Cowboy movies nurtured my love for horses and fancy tack all through my childhood. Roy Rogers had his big stallion Trigger decked out with every pretty accouterment known to the mind of man. And Roy himself dressed fancy to match, from big white hat to jangling silver spurs. Even then, I could discern the Spanish influence in Roy’s taste for fanciness. The ranch hands that rode with him were not nearly so splendid in dress or tack. Trigger was the only beautiful palomino stallion in the crowd and one could tell he knew how special he was. Clothes make the man and tack makes the horse.
Rex Allen was billed as the new king of the cowboys, a slogan designed to supplant the thoroughly decorated Roy Rogers, you know, kick him off the throne. But Rex was not nearly as splendid. His horse Cocoa was a pretty buckskin, but his saddle and other equipment were, well, just plain. Plus, Rex had only one gun on his brown leather belt, whereas Roy had a pair of well-appointed six-shooters on a bejeweled belt of white leather.
Perhaps Gene Autry outdid Roy somewhat, sporting a bridle with fake pistols at the bit on his stallion, Champ, along with little diamond-shaped chips in all the tack. But Gene himself did not get too fancy in his duds. Roy’s shirts would have looked right on Porter Waggoner much later on, but Gene’s were more of a ranch-hand-at-the-square-dance type shirt.
A local clothing store in my town advertised that Champ would be there on a Saturday for kids to come pet and, of course, buy the new Gene Autry blue jeans that had just come out. I went and got my turn to pet the horse a few strokes, a big gelding with a huge white spot on his belly. That afternoon, at the movie, wearing my new Gene Autry blue jeans, I saw that I had been had. The Champ on the screen did not have a white spot on his belly and he was most assuredly not a gelding.
Anyway, sales scams notwithstanding, I enjoyed the beautiful dress and tack of the cowboys immensely. It was odd that so many of us kids loved the new kind of cowboy that came along just as we were “aging out” of our cowboy years: Lash LaRue. He wore all black and was very handy with a long black bullwhip. His horse, Black Diamond, was black, as were his saddle, bridle and other tack. The only thing colorful about him was his sidekick, Fuzzy St. John, who wore plaid shirts and rode a paint horse. Bland as Lash was, all of my friends and I started wanting black shirts and bull whips. And I, for one, much preferred Black Diamond to the ostentatious Trigger.
Later in life when I had property and could afford a good horse, I bought a sorrel quarter horse gelding and a plain brown saddle. I suppose the fanciness of childhood had worn away. I still enjoy looking at horses and riders all liveried up, though.