It’s been 25 years since Colonels Smoking Gun first slid into history at the 1996 National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Open Futurity. In that quarter of a century, the diminutive sorrel stallion with the floppy ears, bald face, and bright blue eyes has brought more changes in the reining industry than any other horse to date. Now affectionately known throughout the world as “Gunner,” the 1993 sorrel overo stallion by Colonelfourfreckle and out of Katie Gun was an astounding performer in his own right, winning multiple titles and $177,386 in NRHA Lifetime Earnings.
But while Gunner left an indelible mark in the annals of reining himself, his legacy in the show pen is perpetuated today by his colorful, money-earning offspring. Gunner became an NRHA Million Dollar Sire in 2007; by 2010, he was an NRHA Two-Million Dollar Sire, and every year since, his offspring have earned a million dollars annually. In 2020, Gunner’s offspring earnings surpassed the $12 million mark, catapulting the already-famous sire to new heights when he became NRHA’s All-Time Leading Sire as well as the 2020 NRHA Leading Sire.
According to the people who knew the stallion best, it’s never hard to identify a son or daughter of Gunner: they either share his distinctive chrome markings, carry his gentle demeanor or project his presence from the first moment they step into the show pen.
“Any time you go to the NRHA Futurity, and you watch the runs, you can see his impact,” said retired reiner and breeder Kim Sloan, who owned Gunner from 1996 to 2005. “There are horses whose names may not have ‘Gunner’ in them, but you look at them and you say, ‘I bet,’ and then you check their pedigrees, and you’re right. There’s a look in the arena.”
Gunner’s first owners, Paint horse enthusiasts Paul and Pam Rohus of Double PR Ranch, remember their first visit with the colorful Paint stallion in 1995 like it was yesterday. After watching Tennessee trainer Charlie Hutton put the colt through his paces, Paul Rohus knew right away that Gunner was something special.
“When Charlie asked him to stop, Gunner sat down and just buried his butt in the ground,” Paul recalled. “I told Pam, ‘That’s a pretty nice horse.’ There was something different about him.”
The Rohuses purchased the stout two-year-old sorrel overo colt as a potential show horse for Pam, but then they quickly realized he was meant to do something bigger.
“My roping trainer, Pat Crawford, had him for a few months, but then he told us, ‘This horse has a lot of talent, but he needs to go to someone who can ride these horses.’ Then we took him over to John Hoyt in Lone Oak, Texas, and John watched Pam ride him around. But then John didn’t have any room to take him,” Paul said.
It was John Hoyt who finally suggested the Rohuses take Gunner to NRHA Professional Clint Haverty of Krum, Texas. It only took Haverty one ride to decide that Gunner was a horse he could win on. With Haverty in the saddle at their first Paint show together in Nacogdoches, Texas, Gunner won the junior reining under all six judges. Then they won the three-year-old reining challenge at the 1996 American Paint Horse Association (APHA) World Championship Show, and soon, the Rohuses, Haverty, and Gunner found themselves at the 1996 NRHA Open Futurity. At that show, Gunner became the NRHA Open Futurity Reserve Champion. Coming in just half a point behind Whizard Jac, the little floppy-eared stallion caught everyone’s imagination – including Kim and Debra Sloan.
The Sloans purchased Gunner from the Rohuses on the spot, but when they tried to pick the colt up the next morning, they found their new horse mobbed by admiring fans on all sides.
“We could not get that horse across the fairgrounds and into our trailer,” Sloan recalled. “Everybody loved that horse. We finally hooded him, blanketed him and wrapped his tail, and managed to sneak him around back.”
As the new star of Kebra Ranch, Gunner continued making waves in the reining industry as both a show horse and as a breeding stallion. In 1997, he won the APHA World Championship in Junior Reining. At the 1998 National Reining Breeders Classic, he won the Open Derby Reserve Championship. In 2001, he was the United States Equestrian Team (USET) Reining Finals Champion. According to Sloan, who competed on the stallion several times, riding Gunner was unlike riding any other reiner. The little horse just loved to show.
“Three riders – two trainers and myself – achieved their personal high scores on that horse,” Sloan said. “In reining, most of the time you’re not warming horses up to show them. Instead, you’re trying to cool them down a little bit. It was the exact opposite with Gunner. You took him in for ten minutes, you made him a little sparky, and then you went and showed him. He was just an unbelievable horse.”
In 2005, renowned reiners and breeders Tim and Colleen McQuay purchased Gunner as a breeding stallion. The beautiful and talented stallion spent the rest of his life at McQuay Stables in Tioga, Texas, breeding upwards of 100 mares per year and building the foundation of his legacy as an outstanding sire.
“Everybody loved all the white that he produced,” said Tim McQuay, who is an NRHA Three Million Dollar rider as well as a member of the NRHA Hall of Fame. “That made him very popular because he really was the first horse to be white-faced. People loved it when he walked in the pen to show, and they were all excited for him. Everybody liked his look, and he also produced real big stoppers. You can train horses to turn around and change leads, but nature takes care of the stop. It was born and bred in him.”
Today, nearly eight years after his death, Gunner’s offspring continue to dominate in the show pen and in the breeding shed. His outstanding offspring include the 2009 NRHA Futurity and 2010 Derby Open Champion, Gunnatrashya; the 2012 NRHA Open Futurity Champion, Americasnextgunmodel; the 2012 NRHA Open Futurity Reserve Champion, Gunners Tinseltown; and Gunners Special Nite, winner of the individual gold medal at the 2010 World Equestrian Games, as well as many others.
But Gunner’s biggest accomplishment isn’t his own wins, the number of incredible offspring he’s sired, or even the accolades that continue to accumulate long after his death. Instead, it’s the fact that he has changed the face of reining forever. Today’s reining fans can’t fathom a world without reiners splashed in chrome or stamped by his name, and that may be Gunner’s most enduring legacy.
“You can walk into any reiner’s barn today, and you’re going to see a bald face in there, and it’s going to be a Gunner,” Paul Rohus said. “They’re everywhere. Everybody wants them. With Gunners, you show them what to do and they’re willing. It makes a big difference when you’re raising those kinds of horses.”