Horses have always been popular animals throughout world history, and some horses are destined to be celebrities. For example, there are lists compiled by institutions, like the Smithsonian, that give us some clues about famous horses throughout history.
Interestingly, a celebrity horse from almost 3,000 years ago named Numitor was recently re-elevated in fame thanks to the reopening of the ancient Roman racetrack called Circus Maximus.
According to the Washington Post, authorities reported around November 16 that Numitor would be the new advertising symbol for the Circus Maximus racetrack in Rome, Italy.
Outside of Numitor, there have been several celebrity racehorses in the past 100 years that are thoroughbreds because that is the primary breed that gains notoriety in America. An online search for famous horses often reveals results related to the Kentucky Derby or horse racing at large.
Of course, a horse that wins many races tends to be popular by name, but the face of that horse is not usually memorable to the general public. Instead, a famous horse according to the American public will often be one that is on television or in the movies. Outside of Mister Ed, there are about five horses in particular that most people have viewed millions of times.
A historic first in the world of horses on the silver screen began with actor, cowboy, and singer, Gene Autry, and his famous series of on-screen horses that were all called Champion the Wonder Horse.
According to the Gene Autry website created by his fans, there were at least four horses used between 1935 and 1956 that appeared in almost 80 films starring Gene Autry as well as around 90 episodes on television on the Gene Autry Show.
A later version of Champion the Wonder Horse of the West also had their own series called The Adventures of Champion. Champion was noted for untying knots, rolling over and playing dead, shaking his head, bowing, and coming to Gene when he whistled.
Famous television horses of the past that are still among the most remembered today are the steeds of the masked men. Along with the Lone Ranger’s steed Silver, children of the late 1950’s were obsessed with horses from the popular television show called Zorro.
The main character of Zorro, played by Guy Williams, rode his horse on every adventure and rescue. From the Guy Williams fan website managed by Bill Cotter, we learn that fans are still asking questions about this horse 60 years later. The names of the horses of Zorro were Phantom (white) and Tornado (black).
Outside of television and the movies, one of the most viewed horse videos on the internet is from an America’s Funniest Home Videos episode about a horse from Canada. In the 1990’s, America’s Funniest Home Videos was extremely popular as well as a great way to showcase a talented pet.
Around 20 years ago, the $10,000 prize for best video was won by Phyllis Olsen of Canada for a video of her horse. In the footage that made Phyllis Olsen a winner, her Arabian horse Shag-Ra is lip-synching “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”
Years later, Phyllis Olsen has her own YouTube channel with millions of views that shows Shag-Ra in action outside of the famed America’s Funniest Home Videos segment and Shag-Ra’s appearance on Late Night with David Letterman.
However, the extensive talents of this horse are best seen in local footage taken by the CBC show On the Road Again with host Wayne Rostad. The video footage from that interview shows Shag-ra answering the telephone and how he is “more like a person than a horse.”
Sometimes, unforgettable horses from popular culture are the ones that give you nightmares. One of the horrors recorded in the 1970’s classic movie The Godfather is a perfect example. In the movie, one of the main characters wakes up to find blood in his bed. According to the New York Times, the name of the fictional horse that was beheaded in the bed is Khartoum.
On an interesting note, in the book Godfather: The Intimate Francis Ford Coppola, by Gene D. Phillips, Francis Ford Coppola explains the origin of the horse head. He says that the horse you see in the film was not killed for the film. Instead, a horse head was purchased for the scene from a local dog food factory.
Another horse that is a celebrity in Hollywood is named Traveler, but he is best known as one of the most famous sports mascots in America. According to their website, the University of Southern California gained this mascot around 1962 at the request of a student.
When Eddie Tannenbaum saw Richard Saukko and his white horse Traveler at the Rose Parade, Tannenbaum was instrumental in convincing them to join the team.
Traveler and Saukko said yes to the invitation and started appearing at the opening of each USC Trojans game. The historically dressed Roman soldier on horseback soon became one of the most unforgettable college mascots.
According to the USC website about their mascot, they state that Traveler was not limited to college games. Instead, Traveler was in movies such as The Battle of the Gunfighter and Snowfire and was part of a theater production for the Long Beach Ballet’s version of the classic Nutcracker ballet.
Over the years, new horses and riders have replaced the 1960’s Traveler and Saukko team, but their original contribution as the USC mascot lives on. For anyone that wants to meet Traveler the mascot, USC has a request form that allows Traveler to travel to parties.
[Feature Image by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images]