May 24, 2018
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‘Stunt’ horses in movies insult intelligence of equine lovers

By Cassie Elia, Special to the BDN

Recently, I whined to some friends about a movie I watched in which it was very clear that a “stunt” horse was used as a fill-in for a main character’s horse. This is not a new complaint of mine.

In nearly every movie or TV program which has horses in the cast, I can spot errors that, to me, are blatantly obvious. It makes me wonder if the general public catches the gaffes as well. There are websites devoted to general movie goofs. When I read through the examples, it is rare that there is something mentioned that I have also noticed. But give me a movie with a horse in it and I become predatorlike in my hunt for a blunder. It’s in there, and I know it’s coming.

Do movie producers think we won’t notice? We, being people that can tell a palomino from a pinto. If Johnny Depp were starring in a movie and he was replaced, for one scene, by Adam Sandler, people would notice. Just because they have the same color hair, does not make one a good replacement for the other.

When I voiced my complaint, I heard from other horse aficionados about their own observances. In horse movies, there are horses that appear and “die” in two or more battle scenes. There are different horses substituted for the main horse in different scenes depending on what is required. There will be a running horse, a falling down/sick/injured horse, a standing-still horse and an interacting-with-a-human-character horse all played by different horses but representing the same character. There will be tack and equipment changes or inaccuracies.

Horses will squeal, whinny or snort through some act of ventriloquism because clearly the acting horse has not uttered a sound. One breed of horse will be substituted for another. Most blatant of all is using a horse of the opposite gender to represent a character.

People not so familiar with horses may ask, “How can you tell?” Other than the gender issue, there are many identifiable traits belonging to particular horses that make them distinguishable from one another. Some horses’ manes hang to the right side of their necks and others to the left. They all have unique white face and leg markings.

Then there is the general conformation of the horse to consider. In the movie that started this tirade, the cavalry horse that started the scene was a gorgeous beast — black with arched neck and rippling muscles. The horse was commanded by his officer to lie down and provide a shield against the enemies’ fire. After the fight, the horse rose up and was a completely different creature. Same hair color, but the horse that went down was Dwayne Johnson (“The Rock”), and the horse that rose up was Steve Buscemi.

These kind of mistakes make me feel as though the movie director doesn’t respect our intelligence enough to bother trying to match (or in the battle scene cases, to not match) the horses well enough. This is different than a movie adaption of a story varying from the literary version. I think we’ve all come to expect that now. Just don’t try to sell me a gelding as the Black Stallion’s girlfriend.

So when the weather outside is frightful, and I can’t go riding, I may pop in a movie to pass the time. But it won’t be a horse movie. Unless Matt Damon is in it too. Then I’ll make an exception.

These things drive me bonkers. So much so that I don’t often watch movies about horses. During one Western movie, starring Mel Gibson, there was a scene of a stagecoach coming off a ferry.

As it did, one of the horses got a front leg hooked over a piece of harness attached to the horse in front of it. As the stagecoach pulled away, this hapless horse hopped three-legged to keep up with the others. I stopped just short of jumping up from my theater seat and shouting “Wait! Stop! One of the horses is stuck!” Natural, though maybe not normal, response.

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