The Versatile Guns Flash Bull

The Versatile Guns Flash Bull

In a career that spanned three decades, Guns Flash Bull epitomized the versatility of the American Quarter Horse.

Horse standing among a crowd of people with at the AQHA 50th Anniversary.

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

By Honi Roberts

In a career that spanned three decades, Guns Flash Bull epitomized the versatility of the American Quarter Horse. There literally is not enough room within the scope of this story to list every championship and honor he earned for his succession of grateful owners. But to give you an idea: 10 world championships; six reserve world championships; 116 all-around titles; 23 reserve all-around titles; 3,351.5 performance points; 51.5 halter points; 10 high-point awards; 11 performance Registers of Merit; 22 performance Superior Awards; one halter ROM; 16 grand championships ... and we’ve barely scratched the surface.

But there was so much more to this super-talented fellow than just titles and stats. He carried his riders to places they might never have gone without him, and helped them live their dreams. 

“When I think of him, three words come to mind: bold, handsome and feisty,” says Elizabeth Salisbury of Pilot Point, Texas, who owned him during his later years. “He gave me such confidence. He was so stunning, when he entered an arena, everyone had to look. 

“Remember the quote, ‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee?’ That was him: really gorgeous but packing a punch!”

Guns Flash Bull, aka “Gun,” was a 1982 gelding, bred by Nancy and D.J. Knight Jr. of Winter Haven, Florida, by Gunmetal Bars and out of Miss Flash Bull by Mr Flash Bull. Pam Ritzenthaler-Foster of Weikert, Pennsylvania, showed him to his first youth high-point hunter under saddle award in 1987. 

Bruce Kaplow of Chappaqua, New York, saw the gelding as a 3-year-old at the All American Quarter Horse Congress, and noted his potential.

“Dad kept an eye on him,” says daughter Robyn (in photo above). “Both of my parents grew up wanting a horse. When they finally got horses, they boarded at the same barn and met when Dad moved Mom’s horse to another stall without asking permission!” 

Horses brought her parents together, and Robyn remembers that her family’s life revolved around horses.

“I’ll never forget coming home from school in 1988, and Dad saying, ‘Have I got a horse for you!’ ” Robyn says. In a life filled with good horses, Guns Flash Bull is her all-time favorite. “He was cool, elegant, regal – a freak of nature, really – only in a very good way!”

In 1989, both horse and family were busy. Robyn and Gun won AQHA youth world championships in hunter under saddle, hunter hack and hunt seat equitation, as well as the youth high-point in those categories and youth working hunter. Also that year, Robyn’s mother, Susan, won the AQHA amateur world championship hunter under saddle; additionally, the horse garnered a cascade of open championships and high-point awards. 

AQHA Professional Horseman Jerry Erickson, an AQHA 20-year breeder from Sanger, Texas, rode the great Ruler I Am in many of the same classes, and remembers well the challenge of competing against the extraordinary talents of Guns Flash Bull.

“I had a dickens of a time,” he says with a good-natured laugh. “They really made me work for everything I won, and what was Robyn – about 15-years old?”

Jerry recalls that Gun started every class with a certain edge.

“He had a presence that made you sit up and take note,” the trainer says. “He was also a big, handsome, good-hocked horse, and to top it all off, he was extremely consistent. He would be competitive today – without a doubt.” 

One of Robyn’s fondest memories is the Versatility Challenge that AQHA organized to commemorate its 50th anniversary. Five horses were invited to perform in hunter hack, western pleasure, halter and reining. 

“Gun was sticky in one direction of his reining spin,” Robyn says. "Of course, Dad would never show up and fudge the spin. Instead, he went to Barbara Williams in North Carolina to polish our horse – she did – and Gun won!”

Another of Robyn’s favorite memories involves her younger brother, Evan, and his 1990 youth world championship in hunter under saddle.

“Gun was known to buck on occasion, and he was a little high just before Evan’s class. Dad ordered me to climb onboard and keep jumping until Gun quieted down. We all loved to show him! Dad even put 66.5 western pleasure points on him.” 

There was only one skill the family decided not to add to his repertoire. 

“We hooked Gun up to a cart for pleasure driving,” Robyn recalls, “and he immediately bucked and got his leg hung-up over the shaft. That’s when we decided: Friends don’t let friends pleasure drive.”

In late 1991, Cathy Corrigan Frank of Phoenix became Gun’s owner, and his winning ways continued. Then, in 1995, he transferred hands for the last time, when Elizabeth Salisbury and her family welcomed him to their home.

“Being with Gun was like having a rock star in the family,” Elizabeth says. “It was exciting. I was just 13 years old and had a just couple of months to prepare for Congress after we bought him. We won three classes! He was bold and confident in the show ring, but at home, he was quirky, and could be a little scaredy-cat. He loved it when I scratched his braids; it would always mellow him out.”

One year, Elizabeth’s younger sister Victoria rode him in 11-and-under hunter under saddle at Congress.

“She was just a tiny thing, and up on big Gun, who notoriously did not put up with silliness ... It was a great moment when she won, and the Kaplow family was there to watch.”

In 2001, their last year of competition, Elizabeth and Guns Flash Bull were undefeated.

“He had so much heart; he always gave his all,” Elizabeth says. “He retired to pasture and had my sister’s retired horse, Lad, as his buddy. They did everything together and were very happy. At 23, he still could’ve jumped the fence if he’d wanted. He was king of the property.”

During the Christmas holiday of 2005, many of the girls, now grown, who had ridden Gun met at the barn with him to celebrate and reminisce about the glory days they’d shared with the big bay. He was still fit, fabulous and feisty. Shortly afterward, however, he had a repeat bout with his old nemesis, colic, and this time, he lost. 

But he left behind enduring memories of battles won and many dreams fulfilled.