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Roy Rogers the Horse Rider

Poetry in Motion

                     ROY ROGERS THE HORSEMAN AND RIDER


From the book "An Illustrated History of TRIGGER" by Leo Pando



Roy Rogers, Horseman


"A man gets to know a lot about a people watching the way they
act with horses. Roy Rogers isn't a range cowboy, and he had
never pretended to be one. Yet, put to the test, he could put in
a day's work with the best. He has a natural seat on a horse that
plenty of Texas line-riders world envy. Roy got it from riding
bareback. He has kept himself in better shape than most men his
age, partly because he has to in order to do the things he does
in movies, but mostly because he has a personal pride in good
health that's more important." - Glenn Randall



Rogers had great luck and timing, but they would have meant very
little if he hadn't had the talent and ambition to seize
opportunities that come once in a lifetime. When his career began
to take off, Republic Pictures increased the budgets of his
movies and started promoting him as the "King of the Cowboys."
This laid a challenge before him. He already had the right look
and the singing voice. However, as much as anything else, he had
to refine his equestrian skills.

Action cowboys were usually much better horseman than their
singing cowboy counterparts, but Rogers was the exception. Beyond
his charisma on screen and talents as an entertainer, he was a
great rider. While he did not enter into show business from a
rodeo background, he rode effortlessly and with great style. His
hands were soft on Trigger's reins and his body language flexible
and smooth. As a natural rider, all Rogers needed, at the
beginning of his screen career, was a little refinement, the
right horse, and a great trainer.

B-western movie stars, including singing cowboys who made the
transition from radio, had to ride horses as part of their job.
If an actor was going to play a cowboy he'd better have some
riding skills. Good editing and stunt doubles helped, but only up
to a point. Cowboy stars on tour were often expected to ride
horses in abnormal situations such as parades or on visits to
hospitals and orphanages in front of noisy and unpredictable
fans. They needed to be prepared for awkward situations that only
a skilled rider should attempt.    

A horse trainer teaches not only a horse but its owner as well.
Besides rating Little Trigger as one of his finest pupils, Glenn
Randall also rated Roy Rogers as a great student. He acknowledged
that Rogers was a quick study and often got results that were as
good as his own. If the King of the Cowboys had been able to
schedule the time necessary to become a horse trainer, there's
little doubt he would have been up to the challenge.

Director William Witney was correct when he assessed Rogers'
skills on a horse: "Roy was a perfect 10." Rodeo veterans Ken
Maynard, Yakima Canutt, and Hoot Gibson may have been better
riders, but Roy Rogers was more charismatic in the saddle.

(Not sure about in what way "better riders" is meant, unless it
was fancy trick riding, but for general riding and galloping, I
do not believe anyone could have been better than Roy Rogers -
Keith Hunt)


It's been said that the best riders begin learning when they're
children. A person who starts riding as an adult will never be as
natural. 

(I do not fully agree with that statement. I was 16 years old
before I started to ride horses. When I came West at age 18 I was
within a year or two trick riding, and I believe about as natural
a rider as anyone. I could do everything from walking to fast
galloping and turns riding bareback - Keith Hunt)

 
Roy Rogers started riding when he was a  kid. He told Thys
Ockerson in the documentary "Roy Rogers King of the Cowboys"
(1992) that he learned to ride at about age eight, riding
bareback. He used to look at his shadow to keep his head level.
"Out on location when the sun would be coming up, I used to
practice to see how steady I could make my head go, by watching
my shadow. You could get the rhythm of the gait between your
ankles, your knees and your hips. Good riding is all a matter of
practice."

(It is practice and good balance, and indeed "getting the feel"
of your horse. I loved to ride bareback for that is how you can
feel the horse moving through your body. You can really become
ONE with your horse riding bareback - Keith Hunt)


Tonight Show guest host Burt Reynolds once introduced Roy Rogers
by saying, "This man is silk on a horse." Amen to that. In his
prime, Rogers mounted, rode, and dismounted Trigger effortlessly.
His skill as a rider and "Trigger's" aptitude as a highly trained
horse were demonstrated spectacularly in a chase sequence in
Robin Hood of the Pecos (1941). In order to hide from a posse,
Rogers removed Trigger's bridle as they galloped towards a herd
of loose horses. He removed Trigger's saddle as they came to a
stop. The palomino was let loose among the herd and Rogers hid
with the tack behind a rock. After the posse passed through,
Rogers whistled for Trigger and saddled him, and they made their
escape.

Said Cheryl Rogers-Barnett in her autobiography "Cowboy
Princess": "Dad had never done any serious riding before he got
into the movies, but he was a truly gifted athlete, who caught
onto the basic principles very quickly. Dad worked with great
wranglers and stunt men. He was what they called a quick study
and it didn't take him long to pick out the horsemen who he
thought rode best and then figure out the mechanics of what they
were doing that he liked."

(Yes, it is sometimes all that, but the bottom line is that some
people just have a natural talent to be expert horse riders -
Keith Hunt)


It's been widely rumored that before William Boyd became Hopalong
Cassidy, he was afraid of horses. Whether that's true or not, he
became a decent rider by the end of his career after years in the
saddle. While one would not equate him with horsemen like Wild
Bill Elliot, Dick Jones, or Clayton Moore, Boyd was okay. On a
subliminal level, the horsemanship skills of his screen persona
were played down. He was hardly ever doubled by a stunt man doing
fancy riding, quick dismounts or Pony Express mounts. Amazingly,
Hopalong Cassidy hardly ever referred to his horse, Topper, by
name. The animal was strictly just beautiful transportation and
didn't even receive screen billing.


Spurs

Roy Rogers didn't use a whip or spurs in a way that would hurt
his horses. Both he and Glenn Randall used them to cue their
mounts. Rogers wore spurs all the time. Called cookie spurs, they
were smooth and round, not pointed like most spurs. He used his
spurs along with leg pressure and voice commands.


Step Mount

Rogers' natural athletic ability enabled him to ride and fight
almost on a par with professional stuntmen. Nevertheless, studios
are always cautious when it comes to stars doing stunts, and they
didn't give Rogers free rein. One of the few stunts they did
allow him to do on film was a step mount. It was executed by
running at a stationary horse, jumping on the stirrup with his
left foot and letting his momentum carry him onto the saddle as
he swung his right leg over, at the same time reaching for the
saddle horn and reins as Trigger took off. He seemed to hop onto
the stirrup and pull himself up at the same time. It was so
smooth it seemed he did not so much jump as levitate. Other
cowboys did the hop, but there was always a hitch somewhere in
their motion. Not Roy Rogers. From the time he started towards
Trigger until he was in the saddle it was one continuous, fluid
movement. More poetry in motion.

In "On the Old Spanish Trail" (1947) Rogers did a step mount onto
Trigger (after his first encounter with adversary Tito "the
Gypsy" Guizar) that was smooth and natural, like any experienced
cowboy would execute. In "Red River Valley" (1941) Rogers did an
easy step mount in front of leading lady Gale Storm. She
commented on it and Rogers asked her if she'd like to give it a
try. She did, successfully, and rode off on Trigger. At the
beginning of "Down Dakota Way" (1949), after a scuffle with a
couple of bad guys, Rogers did a running step mount onto Trigger.
He did the same thing a little while later in front of a country
school house.


Riding Bareback

A rider not using stirrups must have near perfect balance on a
horse, especially in the faster gaits. Note contemporary films
like "Troy" (Warner Bros., 2004) and "Alexander" (Warner Bros.,
2004) where actors, for historical accuracy, had to ride without
stirrups. Brad Pitt in "Troy" and Ian McKellen as Gandalf in "The
Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King" (New Line Cinema,
2003) rode bareback but were only shown while their mounts were
standing still. Lead players are rarely shown engaging horses at
a trot or canter; a couple of exceptions are little Kelly Reno in
"The Black Stallion" (1979) and Kevin Costner in "Silverado"
(Columbia Pictures, 1985).
After the cinch on Trigger's saddle gave way from a cut, Roy
Rogers took a spill during a fox hunting sequence in "Bells of
San Angelo" (1947). After a brief inspection of the sabotage, a
stuntman (probably Joe Yrigoyen) made a quick croup mount
(vaulting onto the saddle over Trigger's croup, the highest part
of a horse's hindquarters) and sped down the trail. Rogers was
seen in the next cut riding Trigger bareback at a full gallop, a
stunt seldom executed by other singing cowboy stars. (Rogers also
rode bareback at full gallop in "Trigger Jr." [1950] and "South
of Caliente" [1951].)

(Again let me say, it is a wonderful feeling riding a horse
bareback at full gallop. I did it many times as a young guy.
Feeling the horse moving through your body at full gallop is a
high for those like me who love a gallop bareback riding. Wish I
could still do it, but with age you simply loose the perfect
balance that is needed - Keith Hunt)


Riding Mishaps

Sooner or later even the most experienced rider may have a mishap
with a horse. Rogers certainly had his share and, in some cases,
in front of an arena full of people.
According to Art Rush, towards the end of a Madison Square Garden
engagement, as Roy Rogers was entering the arena on "Trigger" at
a dead gallop, the palomino's foot penetrated the very wet turf,
hit concrete, and slipped. Rogers was thrown through the air and
slammed into a concrete wall with a thud.

On another occasion Rogers had an even more narrow escape from
serious injury. As they were rounding the arena "Trigger"
slipped, throwing Rogers from the saddle. It was the worst of all
scenarios: His spur got hooked in the stirrup. "The crowd was
furious when Trigger didn't stop running," Glenn Randall said:
"They became almost hysterical watching him drag Roy by one leg.
But the truth was that Roy's heel accidentally was giving that
horse a cue to run. And poor Trigger was just caught between the
devil and the deep sea. Several wranglers and I ran into the
arena and stopped Trigger. Luckily Roy wasn't hurt except for
scratches and bruises."


Stuntmen performed the more dangerous mounts for Rogers and his
peers, like drops from a porch roof onto a horse, crupper mounts
(over a horse's rump) or Pony Express mounts (while an nimal was
in a full gallop).
Joe Yrigoyen was probably Roy Rogers' best known stunt double and
rode Trigger and his look-alikes many times. With his brother
Bill, Yrigoyen started in the movie business performing stunts at
Nat Levine's Mascot Pictures, which produced serials in the early
sound era. The Yrigoyens stayed with the company after it was
incorporated into Republic Pictures and doubled for cowboy and
serial stars like Gene Autry, Wild Bill Elliott, and many
villains too. Joe Yrigoyen also worked on such television shows
as Gunsmoke, Zorro, Bonanza, and Davy Crockett. In Yakima
Canutt's autobiography "Stunt Man" he noted that Joe Yrigoyen
doubled for actor Stephen Boyd driving Messala's team of four
black horses in Ben-Hur (MGM, 1959). In 1985, Yrigoyen was
awarded the prestigious Golden Boot Award, and it was presented
by Roy Rogers. Yrigoyen passed away in 1998.


Signature Pose

The classic rearing pose was something B-western cowboy stars
were often asked to do, and some were better at it than others. A
horse rearing up on its hind legs with a cowboy on its back
became a symbol for the B-western genre. It's no coincidence that
a cowboy on a rearing palomino was used on the poster of director
Met Brooks' satire of western movies, "Blazing Saddles" (Warner
Bros., 1974). Ironically, rearing - which has to look effortless
and exuberant - is considered a dangerous habit in horses and is
discouraged by horse trainers.

With Roy Rogers and Trigger, the image that comes most often to
mind is the rearing pose. During personal appearances and for the
closing shot in some movies, Rogers often put his golden palomino
up on its hind legs. Rogers would smile and wave with his free
hand. Appropriately, the last shot of Roy Rogers and Trigger in
their last film for Republic Pictures, "Pals of the Golden West"
(1951), is of them riding off, stopping, turning towards the
camera and rearing up. The last scene of the last film Rogers and
"Trigger" did together, Son of Paleface, also featured the
rearing pose.

Patted twice just under the mane, he would back away. Patted just
two inches lower than that, he'd rear up in the famous pose which
became a trademark.

While Roy Rogers may not have been the first cowboy to strike the
rearing pose, he made it his own and is the cowboy most closely
associated with it. Rogers spent so much time on "Trigger" in
that position that it became his trademark and signature pose. No
other cowboy star did it as often or as well. No one looked
better on a rearing horse. Roy Rogers and Trigger executed the
feat effortlessly, with flair and a grace that was hard to match.

Consider the Roy Rogers film "The Bells of Rosarita" (1945), with
guest appearances by all the Republic cowboy stars: Allan "Rocky"
Lane, Bob Livingston, Sunset Carson, Wild Bill Elliott, and Don
"Red" Barry. During the film's climax at Gabby Hayes' wild west
show, they rode into the big top to take a bow, and all went into
the rearing pose. Rogers appeared solo in the center ring on
Trigger. When he cued the palomino to stand on its hind legs, it
was plain to see how much better the stunt was executed by the
King of the Cowboys and the Smartest Horse in the Movies.

Rogers didn't use the rearing pose in the opening of his
television show, perhaps because that's how the Lone Ranger show
opened. Rogers instead chose to open with a shot of himself on
Trigger at a full gallop. However, he used the rearing pose at
the close of each show after he'd delivered "The Cowboy's
Prayer." For some episodes Rogers would welcome his fans on
Little Trigger, rearing up a couple of times in front of the
Double R Bar Ranch sign. While there are a handful of photos of
Gene Autry on Champion in the rearing pose,  rather than try to
compete with Rogers, Autry opted for the safer "end of the trail
pose" and used it during personal appearances. It emulated the
well known image of an Indian on his pony, the horse's four legs
close together and his head hanging low. Autry's horse stepped up
with four feet on a small box when doing the stunt. No photos
exist of Rogers and "Trigger" in the "end of the trail" pose.

Autry also used the "bowing pose" at the beginning of his
television show. Champion bowed on one knee as did the original
Trigger. Little Trigger could not only go down on one knee but
could stretch both front legs forward for a bow.

After Trigger's death, Rogers had him mounted rearing up, another
sign of how much he thought of the pose. Saddle Pals can only
imagine the pride and pleasure Roy Rogers took from riding a fine
horse like Trigger. Putting the palomino up on its hind legs must
have been as great a thrill for Rogers to do as it was for fans
to see.

(Yes I agree that it is a thrill indeed. I did it a few times as
a young guy on a few horse that could do the rearing up - Keith
Hunt)


In his prime as a rider, Roy Rogers was so accomplished that he
would ask Little Trigger to rear up even while the palomino was
not wearing a bridle or saddle. 

Republic Pictures' top cowboy stars made guest appearances in Roy
Rogers' 1945 movie the "Bells of Rosarita." 


Coda

Roy Rogers loved motorcycles and rode them in his spare time. He
probably saw them as a vacation from horses.

Two occasions mark the end of Rogers' career as a horseman: a
"Fall Guy" television show guest appearance show in 1984 and the
AMC biography special, "Roy Rogers-King of the Cowboys" broadcast
in 1992.

The closing shot of the "Fall Guy" episode was of Rogers on
"Trigger" riding towards the camera and performing his signature
rearing pose. The expression on Rogers' face in a still photo of
the sequence shows a little apprehension. This was probably due
to his advanced age and his unfamiliarity with the "Trigger"
double he was riding. Rearing a horse is dangerous, and one may
assume Rogers hadn't performed the stunt in a while. Rogers was
hanging on to the saddle horn with his right hand, something he
never did as a young man. This occasion in all likelihood was the
last time Rogers performed his signature rearing pose in public.
He was 73 years of age.

(Yep I can undersatand that Roy would have been somewhat
apprehensive about doing that rearing pose. I'm now 66 [as I
enter this it is December 2008] and even if my horse could do it
[which I've not trained her to do] I would also be hanging on to
the saddle horn - Keith Hunt)


In the closing scene of the AMC biography "Roy Rogers - King of
the Cowboys," Rogers is shown on foot leading a bay horse into
the desert. Apparently a palomino was not available; Roy Rogers
was 81 when the documentary was filmed and it seemed he couldn't
or wouldn't ride anymore. Sadly, there comes a time when every
rider realizes his time in the saddle is over - even when that
rider is the great Roy Rogers.

(Oh, I guess it must be so, but I hope I have still many more
years of riding left in me [and I still love to have an all out
go like the wind gallop, hanging on to the saddle horn] but if I
get to 81 years of age I may well understand there comes a time
to call it quits - Keith Hunt)


The last appearance of the "Trigger" character on television
occurred on an episode of "The Fall Guy" television show in 1984.
The 73-year-old Roy Rogers rode a gorgeous Trigger look-alike for
the occasion and even cued the horse into one last rearing pose.

                            ..................


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