Mr. Reagan’s birthday is February 6, so I think he’d enjoy this little trip down the Memory Trail. No matter your political leanings, if you’re a horse person – even if you’re a horseless horse person – you’re in for a treat. 🙂 Enjoy!
If you can’t see the embedded video of Ronald Reagan grooming his horses, click on the link. The video is courtesy of the Young America’s Foundation, which is now the occupant of the former Reagan Rancho del Cielo.
They were ’80s icons. I’m not talking about Reagan and Gorbachev. Nor Hall&Oates. Nor John Henry and Chris McCarron. You’ve probably figured it out by now, but we’re talking here about President Ronald Reagan and his grey stallion El Alamein.
Non-riders are liable to find this video a snooze, but I enjoy watching it. I like the easy way Reagan has with the horses. I enjoy the background noise of the ranch like the lawn tools, the gravel crunching under shoes, the chit-chat and the radio breaking squelch.
I especially enjoy watching the subtle differences in communication between the bay horse in the first part of the video, Nancy Reagan’s horse No Strings, and Reagan’s famous gray Anglo-Arab, El Alamein.
Apparently, according to retired U.S. Secret Service agent John R. Barletta, in his book RIDING WITH REAGAN, riding El Alamein was challenge Reagan relished facing.
A magnificent gift
El Alemein was a gift horse from Mexican President José López Portillo in 1981. A thoroughbred-Arabian cross, El Alamein stood 16 hands tall – although one online report says 17.5 hands – and probably stood much taller when he’d come up out of his stall, as he was reportedly trained to do so in Mexico, on his hind legs.
A big white stallion making a grand entrance while rearing was probably a stirring sight to see, an exciting gift to acknowledge the equestrian skills of the recipient, but a little much. Let alone unsafe, even for an experienced equestrian like Reagan who preferred to ride hot-blooded horses like thoroughbreds.
Spirited? Feisty? Onery? Take your pick.
Not long after El Alamein came to America, he went to a farm in the Santa Ynez valley for some re-training, according to a letter in the book REAGAN: A LIFE IN LETTERS. Although habits could be re-trained, the hot blood, strength and stamina were bred into him. He reportedly could outrun and outlast any of the other horses on the ranch.
After long periods of inactivity while Reagan was away in Washington, DC, El Alamein would end up a little hot to saddle up and take on a trail ride when vacation time came around. Horse training became part of the Secret Service’s mission to keep The President safe. For a few days before the President and Mrs. Reagan arrived at the ranch, Barletta would prepare and train El Alamein for the Reagans’s customary morning rides.
Still, Reagan was fond of his spirited white horse. You can see that in the video above.
In addition to all those iconic photos from the ’80s. El Alamein was the subject of at least two paintings. One by painted by Western artist Orren Mixer in 1987 hung in the main Guest Room at the Reagan Ranch and can be seen on the Reagan Ranch Facebook page. German equine artist Jan Künster also painted the stirring El Alamein.
Into the sunset
As Reagan’s Alzheimer’s progressed, he had to give up riding, especially his sassy white stallion El Alamein. According to Marilyn Fisher, Curator of the Regan Ranch and Ranch Center, El Alamein was retired to pasture at the nearby Alamo Pintado Equine Clinic, where he spent the rest of his days.
Want to read more? Lots of great Reagan books are out there available with much more information. Here are sources for this blog post:
- REAGAN: A LIFE IN LETTERS. Kiron K. Skinner, Annelise Anderson, Martin Anderson and George P. Shultz
- RIDING WITH REAGAN. John R. Bartletta with Rochelle Schweizer
- Email exchange with Marilyn Fisher