Maid Marian’s horse in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938). From then on he played himself, as in Robin Hood of the Pecos (1941). That horse had real star quality. You could tell he enjoyed performing.
Most of their films included some demonstration of Trigger’s abilities. Here’s a clip from Hands Across the Border (1944):
Roy Rogers movies and TV shows were mostly formulaic nonsense, which matters little to an audience of children. They featured fistfights without blood, shootouts in which no one is killed, and love scenes with one kiss (maybe). The realest part was the friendships. Roy and Gabby Hayes, his bearded sidekick, acted like pals. So did Roy and Dale Evans, his off-screen wife. The revelation for me was seeing what close friends Roy and Trigger were. I hadn’t had a pet or significant relationship with any animals yet. Because I saw Roy and Trigger’s interaction with each other while I was a young child, I began believing people and animals could be friends. Roy never once used a whip or spurs with Trigger. They just communicated.
Trigger made over 80 films and 100 TV episodes with Roy. That’s long-distance stamina by any means of reckoning. He got one more shot at A-budget films in 1952. Their contract was up for renewal, and the studio (Republic) didn’t want to allow the duo to move to TV, where their audience was. Roy and Trigger galloped over to Paramount and appeared in Bob Hope’s Western spoof Son of Paleface:
Fast-forward half a century. I get along with many kinds of animals. Dogs, cats, deer and horses are curious about me, as I am about them. Birds will almost always come near. They sense I mean no harm, and I offer them food. On foreign trips I’ve touched whales and dolphins, and watched them studying me. I’ve had important, meaningful relationships with many animals that chose to live under my roof. I owe it all to watching that beautiful palomino and the cowboy he carried.
Trigger was a performer on-camera and in personal appearances for twenty years, longer than many human celebrities. When he died in 1965, Roy had the body preserved in the iconic pose, rearing up on his hind legs. For 45 years he was a museum exhibit under glass, the King Tut of horses. The mummy sold at auction for $266,500 last year.
EDITED BY LB TO ADD: Speaking of the Roy Rogers Museum, where Trigger used to do his mummified thing, many years ago my wife and I took our Youngest Daughter to see Roy’s goodies. He’d been a guest star on a show I produced called THE FALL GUY and was quite the host. But when the YD saw all the stuffed animals (not only Trigger but also Roy’s dog, Bullet, Dale’s horse, Buttermilk, and a host of big game animals shot on various Rogers’ family African safaris), she burst into tears and fled from the building. Sorry, Roy. Sorry, Mikey. Really sorry, Trigger.