GUNNISON, Colo. – Eighteen years have passed since Hurricane Katrina wrecked the
Gulf Coast, killing nearly 1,400 people and costing $100 billion in damages.
Countless animals perished; hundreds were badly injured. Some livestock stood in floodwaters for days and suffered damage from that. Jerry Thornton learned about one of those, rescued the young stallion and took it to his Tennessee home.
A lifelong horse trainer, he took that colt in and more than made a home for the smallish, black stud. He worked with the horse like he’s done so many others and found there was something special in the animal’s mind. He will show that off during the three performances of the Cattlemen’s Days PRCA Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, July 13-Saturday, July 15, at Fred Field Western Center in Gunnison.
“I don’t normally rescue animals,” said Thornton, 74. “I tried to help the people with him, and he turned out to be a star. He’s very unusual. His age and breed are unknown. Since training him, I have performed all over the country with him, done music videos, been in TV commercials and have performed at horse shows and competitions.
“If there’s anything horse-related, we try to be there.”
Thornton is also a specialty act, and since the early 1980s, he has performed at rodeos across North America. This will be his first time at Cattlemen’s Days, and he’s excited to show how well Bojangles excels when they are in front of a crowd.
“I have different breeds of horses and have trained horses to do different things,” Thornton said. “This horse has a unique personality. He’s a smaller horse, probably 14.1 hands tall. Nobody knew where he came from.
“He was like a yearling when I got him. He had stood in water for three weeks, and because he was taller than most of them, there were animals that had lived on his back to stay out of the water. Nobody would claim him after the hurricane.”
Thornton and Bojangles will perform a liberty act, where the animal is directed to follow commands and showcase the relationship between horse and trainer without the trainer being on the horse or holding the reins. Fans will see the communication it takes for trainer and horse to work together.
“When I come to Gunnison, the kids, especially, will love him,” he said. “Everybody wants their picture taken with him.
“What drives me is the idea of getting these unique horses to perform and do different stunts. I’ve been doing this since I was 16 years old, and this is something I still really enjoy.”
Over the years, Thornton has shown many incredible horses. He was part of the Command Performance Rodeo that was produced in 1982 for President Ronald Reagan, and he has seen a great deal of the United States while showing many others his training prowess.
“I think it’s important to keep the Western tradition alive, as far as costuming and showing these horses,” Thornton said. “This is our Western heritage.”