Awhile back Pony Girl did a post about horses and the movies.
(incidentally her post was also titled "Movie Magic")
It raised some questions about the equine actors in movies and TV. I knew I had just the source to find the answers, Mr Tim!
Yes the same Mr Tim that we bought Applejack from, the same Mr Tim that I just saw earlier this week for a test ride. Mr Tim is a horse dealer but he also does work as a wrangler or an extra at times (being Saskatchewan there isn't a whole lot of film work here but it does happen) I can't remember what all MT has worked on but two that come to mind are "Texas Rangers" and "The Englishman's Boy".
I hadn't run into him since PG posted those questions but I made sure to ask him while I was there. And what a happy coincidence, he's working on a movie now! He'd just returned from a week of 'movie work' and after getting a few things done at home he was going out for another couple weeks. I even got to look at and page through an honest to goodness real movie script!
Here's some of what I learned:
When there is a scene with horses running hard (whether ridden or loose), is the ground checked beforehand for hazards and to see if it is 'good ground' for work at speed?
That is part of the wrangler's job. They check the ground and make sure it is safe both for the actors and the horses. They make sure it isn't too soft nor too hard. Also most movie horses only run for a very short distance and then the film is looped so it appears they run for a longer distance.
What about a scene where there is, for example, a herd of 'wild' horses running and you see one fall. Is that just an accident that was caught on film and looks good so was put into the movie or was that planned?
That is planned, although it may also happen by accident... just as your own horse may take a tumble running around in its pasture. However horses are still tripped for movies. It is much more humane than it was years ago but it is still done.
A few more things:
Blind driving - in the movie MT is working on right now there is a scene where they need to make it look the team is out of control and running away. As MT says "you just can't turn an actor loose with a team in a dead run!"
So MT is laying in the box of the wagon, just behind the seat, covered by a tarp. There are tiny holes in the front of the wagon box with cables that run up and attach to the crosschecks. MT drives the team with the cables while the actor holds the lines. (I always wondered why there often seems to be a tarp in the wagon! lol)
Hot, sweaty horses - using the above runaway wagon team as an example... how often do you see a movie horses covered in white, frothy sweat? Well that is equine movie makeup. To make the wagon team look like they'd ran hard, and for quite awhile, they had to get them sweaty. In reality there were two takes with the team actually running hard. Both of those were 100-150 feet. My horse is fat and out of shape and even he wouldn't have been that foamy! lol
To get that sweated up look they put Mane & Tail on the horses, mixed with a bit of water so its a but sudsy and voila! Hot, sweaty horse! This team also had the foamed up mouth look. To get that vitamins (C I believe) were mixed with water and the foam was applied around their mouths.
Those western brawls - Most movie horses are pretty used to the commotion on a set. But there are times when it may be just a bit TOO much. For example those fight scenes that take place right around the horses? You know, where the actors practically roll right under the horses... the horses have a little help staying that relaxed. They are doped so they don't hurt anyone or freak out.
So there you have it folks... a little glimpse inside the magic of movies!
ps - all that whinnying? Usually added after for effect or 'character'. Movie horses usually aren't any more vocal than our own horses.