‘Gunsmoke’ Star James Arness Reflected on Riding Show Horse as a Kid

by Amanda Glover

Sometimes, our dreams as children can come back to help us in our professional careers. James Arness proves that in a self-written article.

In a document written by James Arness before his passing, the actor discusses riding a show horse as a child. He titled the document: “No Trick Horses’ For Me.”

The actor discussed forming a connection with the horse after noticing similarities between the two: “When I was a kid back in Minnesota, I remember seeing a show with a trick horse that could count up to four and untie knots with his teeth. Since I could barely count to four myself and had trouble untying my knots, using teeth and fingers, I thought this horse was probably the best horse there ever was.”

Once the show ended, a young Arness asked the horse’s owner for permission to ride it. Unfortunately, he was told the horse wasn’t for riding. The horse’s owner told a young Arness that the horse was “too smart to let anybody ride him.”

The “Gunsmoke” actor grew up watching movies about cowboys and horses. He believed the horses on television were smarter than the ones encountered in real life. “They weren’t smart enough to earn a living without letting somebody ride on them.”

James Arness Got to Live Out His Cowboy Dreams

Arness went on to discuss the imaginations of young children in his younger days. “The kids all believed implicitly in the premise that a cowboy who owned a trick horse would go on being a cowboy for $60 a month, just for the sheer love of being a cowboy.” Sounds like quite the dream for a young cowboy back in those days.

Arness wasn’t able to ride the horse he encountered as a child. He had the pleasure of riding larger horses as he aged on ‘Gunsmoke’.

“When the occasion demands, I ride a horse in ‘Gunsmoke.’ Usually, it is a big buckskin gelding named Buck, chosen not because of his intellect, or his fidelity, but because he is very large and only a very large horse will fit me.”

Lucky for Arness, he did not have to be a cowboy alone. The late actor was able to act alongside other big-time western actors. He had John Wayne to thank for his role as a cowboy. Wayne was the one who suggested Arness’s presence in the show to television producers. Well, that seemed to work out pretty well for both stars.

This was not the first time Wayne suggested someone for an acting role. Even if it meant he wouldn’t be in the production. “Try and make your mark in TV, Jim, because you’re not going to make it in movies. You’re too tall. Actors like me and Gregory Peck and Gary Cooper don’t want you towering over us,” Wayne said to producers.

Well, that was one way to make himself known in the business.