The Legacy of Gunner

In a sea of solid chestnuts and palominos, one stallion stood out from the rest as he stepped into the arena in the 1990s. There was no missing the loveable stallion sporting tall, sparkling white stockings on all four legs, a bald face and adorable floppy ears. When Gunner first walked into the arena, hearts would melt at his features. But once he nailed that first sliding stop, reining enthusiasts knew this horse was a powerhouse.

A headshot of Gunner, a horse still considered a legend today
Photo by Tristan Dark

“He was such a cute little package with a strong, curling back stop,” recalls Colleen McQuay, who co-owned the stallion with her husband, National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Hall of Famer Tim McQuay, for the stallion’s breeding career up until he passed away in 2013. “He already influenced the industry to pay attention to him.”

Registered with the American Paint Horse Association as Colonels Smokingun and the American Quarter Horse Association as Colonels Smoking Gun, Gunner (the name he was registered under with the NRHA) turned the reining world on its ear. Easily identified by his excessive chrome and white face, he became known for passing on those trademarks to his progeny, as well as his textbook-perfect sliding stop and athleticism in the arena.

Gunner is currently the all-time leading sire for the NRHA, with progeny earnings in excess of $14 million, making him the first $14 Million Sire for the sport, surpassing a fellow McQuay stallion, Hollywood Dun It.

Down Right Amazing and Casey Deary at a reining show
Down Right Amazing with Casey Deary. Photo by Chelsea Schneider

Even though Gunner passed away 10 years ago, he still stands atop the rankings for AQHA and NRHA sires. It’s a stat that’s not taken lightly by the McQuays.

“When you look at the reining world, it still amazes me that our two studs have had such an incredible impact on the industry,” says Colleen. “The biggest reason we can keep him on the charts long after his passing is because of science.”

Stats from Gunner's career as a show horse and stallion

Throughout Gunner’s breeding career, the McQuays collected semen to freeze. Now, thanks to ICSI, or intracytoplasmic sperm injection, they are still able to breed 80-90 mares to him each year. This is a breeding technique for in vitro fertilization in which an individual sperm cell is introduced into an egg cell, thus extending the use of the collected, frozen sperm.

Ask any reining professional, and they’ll agree that Gunner was famous not only for his unique looks, but for his strong, correct, dynamic stop–the most popular maneuver in the discipline.

“And that’s visible in his get,” says Colleen. “When you stamp that incredible form and strength in the stop, that makes a big difference. But he was also so good-minded, and he passed that on to his progeny quite readily.”

Many trainers know that breeding to Gunner, or a son of Gunner, may result in a foal that is a good-minded horse.

“Obviously, the more natural the traits are, the easier they are to train, and the good mind helps as well,” Colleen says.

You see those attributes in Gunner’s sons who are now leading headlines as top young stallions, which include an NRHA Three Million Dollar Sire (Pale Face Dunnit), an NRHA Five Million Dollar Sire (Gunners Special Nite) and an NRHA Nine Million Dollar Sire (Gunnatrashya). And there’s so much more to see coming from the offspring of Gunner.

“It’s obvious he’s still vital because of what his colts are doing,” says Colleen. “But also because of what his sons and daughters are doing.”

This article about the legendary horse Gunner appeared in the Summer 2023 issue of Western Life Today magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Megan Arszman

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