The Movie Horse

Posted on June 7, 2018 by Jerrilee.
Categories: breed, equipment, health, history.

During the heyday of films that featured horses, a sub-industry evolved to supply horses for movies. One of the major horse suppliers, along with providing stagecoaches, wagons, and other equipment, was Randall Ranch in Newhall, Calif. The owner of the ranch was Glenn Randall Sr., the man who trained Trigger for Roy Rogers’ personal appearances.     Assisting him were sons Glenn Jr. (J.R.) and Buford (Corky) Randall. In 2006,  Corky Randall, 75 , and trainer of The Black Stallion, remembered those early days on the movie sets and the harsh treatment of horses in the industry.

Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger   Roy Rogers and his horse Trigger

 

During early film making, horses were often were considered disposable products. If a horse was injured or killed during a particular sequence, another replaced it. If the script called for a horse to go crashing to the earth, trip wires sent it sprawling. Sometimes legs were broken in the process. Scenes where horses were driven off of the cliff to their death were tragically true to life as horses were forced off of cliffs to their death.  The major turning point came in 1939 when Jesse James was filmed, says Wheatley. The movie starred Tyrone Power as Jesse James and Henry Fonda as Frank James. In one of the scenes, a posse is in hot pursuit of Frank James. To escape them, he and the horse plunge over a cliff and into the river. The next scene shows Fonda and the horse swimming to safety in the river.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple. The horse used in the scene lost its life. For the scene, says Wheatley, the horse was placed on a slippery platform called a tilt chute. At a key moment, the chute tilted and the horse went over the cliff into the water and was killed.  The on scene crew objected and told the story. Public outrage forced the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) to take action. As a first step, MPAA gave the AHA legal rights to set guidelines and oversee the treatment of animals on movie sets, and eventually television programs.

Tragic death scene in Jesse James 1939 movie

Tragic death scene in Jesse James 1939 movie

There was something of a hiatus in the humane treatment of animals on production sets from 1966 until 1980. In fact,  AHA safety representatives weren’t even allowed on sets. Animals were frequently overworked and kept in unsafe environments, and the trip wires were once again used.

“Those were the dark days for horses in movies,” says Karen Rosa, director of the AHA Film and TV Unit in Los Angeles, Calif.  Then, says Rosa, the death of another horse during the filming of Heaven’s Gate spurred reform. In the film, the script called for a saddle to be blown off a horse’s back, says Rosa. Explosives apparently were used, she said, and when they went off, the horse was so severely injured that it had to be euthanized.  The Screen Actors Guild, whose members were distressed by what had occurred, stepped up to the plate by insisting on restoring the AHA’s power. In 1980, the MPAA granted the AHA sole authority to protect animals used in film and television through a contract with the Screen Actors Guild.

The result of the new protection for the equine stars is the careful preparation for horses for the roles they are chosen to play. Jack Lilley is the owner of Movin On Livestock, a motion picture barn who supplies animals for TV and film. Hired to oversee the equine handling on movies like the upcoming Magnificent Seven, Lilley ensures Hollywood’s horses are kept safe and happy. This requires patience, training, and selecting the right animals in the first place.  As with humans, not just any horse is cut out to be a star. Before a horse can even gallop on set they need to be vetted for their disposition. If a horse is too skittish, or “looky” as Lilley describes them, they might not be a great choice to bring to a bustling movie set full of flashing lights, loud noises, and frantic people. “We don’t want any of them prancing or high-powered horses,” says Lilley. “We want that type that you could put [your kids] on, and say, ‘Ride him home.’” It’s important that a movie horse isn’t startled or spooked easily, both for the safety of the riders and the animals. “All in all, the American Quarter Horse is the best. They’ve got the best disposition and nothing bothers them.” Lilley’s ranch gets a new horse around the age of five and up, and often from traditional ranches. Cowboys—real ones, not movie ones—will slowly ride the horses around a set with the lights and production pieces in place to familiarize them with the noise and action. “I like to start them on a big street scene,” says Lilley. “Pretty soon they see that nothing’s going to bother them.” Ideally they’ll acclimate to the madness of a movie set to the point of being shockingly docile. “[The ideal horse is one that] you could fall all over. If you were doing a fight, you could roll under his belly and he wouldn’t try to step on you,” says Lilley.

Pawnee Actor with horse in "Hell On Wheels" series

Pawnee Actor with horse in “Hell On Wheels” series

references: ‘The Hollywood Horse’ from: the horse.com ; Behind the Scenes with Horses from Hollywood: Atlas Obscura.com

 

 

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