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Trigger, born Golden Cloud

We are heading into a New Year, always a time for reflection, nostalgia, plans and hopes for the future. So I can’t help but blend some things together. Hope for the future of our animals- so much of that hope rests on our youth. Yet, there is a dearth of  young people involved with horses. Asking “why” brought me to my own travels in the love of the horse. Could it have been all those Saturday morning shows with Fury, Flicka and Trigger?

So for a bit of meaningful fun, today’s post is in honor of those Hollywood Heros who brought us to drink from this well of equine passion. Let’s talk about Trigger.

From his birth at a San Diego ranch in 1932, the 15’3 h., Golden Cloud (named in honor of the ranch manager, Roy F. Cloud) showed his talents for learning. Around age 3 he was sold to Hudkins Stables, an outfit that supplied mounts to Hollywood. (Wow, an entire industry of suppling equine steeds to Hollywood, those were the days!) By 5 (1938) he was carrying around Olivia de Havilland in The Adventures of Robin Hood. 1938 seemed to be GC’s year. He was picked out of a line of five other horses by a new and upcoming movie star, Roy Rogers. The two “joined-up” quickly and GC’s quick intellect and footwork inspired a supporting role member to comment, “he sure is quick on the trigger.”  The name “Trigger” stuck.

Roy Rogers was no Hollywood air-head. He had lived on a farm in Ohio and ridden an ornery Thoroughbred to school. He spent his childhood through the depression working the family farm and odd jobs. The guy knew what hard work and want really were. He also knew animals and had a fair judgement of mankind.

Roy and Trigger’s debut exceeded the studio’s expectations and Roy was sent on a personal appearance tour. He quickly realized that the young audience wanted the duo, not just him. Smartly, Roy started bringing Trigger along and even smarterly (why can’t I make that word up?) Roy purchased Trigger. Remember Trigger is about 6 now. His purchase price was $2,500 at a time when $200 would buy you a darn fine horse. Roy, did the installment plan (he was only making $75 a week) and it took several years before he owned the stallion outright. But he had control.

It was Trigger that allowed Roy to decline pressure from the studios to do roles he objected to. They might tell Roy Rogers to walk, but even the studio honchos recognized that children were a prime movie audience and they LOVED Trigger. Trigger was Roy Rogers’ Ace.

I have to give a lot of credit to Roy here. Yes, there are probably sinister things about him, but I don’t want to know. I just want to deal with what I see. Roy made sure to take Trigger to all of his personal appearances, parking himself, the horse and the fancy rig outside the event hall so that the kids who could not afford a ticket could still meet and experience Trigger’s magic. He also took Trigger to children in hospitals and shelters- is Trigger perhaps the first therapeutic horse? Trigger appeared in all 88 movies Roy made and in all of the more than 100 TV episodes of the Roy Rogers show.

That’s the marketing end. The health and care end puts Roy in equally good light. He knew he could not ask as much of the horse as he did of himself so he quickly purchased two other look-a-likes, “Trigger Jr.” and “Little Trigger.” Of course this was unknown to the audiences at large and Roy, a meticulous record keeper, saved Trigger’s bill of sale, but has no record for the other two (history by design). This is also one of the reasons you may see conflicting information on Trigger’s heritage. It seems one was an American Saddle bred and one was a registered Palomino, but the real Trigger was out of a Thoroughbred sire and a grade mare.

Just an aside here, for anyone dealing with equine identification, take a look at these photos and pick out the distinguishing differences. The real Trigger has only a left hind sock, and his face white extends over the left eye and right nostril, but not the right eye and left nostril. That should be easy to put on a Coggins.

So Roy took good care of his horses, Trigger lived to age 33, he retired to a close by ranch and lived the last 8 years of his life grazing, passing peacefully in 1965. The other two “Triggers” lived into their late 20s. Remember this was in an era where an average horse lived to 15 and making 20 was a “Wow” factor.

So Roy Rogers carefully crafted a Duo, paid attention to his audience, how to reach it, respected that audience and took care of his resources. Something we should always be aware of in our own endeavors to engage the youth and promote the horse.

And the youth were engaged. Trigger had his own Dell Comic Book and Roy had the Roy Rogers Riding Club that kids joined. There were lunch boxes, personal appearances and toys. Trigger was always a part of the story. It was the horse that brought a generation of children to a well of imagination and passion, and we all drank deeply.

When Trigger died, Roy couldn’t bear to part with him, so he had him stuffed in the rearing position. Macabre to some, understandable to others. Who are we to comment on a person’s grief. Trigger was displayed at the Rogers’ home until Roy’s death when Trigger then went to the Roy Rogers museum.

Alas, that museum just closed its doors on December 10, 2009. Trigger goes on the auction block this summer and I truly hope that the Smithsonian, who had an original interest when Roy died, buys the horse for its American memorabilia collection.

Trigger remained a stallion all his life but is reported to have no offspring. (Can a stallion really stay celibate for 33 years?) Could we capture the attention of a generation of youth with an equine Hollywood Hero? It would be a great way to start a love affair.

This is a clip of one of Roy’s personal appearances with a “Trigger.” It a short spot that shows a remarkable horse, a man very comfortable in the saddle and a heart-song for many of us. Enjoy and



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I’ve been M.I.A. The holidays always bring close contact with people and I usually end up under-the-weather as a result. This year my malady is a bit more contagious and I have applied a self-imposed quarantine. That is, except for the animals.

color coordinated bacteria

Listening to all the H1N1 drama and cries for people feeling ill to stay home, I can’t help but feel left out. People who care for animals rarely get the luxury of slurping chicken soup while watching hours of Turner Classics or indulging in restorative naps. Instead we adapt to working while ill.

Why do I become so paranoid about getting sick? I use my own pen every time I sign something. Carry alcohol wipes with me, wash my hands constantly, and will flat out tell someone I’ll drive my own car or visit them next week if they are sick. I’m not as bad as Monk, but I also don’t get sick too often.

Perhaps the answer to “why” lies in past experiences. There was the vegetable soup that I thought might have been out for too long but ate anyway. Four days of intense retching with barely enough energy to get to the bathroom. Nay, I still donned the barn clothes, dragged myself into the car, resting after every action and retching after every third. I will admit it is much easier to throw-up in a barn than in an office. Just find a stall and a pitchfork and your good to go. But you just want to die.

There was the sinus infection that lasted for two years. Every month, once the antibiotics were overcome, I would wake up with heavy limbs and whimper as I rose from bed. I would be teetering due to congested sinus cavities and dizzy with fever. It was the only time I had a careless fall from my horse who was shocked at my indiscretion. Too bad it didn’t whack open the sinus cavities.

Then there was the fractured humerus. (which, I did not find to be humorous.) While figuring out how to use a pitchfork with only one arm and substituting a muck bucket for a wheel barrow; you get a great appreciation for the saying “necessity is the mother of invention.”

I was shocked to find out that you can get tennis elbow (aka tendonitis) in both elbows, and deltoids, even hamstrings. Gee, you can get tendonitis everywhere you have a tendon. I think I have discovered all of my tendons now. All because I reworked my body to compensated for the first “winter-water-bucket” tendonitis. I have become ferocious in the care of horses with bad tendons. I just listen to my own body to remind myself what can happen to their’s without enough rest.

And one gets absolutely no sympathy. The animals just want their food and to be let loose. The riders say “Awwww, that’s awful.  Did Polka-dot get her boots on?”  Your back-ups are often sick or injured themselves. Your family feels unimportant; they think the horses count more than they do. Family never seems to figure out the huge compliment they are paid in assuming they are capable enough to take care of themselves.

Misery loves company and it usually helps us empathize. The vet may be cranky because he too has a fever and his limbs feel like lead. The sick caring for the sick. Perhaps I should ask him about the new worming schedule next week. The farrier has a back brace on, an arm brace on, and I see him wince when he picks up the hoof. The cripple creating soundness in others. Maybe I should stay and hold the wiggle guy and really make him stand still.

wanna shake hands?

Well, I’m on my way to the barn. Hmm, husband drove the car last night. He was coughing. Where are those wipes for the steering wheel?

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I missed blogging in the beginning of the week due to a Web 2.0 conference. I’m a hybrid-luddite. I know nothing of how the computer works, but am fascinated by the potential it offers. I am also horrified by that same potential.

I ramble around a lot of odd places, picking up ideas and trends, and so it was the same at this conference. Each conference has its “hot” topic and it was augmented reality for this event.

If you are still struggling with e-mail, hold onto your hats because it is about to become Mr. Toads Wild Ride.

Augmented reality refers to anything that aids your experience of reality. AR doesn’t have to involve a computer- looking at a historic trail lighting up on a museum screen is augmented reality. But the really wowy stuff is with a computer. Take a look at shopping for an apartment in Amsterdam, then think about shopping for a horse. Thoroughbred and  Standardbred sales or getting more information on a horse at a competition; point your phone or goggles at the animal and there’s breeding and performance history as well as price if it’s for sale.

What are we going to do about our shortage of vets in the future? How about putting on your medical goggles that will walk you through stuff you can do yourself. (assess a wound, clean it , dress it, take a shoe off,  give a shot) You can bet in 20 years your surgeon will have some AR training like this BMW repair video.

It was an AR on-line shopping presentation that got me thinking about horses. What changes would we like to be able to view on a horse? Well, blankets and saddle pads just seem like a decadent waste. But, what about shoes? What if you could film a horse’s movements, coming, going, side to side, and then click on a different shoe to try and see how it would affect the gait.

The logarithms to do this would make my hair hurt and it isn’t even in the ball park of doable at the moment. Ten years out, though- an interesting thought. Imagine a computer screen with a video of your horse trotting at you and then away from you. At the bottom of the screen is a selection of bar shoes, wedges, trailers, lifts, aluminum, etc. Click.  You get to see bar shoes on your horse, but more importantly, you get to see how your horse would move in bar shoes. Your farrier could even show you how different trims would affect your horse’s angles. All of this before he even lifts up the first hoof. So instead of taking six months to try different shoes on your horse to find the best shoe and trim for his problem you can accomplish it in two.

Here’s another day dream. They are now developing software that allows for real-time monitoring of  thousands of items simultaneously. The preemie in critical care can have multiple systems monitored and take extensive calculations so that there is real time information that will allow you to make corrections and avoid disaster.

What if they could do that for a hoof. If you could put sensors in critical areas and monitor the temperature, blood flow, vasoconstriction, pressure, laminar stretching, etc. If you could tell the pressure was building before having to wait for a visual sign, would that help treat the disease?

Would it be a competitive training edge to have an AR run through of your horse’s performance? Take a look at this MIT video of a professor drawing out a motion flow. Now imagine drawing out a jumper or barrel course, put in your horse’s stride length and look at where you need to bend him, slow him, what happens when take off is at point A, B or C.

We never know where the future will actually end up. Augmented Reality is here to stay. The questions become “is this a useful concept for the equine industry and if so how best to use and not abuse it.”   AR horse racing—-hmm.

This isn’t augmented horsing, but a fun video

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thumbnail.aspxWe have a lot of deer in New Jersey. Odd to hear, I know. Most people think we just raise asphalt, oil refineries and corrupt politicians. But New Jersey actually has more deer now than it did in colonial times and our property has more than its fair share of the white tails. Although in an old neighborhood near town, we have a bachelor herd of 12 (their antlers are getting REALLY big), and a harem of about 15, that trade tracks throughout the day and night. So I’m pretty comfortable with the creatures. I almost have to push them out of the way to get to my door.

But I wasn’t comfortable today, when T-man stopped dead and slid sideways on the trail. Mokes came up short behind. I looked up and saw a buck with a “Hartford Insurance” size rack on him. In fact I’m quite sure the rack was glistening white from being sharpened and all the tips were pointing at me.

Sometimes animals are subtle with their body language, but that wasn’t the case today. The buck was out for bear. He eyed us and advanced. Oh, yeah, it’s rutting season in New Jersey. (here’s a link describing  seasonal deer behavior )

While I was thinking, “uh-oh, we have trouble,” T-man and Mokes had taken matters into their own hands and had us already headed back the way we came. I turned to witness the buck continue to stalk us. I was not in a good situation, everyone who knows me can attest that I should never be depended on in an emergency. I tend to freeze and just focus on how bad it’s going to hurt or how dead I’m going to be. In this case I was attempting to rouse myself to thought, as I was responsible for another human being who was severely limited in sight. Thinking the only thing I had to use was my flimsy dressage whip, we turned a corner and the buck let us be.

After the adrenalin relented I started to consider the boys’ reactions. They stopped and turned around, but there was no fear or panic in their bodies. Their pace only quickened slightly, which it always does on the way home. I had a lot of fear going and they could clearly smell that and feel my tension. But it seemed not to upset them very much.

thumbnail-1.aspxThe same is not true for the time we came into bear territory. At that time I had no fear because I didn’t know anything was afoot. But T-man stopped dead, tensed every part of his body and started darting everywhere. Mokes, the cement in every relationship, was just as unhappy. We dismounted and went another way and never saw the bear in person, but saw evidence of it.

So what sets a horse off about other animals? I can understand the bird and the squirrel’s quick movements distract an eye design to pick up predators prowling. But they aren’t fearful of the foxes and coyotes that pass through the pasture, or the deer jumping in and out. Bears set them off no matter what and it would appear that a buck in rut is nothing to get excited about. Are there certain animal smells that warn of danger to them. If so, why not the buck? Clearly, during rutting season bucks are laying down scents full of testosterone.

There is photographed documentary that animals of prey and predator can gather at a water hole in sight of each other. Does location make a difference? In the animal world is there “neutral” territory, and if so how is it learned or designated? Do my horses not worry about animals in their pasture because they figure the animal knows it’s their territory? Or do the boys not care because they know they are free to run? Is it the other animal’s reactions? If so why didn’t my guys panic, because clearly the buck was following us. Or are they just used to deer, bears have just re-entered the territory in the past two years.

Perhaps they knew better than me. Perhaps they knew the buck did not have the intent to kill, just to confirm we really were leaving. The bear episode was in the spring, did they smell the alertness of a mom for her cubs?

How much of an animal’s reaction is due to territory, smell, sight, and/or interpretation.

The latter gives great pause for thought. To make a distinction due to place or body posturing indicates a higher level of thought than most of us would assign to our beasts of burden.

When you start looking at cognitive function, making distinction according to time or place is a different brain function than just instinct.

deerWell, the boys and I are deciding to ride only in mid-day when most of the deer are scarce, (yesterday was late in the day.) And I must admit I will travel with a new level of awareness and a new interpretation for the phrase, “The buck stops here.”

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