Gunrock, while not furry blue as we see him today, was of blueblood heritage and related to Man O’ War. (UC Davis archival photo)
Nearly a century after the original Gunrock lived at UC Davis, his name lives on in our athletic mascot. (Karin Higgins/UC Davis photo)
While it’s true that the original Gunrock that inspired our mascot was, indeed, a Thoroughbred, students have always (except when we were ready to let loose a cow on the athletic fields) believed that the mascot portraying a horse was a mustang. Nevertheless, Gunrock was a real horse who lived at UC Davis for 10 years. To learn more about Gunrock beyond this history, take our quiz, Gunrock Unveiled.
Gunrock, the Aggie mascot, is a huggable, furry blue mustang, but the original Gunrock was a Thoroughbred of blueblood heritage — by virtue of both his racehorse pedigree and the wealthy sporting elite who owned him before he came to UC Davis.
Gunrock, 1914-32, was born and bred for the track, but the golden chestnut stallion with white face and legs would make his mark on the horse world — with the help of UC Davis breeding expertise — as a military stud.
Born in Britain in 1914, Gunrock was 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 was bred by U.S. telegraph company mogul Clarence Mackay and would be owned by a series of other millionaire race enthusiasts, including Standard Oil heir Herbert Pratt, who raced him in 1917, and financier August Belmont Jr., who bred Man O’ War and built the Belmont Park racetrack.
Donated to the Calvary Remount Service
It was Belmont — such an avid patriot that he volunteered at age 65 to help the Army in World War I — who donated Gunrock and many other horses to the Cavalry Remount Service, according to a 1923 Los Angeles Times article.
The Cavalry placed hundreds of breeding horses and mules on select private farms and land-grant colleges nationwide with the aim of improving horse stocks.
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.
The Cavalry bought many of the Remount Service foals for military use, but many others led civilian lives, whether as race, show, rodeo, ranch or pleasure horses.
Owned Gunrock’s descendent
Patricia Erigero ’71, owner of the Thoroughbred Heritage site, as a teenager owned a champion show horse, Bay Sands, that descended from Gunrock — “the product of many generations of breeding at UC Davis.”
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.”