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Norwich Bulletin - 9/27/2009

Horse History - Part Three

Now comes the fun part of Horse History; famous horses throughout history and the important part they played in their human’s lives. For instance, the most famous horse in ancient times had to be Bucephalus, the horse of Alexander the Great. They faced many battles together during their lifetime.

And then there was Incitatus, the horse of the Roman Emperor Caligula (who was reported to be rather insane). Caligula loved his horse so much that he provided him with a marble stable, an ivory manger, purple blankets and a collar embedded with precious stones. He also made his horse a promise that he would appoint him as a Senator. Unfortunately for the horse, Caligula died before fulfilling that promise.

The Spanish explorer De Soto, conquistador and the first European to discover the Mississippi River, is purported to have abandoned some of his troop’s horses during his voyage and discovery. These horses became the wild mustangs, captured and tamed by the Native Americans who became the finest horsemen of all time.

In the 1500’s, Morocco was a famous “trick” horse of Banks. Because of his ability to perform tricks on command, an alarm was raised by the spectators during an exhibition in France. The rumor was that the owner, as well as the horse, were diabolical and it was rumored that they were burned as subjects of the Black Power. This was not unheard of during this time of witchcraft and superstition. However, lucky for Morocco, he and his owner both were found to be surviving in the capacity of a jolly vinter.

As history goes on we find there was one lone survivor of the Battle of the Little big Horn and that was the horse, Comanche. General Stonewall Jackson’s horse was nicknamed “Fancy” and became famous as his mount, and General Sheridan’s horse during most of the Civil War, was named Winchester. The Arabian horse, Pride of the Desert, Haleb, beat nineteen Morgan horses, winning the Justin Morgan Cup in Vermont on June 1907.

In 1917 a horse was born that would rewrite racing history. Man O’War actually went to the auction block in 1918. He passed from the hands of the Major Belmont stable to Samuel Doyle Riddle for the measly sum of $5,000. Considering fellow Fair Play’s colts brought in $13,600 and $14,000, Man O’War was a real bargain. On August 2, 1920, Man O’War went to the post for the Travers Stakes at Saratoga.

Assistant starter, Roy Dickinson, said it best, "There never lived a horse that was more horse than he that afternoon. He was so beautiful that it almost made you cry, and so full of fire he made you thank your God that you could come close to him. No horse ever lived who could have beaten him that afternoon." All America loved this horse that day. And Man O’ War didn’t see the auction block again. He flew the colors of the Riddle stable throughout his racing career, and throughout the rest of his life, dying of natural causes after having produced many fine horses that came after him, notably his son, War Admiral.

Black Beauty is a famous fictional horse, derived from a book by Anna Sewell in 1877. The movie was a real tear jerker. About a majestic horse that ends up terribly mistreated during his life as he finds his way back home to a happy ending. “Silver” was a half Arabian stallion and co-star with the Lone Ranger in 1933. They did many of their stunts together and he was known as a “fiery horse with the speed of light, a cloud of dust, and a hearty Hi-Ho silver and away!”

But to me, the culmination of all the famous horses before him came with the very first leading role that Roy Rogers had in his movie "Under Western Stars" with his soon to be famous mount, Trigger. Trigger appeared in 88 movies as well as every episode of The Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Show on television, from 1951 through 1957. As a kid, I remember watching the show every week, totally mesmerized, not by Roy and his lasso tricks, but by trigger. As soon as Roy Rogers had enough influence with his movie studio, he insisted that Trigger got top billing, right along with himself. Trigger with his beauty and intelligence, performed a seemingly endless list of tricks that included untying ropes and shooting a gun. They were known as a pair that always stood for what was right.

Clean-cut, Roy Rogers portrayed a non smoking, non drinking hero that remains in the hearts of many adults who were kids in the 50’s and 60’s. Audiences were always thrilled with their wild cowboy-and-faithful-horse adventures. Roy bought Trigger as his own so that no-one could ever take him away in movie land (and people tried) so that when Roy and Dale retired in 1957, so did Trigger. Trigger relaxed and spent his days enjoying the California sunshine and lived until he was about 33 years old, leaving this world peacefully in 1965.

Roy wanted to preserve Trigger for himself as well as all of his countless fans, so he had Trigger’s hide mounted over a plastic likeness of him in one of his famous rearing poses. Today Trigger is on display at the Branson, Missouri museum and still is the museum’s most popular attraction, side by side with Buttermilk (Dale Evans’ horse) and Bullet, the wonder dog.

Traveler was a famous horse brought in from Arizona to be Mel Gibson’s partner in Braveheart. And we all remember the talking horse of the 60’s. Mr. Ed, who continually enjoyed getting his human Wilbur into predicaments with his antics. In order to get Mr. Ed to move his mouth on cue, he was given gooey peanut butter which he absolutely loved. In fact, he continually licked his lips and completed scenes at record speed, just to get more!

Yes, horses have always been there as a human’s partner, whether it was with the settlers helping us build homes and plow fields, or with cowboys herding cattle and starting in rodeos, pulling our milk wagons (or beer wagons), our stagecoaches and bringing us our mail via the Pony Express. They have been our partners in war, in racing and on television and in movies. I hope you have enjoyed the history of the horse – a noble animal that deserves a prominent place in history.

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