The following information was gleaned from the research of Mr. Leo Pando, as published in his book An Illustrated History of Trigger. This book is a thoroughly researched, marvelously compiled work detailing the life of Trigger and his doubles. For many more behind-the-scenes pictures, entertaining anecdotes, and hidden gems of truth, please check out An Illustrated History of Trigger by Leo Pando.
Perhaps you’ve noticed the captions of the photos as you’ve gone through my blog. Some of the photos of Trigger are labeled “Trigger Jr.” and others are labeled “Little Trigger”, along with the “Trigger” captions. Why is this?
Before you continue, I’d like to warn you. If you’d like to continue thinking that Trigger’s character is one horse then read carefully – or don’t read at all! Trigger was a real horse, but he did have a number of doubles. Little Trigger was the most notable, and the least recognized. In this post, I’m going to discuss Trigger and compare he and his doubles. Hopefully, you’ll be able to pick out the doubles as you watch some of Roy’s films – even if you can’t name them, you’ll still know it isn’t Trigger.
A discussion about Trigger and his doubles ought to start with Trigger, “The Smartest Horse in the Movies”.
Trigger was a four-year-old by the time he and Roy met. The Palomino had already been in a couple of movies: Cowboy from Brooklyn (1938 – Warner Bros. Studio), and Adventures of Robin Hood (1938 – Warner Bros. Studio) starring Errol Flynn. He was later used in Juarez (1939 – Warner Bros. Studio), Bad Men of the Hills (1942 – Columbia Pictures), Silver City Raiders (1943 – Columbia Pictures), and the Joe E. Brown comedy Shut My Big Mouth (1942 – Columbia Pictures). Where exactly Trigger was born and raised has been debated, but Roy bought him from Hudkins Stables for $2,500 in 1943. Trigger stood 15.3 hands high (1 hand equals 4 inches) at the shoulder, about average for a horse. His sire (dad) was a Thoroughbred and his dam (mom) was a cold-blood (draft). You can identify the true Trigger by his unique blaze – it extends over his left eye and down over his right nostril – and the fact that he has only one stocking on his right hind leg. He was the prized Palomino coloring – the color of a newly minted gold coin with a snow-white mane and tail.
Once Trigger was clocked in at 62 MPH while filming a running scene for a film. There was only one horse who could outrun Trigger for short distances, and she wasn’t even a horse! Raymond Patton’s donkey, Dinah, outran Trigger in Rough Rider’s Roundup (1939), and Frontier Pony Express (1939).
Interesting Fact: Trigger had two nicknames used to distinguish him from his doubles: “Old Man” and “Trig”.
Trigger: The Movie Persona
In some films Trigger was the focus (My Pal Trigger (1946)), sometimes an active participant (Lights of Old Santa Fe (1944)), and sometimes just beautiful transportation. In Under California Stars (1948), the plot centers on Trigger’s kidnapping. In one scene Trigger is fighting with his captors and he rears up and flips over backward. This was actually not supposed to happen! Thankfully the golden stallion leaped to his feet unharmed, if a little indignant. Later in the same scene, Trigger steps on a villain (really a blow-up dummy). Watch this in slow motion for some great special effects laughs.
In San Fernando Valley (1944), Roy chases down bad guys Keene Duncan and Leroy Mason. He ends up fighting both men and loses the upper hand. He’s knocked out and Duncan grabs a large dead branch to finish Roy off. Trigger (Little Trigger) leaps into action and holds the man at bay until Roy regains consciousness. However, in Sunset in the West (1950) Trigger stands calmly by as a couple of villains nearly throw Roy, bound and blindfolded, off a cliff. Talk about a change of character!
In Utah (1945), Trigger saves Gabby from the bad guy, and in Lights of Old Santa Fe (1944), Trigger shows Roy a horse used in a sabotage on Gabby’s rodeo. This leads to the villain’s capture.
Much to the chagrin of some fans, Roy used Trigger as a shield against bullets in some films. This tactic was used in chase scenes in On the Old Spanish Trail (1947), The Gay Ranchero (1948), The Far Frontier (1948), Pals of the Golden West (1951), and in Sunset in the West (1950).
With all the gun fights Trigger was exposed to, it’s a wonder he wasn’t shot more often. Roy is shot off Trigger’s back in Frontier Pony Express (1939), The Arizona Kid (1939), and Spoilers of the Plains (1951). In Colorado (1940), Roy is standing just in front of Trigger when he’s shot. Trigger did finally take a bullet in Twilight in the Sierras (1950). Pat Brady plays the veterinarian who attends to the horse’s wound.
While Little Trigger did a lot of the stunts, Trigger also knew quite a few: He could mule-kick, rear, nod “yes”, shake his head “no”, whinny, follow a set path at a given gait without a handler, snort, paw the ground, come to a whistle, shake hands, and bow – among others.
Trigger Jr. was proclaimed as Trigger’s understudy. In reality, the horse was only used in one film – the film bearing his name. He never doubled Trigger, instead his job was being Roy’s personal appearance horse in the 1950’s and 60’s. When asked about using Junior in the movies, Roy replied: “He wasn’t worth a nickel as a cowboy horse, but he could sure to a pretty dance routine.”
The only similarity the colt shared with his namesake was his height. Both palominos were 15.3 hands high. From that point, they only become more distinct. Though both were the same shade of palomino, Junior was significantly more dappled than Trigger. Junior had four socks, while Trigger only had one. Junior’s blaze was a mirror image of Trigger’s: Junior’s blaze popped out over his right eye and dropped down over his left nostril, whereas Trigger’s popped out over his left eye and dropped down over his right nostril.
Their bloodlines were on opposite sides of the spectrum. Trigger was a Thoroughbred/draft stallion of largely unknown lineage. Junior was a registered Tennessee Walking Horse colt. Roy never allowed Trigger to be used as a stud. He did not want to risk ruining Trigger’s sweet disposition by exposing the stallion to mares. Junior, however, was an excellent stud and his bloodline is still being bred today.
Even their jobs were different! Trigger almost solely a movie mount, while Junior toured the country with Roy. The colt was flashy and could perform a beautiful dance routine, perfect for entertaining youngsters.
Junior’s one film credit is the title role in Trigger Jr. (1950). He plays Trigger’s son – a rowdy colt who doesn’t like to follow the herd. He’s always running off and getting in trouble, though he does a heroic moment in the end. (Ironically, this moment is acted by Little Trigger, not Junior. This is not the first time Little Trigger acted in Junior’s stead. In The Golden Stallion (1949), Trigger supposedly sires a colt named Trigger Jr. The so-named Tennesse Walker never makes an appearance. Instead, Little Trigger plays Junior.)
Monarch, California, and Pal
For the doubles, I’ll start with Monarch, California, and Pal. These three horses were generally used for running scenes with long-distance shots. However, there were a few close-ups done by each horse.
- Pal was Roy’s mount in the first leg of the Pony Express race in Rainbow Over Texas (1946). Pal appears twice in the same film, when Roy, Gabby, and Dale are at the Dalrymple Ranch to pick out Roy’s mounts for the race. Pal is in the second stall in the Dalrymple barn. Little Trigger is in the first stall, California is in the third, and Monarch is in the fourth. Pal was also Dale’s mount for personal appearances, and in a few films.
- California was used as a double for Trigger Jr. in Junior’s second fight with the Phantom in Trigger, Jr. (1950).
- Monarch appears in Pals of the Golden West (1951). Roy rides into the Border patrol camp singing the title song. When he dismounts and starts talking to the border patrolmen, it’s Monarch who’s standing behind him. In good quality pictures, you can see the string hobbles on his legs.
Unfortunately, I only have a picture of Pal. I have been unable to get my hands on pictures of California and Monarch. As you can see, Pal has three socks, and his blaze is narrow until just below his eyes. There it “explodes” and comes down between his nostrils.
California and Monarch both had four socks. California’s blaze was narrow all the way down, while Monarch’s was medium-width. California was the same color as Pal (who was almost the same color as Trigger). Monarch was a lighter color, similar to Little Trigger, who I’ll go over in a minute. Roy owned California and Pal, while Trigger’s trainer, Glenn Randal, owned Monarch. Aside from this information, not much is known about these three doubles.
Little Trigger, the horse behind the horse
Little Trigger was and extraordinary double rarely acknowledged by Roy. He was also the most heavily employed of all Roy’s palominos. He doubled for Trigger in every movie after 1940, and was also used as a personal appearance horse.
Compared to Trigger, Little Trigger was shorter (just 15 hands high), had a lighter dappled coat, a dark muzzle, a narrower blaze, and had four stockings rather than one. He was also stockier – a build referred to as “bulldog”. The Encyclopedia of TV Pets describes Little Trigger as a Quarter Horse. Corky Randall (Glenn Randall’s son) thought he looked like a Morgan.
Unfortunately, Little Trigger had no papers so all we can do is guess. Roy bought him in 1940, before he bought Trigger. This is probably because Roy already had first dibs on Trigger, but Little Trigger was up for sale. Roy knew that Hudkins probably wouldn’t sell Trigger to another actor (especially since Roy was paying to use the palomino), whereas Little Trigger could go to anybody.
Little Trigger was the horse who earned Trigger the title of “Smartest Horse in the Movies”. He knew well over 160 tricks and routines and could do many complicated dressage moves without a rider to cue him. Little Trigger was often substituted in when a scene required a potentially hazardous maneuver. Little Trigger was also used for personal appearances from 1940 onward. Trigger Jr. shouldered the bulk of the personal appearances in the 1950s and 60s, but Little Trigger still traveled extensively.
Little Trigger had a minor starring role in The Golden Stallion (1949)- acting as Trigger Jr. The majority of his movie job, however, was doubling for Trigger. Little Trigger was used exclusively in Son of Paleface (1952 – Paramount Pictures) simply because every scene in the film requiring the stallion also required him to do a trick. Little Trigger was the only horse up to the job.
Little Trigger was trained extensively. He could perform several different dances, give kisses, play dead, lay down, sit like a dog, shake hands, rear, bow, roll over, bite, whinny, snort, paw the ground, nod “yes”, shake his head “no”, come to a whistle, follow a set path at a given gait without a handler, “attack” someone, shoot a gun, and knock on a door. Remember, he knew over 160 tricks, so this is just a sampling!
So, what happened to the horses?
When Trigger and Trigger Jr. died, Roy had them mounted and put on display at the Roy Rogers-Dale Evans Museum. No one really knows what happened to Monarch, Pal, California, and Little Trigger.
This is particularly sad in Little Trigger’s case – he was clearly a special and talented horse. Once during an interview, Roy Rogers made one of his rare references to Little Trigger. He said he was sad he hadn’t had Little Trigger wasn’t mounted as well.
Below is a “Trigger” gallery. Can you pick out the differences?