UPDATE 9:25 p.m. Feb. 19: Check out Gunrock's online album — pics and tweets — from his 100th birthday parties.
Our beloved Gunrock is more than a mascot. He's "One of a Kind," a link to UC Davis history, to the University Farm. He’s a furry blue reminder of the real Gunrock, the Army studhorse born 100 years ago Wednesday (Feb. 19).
Every centennial event deserves a party — and Gunrock will get one, er, make that five! See box.
The Gunrock of today is considered to be a mustang, but, the truth is, the real Gunrock — born in Britain in 1914 — was a Thoroughbred, a racehorse, the offspring of English Triple Crown winner Rock Sand and race mare Gunfire, which gave him bloodlines similar to the legendary racehorse Man O’ War.
Gunrock would have various owners, including financier August Belmont Jr., who built the Belmont Park racetrack in New York. Belmont, a patriot if ever there were one (he volunteered for the Army at age 65), would eventually donate Gunrock (and many other horses) to the Cavalry Remount Service.
And that’s how Gunrock came to Davis, as one of hundreds of breeding horses and mules placed by the Cavalry Remount Service on select private farms and land-grant colleges nationwide with the aim of improving horse stocks — not only for military use, but also for civilian use.
During his 1921-31 stay at UC Davis, Gunrock was bred with 476 mares, some of them from the university herd and the rest from Northern California farms. Gunrock died in 1932.
Phil Livingston, co-author of War Horse: Mounting the Cavalry with America’s Finest Horses, said the Cavalry Remount Service, which existed until 1948, made a lasting impact on the horse industry, improving breed lines with the help of UC Davis and other breeders, and advancing husbandry and veterinary care.
Sixty percent of registered horses now descend from Remount Service sires, he said. “Without it, we wouldn’t have the horses we have today.”
Thoroughbred in mustang's clothing
So, the real Gunrock was a Thoroughbred — and yet the UC Davis mascot is a mustang. How did that happen?
Turns out that students in the 1920s first chose the mascot (a mustang horse) and then the name (and that’s when they turned to Gunrock the Thoroughbred).
The huggable horse character we have today didn’t arrive on campus until 2003, at which time the campus community had the chance in an online poll to pick a name other than Gunrock.
History prevailed: 98 percent of the votes favored Gunrock, who became the Thoroughbred in mustang's clothing, a fixture at athletic contests and other campus events, where people of all ages can be seen giving Gunrock a “high hoof” and having their photos taken with him.
In fact, having your picture taken with Gunrock is an official “Aggie Tradition,” No. 28 out of 50.
This article draws on a 2007 UC Davis Magazine story by the magazine’s editor, Kathleen Holder.
Take the “Gunrock Unveiled” quiz (and learn how the real Gunrock performed on the racetrack).