By Jennifer Paulson, Managing Editor
Every time I walk into a barn with a bald-faced Paint with floppy ears, I smile to myself and think, "Man, that Gunner (Colonels Smoking Gun) really stamps his babies."
Sadly, the NRHA $5 Million Sire (a milestone achieved just one month ago) was euthanized on Monday after fighting laminitis for a week. You can be sure that owners Tim and Colleen McQuay secured the highest-quality care for their legendary stallion?they and the entire reining community owe a debt of gratitude to the horse that far surpasses any veterinary bill.
Gunner was one of those great horses that forever changed reining, both in his own performances and those of his outstanding offspring. He sired NRHA Futurity and Derby finalists and champions in open and non-pro divisions, and his son Gunners Special Nite won gold at the 2010 World Equestrian Games. That's quite a legacy. And judging by the outpouring of sympathy I've witnessed on social media this week, he also heavily influenced horse owners of all kinds.
My first reining horse was a Paint, and while my gelding didn't descend from Gunner, you can be sure that I had my eye on Gunner when I read about his reserve champion title in the 1996 NRHA Open Futurity. I loved learning about his overcoming obstacles and reaching victory in the face of perceived adversity.
Hurdle No. 1: His unique markings, including his bald face, four white legs, and white tail that left a sort of contrail in his wake meant that, though he was born a Quarter Horse, he had too much white to be registered as one; so he was registered as a Paint, as Colonels Smokingun. Many years after his birth, AQHA changed its white rules, and he was registered with that breed as Colonels Smoking Gun. That made Gunner's get even more valuable. Hurdle overcome.
Hurdle No. 2: Gunner was deaf. That's right: He couldn't hear his rider say "whoa" for those sliding stops, not to mention being oblivious to the humming often used to cue a horse to slow down. This deafness is a trait some of Gunner's get share. I asked trainer Devin Warren if it was a training hindrance, but he was quick to say that it really wasn't that big of a deal; the horses are more focused, and the riders have to ride. Another hurdle overcome.
It's an understatement to say I was in awe when I watched Gunner compete at the 2001 United States Equestrian Team Festival of Champions. Until then, I hadn't seen the horse work up close?and you couldn't get much closer than ringside, shooting photos. For me, it was a lifelong dream come true. And when Gunner won the event, it was even sweeter.
I can't wait to see which of today's top stallions will join the ranks of those like Gunner. But for the influential, silly, floppy-eared stallion, I wish nothing but green pastures and peaceful rest.