Roy Rogers with Trigger – photo by Megan Raley(126958)Credit: photo by Megan Raley

The singing cowboys of the westerns in the 1930’s, ‘40’s and ‘50’s often had a sidekick to accompany them on their adventures.  They also had another companion that often helped them “save the day.”  Some of those cowboys became household names; so did the beautiful horses they rode.   The horses often became as iconic as the cowboy and thus most materials with depictions of the animals are copyrighted the same as their famous riders.

Movie Horses and the Cowboys who Rode Them 

Perhaps the most well-known horse of the old western movies is Trigger; the palomino ridden by Roy Rogers.  Trigger was a four years old stallion born and raised on a ranch near San Diego, California when he began working with Rogers.  His registered name was Golden Cloud and he was a cross between a Thoroughbred and a Quarter Horse.  There are different accounts of who actually suggested the name for the horse, but in the end Rogers renamed him Trigger because of the horse’s quickness. 

After a couple of years Rogers bought Trigger for $2500; a lot of money at the time.  Rogers was making personal appearances and the fans were demanding to see Trigger.  It was a lot for one horse so Rogers bought Little Trigger, another palomino that looked like Trigger except that he had four white stockings and wasn’t quite as tall.  Little Trigger made most of the personal appearances during the ‘40’s and ‘50’s; and made some appearances in a few of the movies; taking the lead in the movie “Trigger Jr.”  

Buttermilk was the buckskin quarter horse Rogers’ wife, Dale Evans rode.  It is said that Buttermilk was quicker off the mark than Trigger and for some of the scenes Evans had to hold the horse back a few seconds so it didn’t run ahead of Trigger.  Buttermilk had been on his way to the slaughterhouse when he was rescued by a cattleman.  The horse had been severely abused and was mean, but the cattleman, who called the horse Taffy, trained him for cutting competition and eventually the horse became friendly and affectionate.  It was during one of these competitions that “Taffy” was discovered for the screen.  Buttermilk appeared in all but six episodes of the Roy Rogers television show.  

Gene Autry’s horse Champion was known as the “Wonder Horse of the West.”  Champion was a sorrel gelding with a white blaze and white stockings.   Autry had several official “Champions” that included one for personal appearances, one for screen, and one for touring.   Champion had stunt doubles for on-screen appearances as did most of the lead horses.  

Horses of the Television Westerns  

Other than Trigger and Champion, probably the most popular horse to hit the small screen was Silver, the Lone Ranger’s horse.  There were actually two “Silvers” that were used in the television show; Silver #1 was a white stallion personally picked by Clayton Moore who played the Lone Ranger.  The horse didn’t know many tricks but would rear on command and had a gentle disposition. 

On the other hand, Silver #2 was high strung and was known to become skittish from the sounds of the camera rolling.    Silver #2 was trained by Glen Randall who also trained Trigger and was the only Silver to go on tours with Moore.  Mirroring the situation with Buttermilk being faster out of the blocks than Trigger; both Silvers were said to be a bit slower at the run than their sidekick Scout, Tonto’s horse.   Their stunt double was a stallion called Traveler who later went on to become the mascot for the USC Trojans.   

William Boyd, better known as Hopalong Cassidy, rode a white Arabian Stallion named Topper.  Topper started out as the double in films for Boyd’s mount, King Nappy.  When King Nappy was injured and unable to perform in “Renegade Trail” in 1939; Topper took over the role of Boyd’s horse.  

Other notable horses of television include “Fury,” played by Highland Dale; “Flicka,” portrayed by the chestnut Arabian Wahana;  and of course “Mr. Ed” played by the palomino  Bamboo Harvester.  Fans of western television shows also remember well the horses of the Cartwright clan: Buck, Ben's horse; Cochise, Little Joe's  pinto; Chub, Hoss's horse; and Sport, Adam's mount.   Several different horses were used for the pinto  and Sport was the third horse that was finally used for Adam.

Many of the horses used in television during the early years came from the Fat Jones Stable in North Hollywood as it specialized in renting horses to film and television since 1912.  In 1970, the stable sold much of its livestock.  Some of the actors bought the horses they were using.  Reportedly Lorne Greene bought his horse, Buck and donated him to a theraputic riding facility where the horse lived until the age of 45.

Movie Horses in the More Recent Years 

Though the era of western movies is all but gone; there have been movies about horses in recent years.  In the movie “The Black Stallion” a black Arabian named Cass-ole was the lead horse.  While most of the lead horses of the earlier films did much of their on-screen work with just a single “stunt double” the more recent films often use more than one stunt double for their lead horses.   Fifteen different horses were used for the movie “Seabiscuit” to accommodate the variety of scenes shot; five horses were used in the movie “Hidalgo,” again, for the various scenes and tricks needed.  

The horses of yesterday and those of today will never be forgotten.   Whether displayed in museums or buried in pet cemeteries and their graves marked with memorial headstones; these equine actors will live forever in the hearts of those whose memories are rich with the antics of these beautiful creatures. 


Sources: “the Long Ranger with Silver” (accessed May 4, 2010) “Champion, World’s Wonder Horse” (accessed May 4, 2010)  (accessed May 4, 2010) (accessed May 4, 2010)



The copyright of the article “Famous Horses of Television and Early Western Movies”  is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

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