RANDALL'S TRAINING METHODS
From the book "An Illustrated History of TRIGGER" by Leo Pando
The Smartest Horse in the Movies
"Of all the movie horse I've trained, I've always said Trigger
was the smartest and most brilliant. Of all the things you've
seen him do on the silver screen, I give a lot of credit to the
boss man who rode him and to the director who always got the most
out of the story point. Trigger was the 'in Horse' of the motion
picture business. In his early pictures, he did the complete
picture without the use of doubles. Its hard to express my
thoughts of Trigger ... he was a great star." - Glenn Randall
(Of course it's hard to say WHICH Trigger Randall was talking
about. Then it could have been BOTH Triggers. The original
Trigger was masterful as a horse in many ways, as Roy always
maintained, the best cowboy horse a cowboy could wish to have.
And as we have seen Trigger 2 was the master "trick horse" -
While this book is mostly an equine biography and partial history
of a genre, a few words on training horses are in order.
Glenn Randall was constantly asked questions about the training
methods he used on "Trigger." Regrettably he never produced a
biography, much less a book on how he trained horses. His
knowledge was passed along to his son Corky, and it shouldn't be
expected of either man to divulge trade secrets gained over years
of hard work and experience.
Still there have been a number of articles written on the
Randalls which include interviews covering their training
methods. (Refer to the bibliography).
When Glenn Randall was in his heyday in Hollywood, the term
"horse whisperer" was not in common use, but it would have
applied. Randall knew that in order to train a horse successfully
he had to understand its true nature and not impose his training
methods force fully. Watching a great horse trainer is like
watching a magician. Great trainers work miracles and make it
look easy. This is because they speak the language of the horse,
through tone of voice, hand gestures, and body language (horses
have only a few vocalizations). Horse whisperers, like Monty
Roberts, refer to this language as "equus."
Horses are prey animals. Their eyes are on the sides of their
heads; they can see almost 350 degrees around with small blind
spots directly in front and in back. Horses can hear a hundred
times better than humans and also have a very keen sense of
smell. They're constantly looking out for danger and will run at
an instant. They're also very herd oriented, seeking safety in
numbers. Their strong flight response and social nature has kept
the species alive for thousands of years. Trainers work within
this context and are especially aware of the specific problems
they face when engaging horses in front of crowds or in unusual
places like movie sets. On a set, the trainer works from a
distance, out of camera range, and cannot use voice commands. For
this level of training it is imperative that the horse have
extraordinary confidence in its trainer. It has to be remembered
that training "Trigger" to accept these unusual situations was
just as involved and important as training him to perform actual
tricks. Roy Rogers had very specific and extraordinary demands of
"Trigger." He needed a trainer who could fulfill his needs.
Little Trigger went with Rogers on most of his public
appearances and often they were indoors - not necessarily in
arenas covered in the appropriate turf, but in lobbies or on
theatre stages. Little Trigger accompanied Rogers safely and
quietly on visits into children's hospital wards and orphanages.
The palomino would hold /one end of a rope while Rogers and the
more able children jumped. "Trigger" was even trained to ride in
public elevators. It was because of special circumstances like
these that Glenn Randall housebroke Little Trigger. Not an easy
thing to do with a horse. It took persistence and patience on
Randall's part to teach Little Trigger to relieve himself on
The moviegoing public is largely unaware of what it takes to use
horses in movies and television shows. Time is money, and
directors have little tolerance for animals who compromise a
production in any way. It's essential that they hit their marks
and tolerate whatever action a story demands. While an audience
sees only a horse carrying a rider, the horse sees camera
equipment, boom mikes, reflectors, sound trucks, film crews, and
more. Such an atmosphere is very stressful for a horse.
Glenn Randall not only had to know the horse training business,
but he had to know how to work within the confines of the picture
business as well. He had to familiarize himself with directors,
and he had to understand completely what kind of horse was needed
- not just with respect to breed and color, but in terms of
what was required of the horse character. Just as important, he
also had to educate filmmakers as to what a horse could and could
While the original Trigger was not trained to the degree Little
Trigger was, he could do some tricks, like untie a knot in a
Glenn Randall generally started training horses to do simple
tricks after they were two years of age. By four and five, he
would advance them to more strenuous tasks. In order to
accomplish all he did with "Trigger," Randall was working in his
barn every morning including weekends and holidays. A horse is
primarily trained through repetition. Once a horse learns the
proper response to a cue, it becomes a habit that is rarely
forgotten. Horses are single-minded and can only focus on one
thing at a time. If a horse has no confidence or even fears a
trainer, it will not concentrate, much less respond properly to
cues. The way to build confidence in a horse (or any animal for
that matter) is by understanding the difference between
punishment and brutality. "Trigger" respected Glenn Randall, but
he was not afraid of him.
Glenn Randall's horses performed at liberty, a type of training
referred to as "managed." Little Trigger was a managed horse. He
was taught to respond to voice cues, whip cues, and hand signals.
Randall disciplined and corrected with a simple reward-punishment
method: for punishment he would take a whip and sting the subject
on the leg like a fly. For a reward, kindness and a soft voice
went a long way towards getting horses to perform.
"Whip breaking" was the process by which Glenn Randall produced a
managed horse. It sounds worse than it was. It began with the
animal at liberty in a small square pen. Randall would tap the
horse on the rump with a long whip until it turned and faced him.
The horse was tapped again on the same place till it walked up to
Randall. Randall then gently rubbed the whip over the horse's
body, even before a petting reward, as a way to reinforce the
idea that the whip was an aid and extension of Randall's arm.
After such a foundation, a managed horse was taught rudimentary
conduct in front of movie cameras, then minor dramatics when
cued: stop, pose, look right or left. After such basics it was
taught more demanding tricks: to paw on the ground, charge with
ears pinned back, whinny, take a bow, rear up, pretend to be in
pain or play dead.
It's easy to understand why a managed horse was essential on a
movie set. A trainer and director had to be assured that the
animal would obey, not misbehave, and not revert to its strong
flight instinct and run away (some filmmaking took place in open
spaces). Whip training had to be completely impressed on a movie
Writer Sam Henderson said of Glenn Randall, "People close to him
have stated that he always had the horse's confidence. He praised
the horse when he did well and scolded him when he miscued. But
he only scolded him immediately after a mistake. He knew that if
he waited until later to correct the animal, the horse would not
realize why he was being disciplined."
The Movie Star Horse
Only a very few horses have the potential to succeed in motion
pictures (some estimates are one in five hundred). Some manage a
movie or two but eventually falter from boredom and routine. A
horse that's consistently focused to perform, as Little Trigger
was, is rare.
Celebrity horses had a small staff who looked after their needs:
a groom who constantly combed, brushed, and trimmed manes and
tails; a veterinarian; and even a make-up person to enhance
horse's eyes with mascara for close-up shots. Star horses even
required stand-ins for the lengthy lighting and technical
preparations required before shooting scenes. Without stand-ins,
lead horses could become fidgety by the time cameras were ready
to roll. It was essential that a star horse had to be fresh and
willing to work when it was brought onto a set.
"Trigger" as Student
Glenn Randall often referred to "Trigger" as an exceptional
learner. We can assume that he was referring to Little Trigger.
He pointed out that the horse was especially good at mouth work:
untying ropes, retrieving articles, and so on. Randall said that
eventually the palomino had a repertoire of well over one hundred
tricks, some never before asked of a horse.
"He's the smartest horse I've ever known," Rogers said. "He
almost knows when you are talking to him. I have had people ask
me if Trigger ever talked to me. That's because he does all his
tricks as simply as a trained acrobat."
Rogers once said that when he wanted Trigger to count or to tell
his age, he would turn one foot toward the horse, who would start
tapping his hoof. When he had tapped enough, Rogers would pull
his toe back, and the horse would stop tapping.
One of the attributes that sets cast horses apart from the
supporting ones is their ability to calm down quickly after a
hard run. The original Trigger was a pro at this. He could slide
to a stop and hardly moved out of his tracks even after Rogers
dismounted and dropped the reins. Movie horses had to be trained
to tolerate hobbles, stand quietly, no matter what was going on
around them. In some instances Randall was out of camera range,
keeping a horse in place by holding onto its leg with his hand or
with a little wire that wouldn't photograph.
Trigger was anything but shy when cameras were rolling. Not only
would the palomino stand steady with his ears up and alert; given
the slightest chance, he would steal the limelight from Rogers by
hamming it up for the camera. It's been suggested that the high
frequency hum of the motion picture camera, a sound the human ear
cannot pick up, was a cue for Trigger to be on his best behavior.
It has even been suggested that the hum would wake him from a
sound sleep. Legend has it that Trigger liked to know what was
going on at all times. The minute an assistant director yelled,
"Quiet on the set!" and noises ceased, the palomino's ears would
perk up and he would check to see where Rogers and Randall were.
Trigger the Fearless
The original Trigger had a reputation on movie sets for doing
stunts other horses refused. One of the most legendary was
recounted in director William Witney's book "Trigger Remembered."
Witney says that in "Far Frontier" (1948), Trigger actually
dodged a barrel thrown from a truck by bad guy Roy Barcroft (the
barrel was rolling while the truck was moving at high speed).
Witney discussed the same sequence in the 1992 Tys Ockersen
documentary "Roy Rogers - King of the Cowboys."
During the filming of "Sunset in the West" (1950), the script
called for a stuntman to jump from a running horse onto a train
with lots of steam coming out of the wheels. After going through
five palomino doubles who balked, director Witney and stuntman
Joe Yrigoyen settied on the original Trigger to accomplish the
Joe Yrigoyen said, "Trigger was like a beautiful Mercedes and
rode like one as well. It was exhilarating. Being a horseman, he
gave me inspiration and much confidence. Trigger would do
anything I asked him and would deliver every time. He was the
Care and Equipment
Some times a horse's hooves were shod with soft rubber shoes to
soften kicks and his teeth covered in gauze to prevent serious
bites if an equine fight was being staged. Many times Little
Trigger wore rubber boots to prevent slipping on waxed floors. At
times cotton was stuffed down a horse's ears when gunfire was
part of a scene. Cardboard stirrups were used when a horse was
expected to fall on its side. If a horse were to roll on a hard
standard stirrup and get injured it would be hard to get it to
perform the same stunt again. In the television episode "Phantom
Rustlers," Roy Rogers asked Little Trigger to lie on his side. As
the palomino performed the stunt, Rogers moved the stirrup and
cover (tapadero) out of the way so the horse wouldn't poke
himself in the belly. Dale Evans performed the same stunt with
her horse Pal in the pilot for her "Dale Evans Queen of the West"
show. She too was careful to keep Pal from lying on his stirrup.
According to Corky Randall, Roy Rogers bought Trigger just in
time. Randall maintained that his father Glenn had become
concerned over Trigger's welfare while he was still being rented
out. Apparently the palomino was long overdue for a good trimming
and new shoes. One would think that a glamorous horse for hire
like Trigger would have been better taken care of.
Unfortunatelyfundamental error of anyone who knows anything about
shoeing rental horses were sometimes neglected perhaps due to
busy schedules and poor record keeping. After Rogers bought the
horse outright, Glenn Randall had the palomino's shoes removed
and hooves trimmed. Trigger went without shoes till his hooves
grew out. Corky Randall claimed Trigger made at least one movie
without shoes (he couldn't recall which). Doubles were used for
long running shots and over rocky terrain till Trigger could be
***(This is one of the most bizzare, weird, odd, strange para-
graphs in Pando's book, that about Trigger having to go without
shoes till his hooves grew back. Trigger's hooves may have needed
trimming, but to trim hooves to the point where you cannot re-shoe
immediately is .... a basic fundamental ERROR of anyone who claims
to know how to trim and shoe horse's hooves. If you have trimmed that
much off so you cannot shoe immediately, you have CRIPPLED your horse,
the horse will not even be able to walk without limping; the horse is
now useless, it is LAME until indeed the hooves grow back. Even with
the hooves split you can still shoe and/or put on corrective shoes.
Yet it is true that if the hoof is split going up to the coronet band
then you would have to wait for the hoof to grow till the split has gone,
before riding the horse other than a walk. And that can take 3 months
or more depending on the severity of the split, and how fast the hoof grows
with that particular horse, they can all vary in the speed of hoof growth.
That is probably what happened to make any sense of this story - Keith
Movie People and Television Commercials
After a time Glenn Randall became somewhat disenchanted with the
movie business. While he still trained horses for Hollywood
productions, eventually it was his son Corky who actually worked
horses in front of cameras once a film went into production.
Both Glenn and Corky gained a reputation in Hollywood for their
directness towards movie action directors. They were adamant as
to which horse stunts were possible and which weren't. Corky did
not mince words when it came to his disgust with movie people.
With typical outspokenness he said, "They don't understand
livestock, and they'll look at you and say, 'Well, you're a
trainer, make him do it.' You get a director that doesn't
understand horses, you have to have the power or fortitude to
tell him it can't be done." Glenn Randall said, "Livestock people
know you don't make a horse, or any animal, do anything. You coax
and you train, but to step right up there and make him do it -