Tall, dark & handsome | TSLN.com

Tall, dark & handsome

I can tell how old you are just by the horses you know. For example, you are well beyond your expiration date if you know that Rex Allen's horse was Koko, Hoot Gibson's was Goldie, Tex Ritter's was White Flash, William S. Hart's horse was a pinto named Fritz and that Tom Mix loved Tony. If, on the other hand you know that Gene Autry rode Champion, Hopalong Cassidy sat on top of Topper, the Lone Ranger loved Silver, and Roy Rogers stuffed Trigger, you are a veritable spring chicken just like me.

Back in the dark ages kids idolized Hollywood cowboys and especially their horses. Kids my age grew up watching these heroes on TV and at the movies on Saturday afternoon. We all knew that Silver would save the Lone Ranger and that Trigger was the smartest horse in the universe. But that was before my high-IQ, mensa-like horse became famous all over the world. Or at least he was in our house.

As a child of the fifties I knew that if I was ever going to be a famous celebrity I had to have a horse for a sidekick. And not just any horse. It had to be a photogenic equine with a hook, something that fans could connect with. Something like the talking horse, Mr. Ed. Remember him? "A horse is a horse, of course, of course."

My search for an equine sidekick started and ended with my cowboy friend Ken Silva who was looking to upgrade. The horse that would someday be known far and wide as Gentleman was playing minor roles just waiting to be discovered. So I paid Ken $750 for his horse, loaded him with great fanfare, and much difficulty, in my antique horse trailer and took him back to the ranch.

And a star was born!

The first thing I needed was a stage name for Ken's horse, who at the time was named something like Boneyard, Crowbait or Knothead. The exact name escapes me now. We already had one worthless old nag at the ranch called Lady, so it was only natural that my new mount's stage name would be Gentleman.

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Back in the day when cowboys ruled the screen a studio might devote as much as seven years and half a million dollars to train a horse, and that was back when half a million would buy a pretty good cow ranch. I didn't spend quite that much on Gentleman, but I did put a lot of work into the training of my wonder horse. Whereas Trigger knew a few dance steps and came when whistled for, Gentleman did something far more difficult: he disappeared. Completely. Whenever I needed him Gentleman would vanish into thin air.

Hollywood horses could do things like untie their master's hands but, believe it or not, there were very few times I needed that done. Movie star horses were also adept at falling without hurting themselves and Gentleman did that constantly. He could also fall over backwards effortlessly at any time.

Just like the Lone Ranger's Silver, Gentleman was a stud and he did all his own stunts and played himself in all of our pictures. Alas, Gentleman lived up to his end of the bargain as a star but I did not. He got far more fan mail than I ever did and he was everything that I was not. He was tall, dark and handsome, well groomed, smelled good when sweaty and looked good in leather. He had all the attributes of a Hollywood star: he was aloof, spoiled rotten, went through shoes faster than Sarah Jessica Parker and only worked sporadically. He was also a carouser, never settling down with just one female. I was forever being upstaged by my horse as Gentleman was truly the star of our show. Although he's been dead now for over ten years his fans still ask about him.

Old-timers will say that you don't want a horse smarter than you are, but to that I say, "bull pucky." Whether you are fighting off the paparazzi, or just mingling with your fan base, it's important that one member of the duo know what you are doing. And Gentleman did.

Besides… one of us had to have a pretty face.

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