“I should have been a cowboy…just like Gene and Roy,” as the country song goes (Toby Keith). A few weeks ago we found ourselves in a little country diner in east Tennessee, seated at a table surrounded by memorabilia from the 1950’s and earlier. For 10 minutes while I waited for my lunch, I marvelled at all the old stuff, especially a poster about a Gene Autry western called “The Old West.” I knew who Gene Autry was and had seen his name all over the place out west but I don’t remember ever seeing any of his movies. Stick with me because this really is horse-related. I rented the movie on DVD and last night we sat back and took in scenes from a simpler time…1952, and sometime in the late 1800’s, as portrayed in the film. Now in westerns, horses play a major role and The Old West was no exception. The movie has horses in most of its scenes including Gene riding, a stagecoach race, bad guy chase scenes and even Champion, World’s Wonder Horse, helping Gene pick some wild horses for the big stagecoach race.
Seeing Gene Autry in this old western made me even more thrilled to have the privilege of owning a horse of my own and deepened my desire to strap on a saddle and go riding.
Here are some interesting notes about Gene Autry and horses:
- There were 3 official “Champions,” Gene’s trademark horse. 3 other “Champions” were used for television appearances, touring and personal appearances while a few undocumented horses served as stunt doubles and stand-ins.
- “Lindy Champion” made aviation history in 1940 by being the first horse to fly on an airplane from California to New York (for an appearance at the World’s Championship Rodeo at Madison Square Garden).
- Lindy Champion was a registered Tennessee Walking Horse (just like Valentine!).
- If you visit Graumann’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood, you’ll see “Touring Champion’s” hoof prints next to Gene Autry’s hand prints. Could this be the only horse hoof prints on the walk of fame?
- According to geneautry.com, “Original Champion” could “untie knots, roll over and play dead, bow, shake his head ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ and come to Gene’s whistle.”
- Although the original Champion lived to be only 17 years old, “Champion Jr.” lived to be 35 and “Champion 3” lived to be an amazing 41 years old, dying in 1990! Wow!
- As an officer in the Army, Gene Autry was allowed to wear cowboy boots as part of his uniform. He was the only officer in World War II to be allowed this privilege, though I’m not sure if he wore them only for ceremonies or for day-to-day duties as well.
For more info on Champion, World’s Wonder Horse, check out:
For more info on Gene Autry, America’s favorite singing cowboy, visit:
And for more infomation on The Old West movie, visit: