By: Ashley Kath-Bilsky
Anyone who knows me, knows that I LOVE horses. Growing up near Saratoga Race Track in Upstate New York, it would be impossible for me not to love horses. So, not surprisingly, I have also always loved reading about them in books, and watching them on film.
Where would The Lone Ranger be without Silver? Who can think of Roy Rogers without Trigger? Or, Buttercup when Dale Evans rode into view?
These beautiful, smart, trusty steeds of our favorite heroes (and heroines) were just as famous and beloved as the actor who portrayed their owner(s). In fact, many of them received their own fan mail. Not to mention the parade of toys and other merchandise made in their image.
Very often when watching old westerns, I find myself studying the horses used for each character. I notice the relationship between the actor and the horse. In particular, when a television series has a lengthy run, you cannot help but witness the friendship and trust that develops over time.
As a writer, I also think it is important to focus on the relationship between the horse and rider, and to establish a close, trusting bond that will resonate with the reader.
My post last month about actor Dan Blocker and Bonanza, caused me to think about the beautiful horses on that series, and other shows as well. Did the actor have any say about what horse they wanted to use? Did the studios have their own stables? If the actor was a proficient rider, did they own the horse they used? If not, what happened to the horse after filming ended?
So, today I want to share with you some of the information I have learned.
Beginning in 1912 with Pathe Films westerns, Fat Jones Stables was the ‘go to’ source for horses, cattle, western gear, and most of the wagons and carriages a production needed.
Located in North Hollywood, the thriving business was owned and operated by Clarence Young ‘Fat’ Jones [pictured left].
It is important to note that Jones believed it key to partner the right horse with the right actor, especially if that actor was a novice rider. Actors had to feel comfortable with the animal, and vice versa.
LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT
In 1959, actor Lorne Greene accompanied the producer of Bonanza to Fat Jones Stables to select the horse Ben Cartwright would ride. One horse caught his eye, understandably so. Standing 15.1 hands high, weighing 1,100 pounds, Dunny Waggoner was cast as Buck. Not only was the shortened name easier to say and remember on camera, but it paid homage to his color. A true buckskin horse, his body was tan but his legs, mane and tail were black.
At the time Greene first met and secured Buck to be Ben Cartwright’s horse, the animal was 12 years old. By the time the series ended in 1972, Fat Jones Stables had closed and sold off their stock. Greene had come to love the horse so much he worried what would happen to his then 25-year old friend. Much like what one would expect of Ben Cartwright, Greene purchased Buck and then donated him to the Fran Joswick Therapeutic Riding Center for physically and/or mentally challenged children. Needless to say, the children loved their gentle, therapeutic riding horse. As for Buck, he died in 1992 at the age of 45.
A BIG MAN NEEDS A BIG HORSE
Half-quarter-horse, half thoroughbred, Chub was a handsome dark brown, almost black horse with three white socks and a memorable white streak on his sweet face. Dan Blocker reportedly loved the steady, gentle Chub. Indeed, the horse was so reliable and of such good temperament, that although Blocker died before the series ended, Chub remained with Bonanza for the remainder of the series.
Tragically, in 1964, Cochise was attacked when an monstrous intruder “broke into the Fat Jones Stables” one night and ruthlessly stabbed Cochise, as well as several other horses. Although some of the horses were saved, Cochise had to be euthanized.
Understandably, Landon was angry and distraught. He offered a reward to find the killer of Cochise, but the villain was never found.
I am reminded of one episode in particular where Ben Cartwright surprises Joe with a beautiful black stallion on his birthday. The episode titled ‘Stallion’ is so touching in its portrayal of Joe’s love for this beautiful animal, and how devastated he is when the stallion dies. I could not help but wonder (as I watched in tears) if... in that scene...Michael Landon was remembering the death of his original Cochise.
In every episode I saw with Little Joe and the original Cochise, they were buddies and clearly had such a close relationship that it was written into the script. More than any other character on Bonanza, Joe had conversations (albeit one-sided) with Cochise, who always seemed to be listening attentively. That horse loved him, and clearly he loved Cochise. There is a sweet tribute video to their relationship on YouTube that captures some special moments between them. Here is the link if you are interested: https://youtu.be/-Rzi2xrksZ8
NOT THE RIGHT STUFF
At the Fat Jones Stables, Roberts chose a horse named Candy. However, during filming of the show’s pilot, the horse misbehaved so badly it had to be replaced immediately. The next horse, Beauty, proved uncooperative as well.
Considering Fat Jones Stables had been in business since 1912 providing just the right horse with the right rider, it seems odd to me that both horses did not work out with Roberts. Horses are intuitive and intelligent, and as rental riding horses used in the film industry they should not have been difficult on set. Mind you, producers were still trying to film the pilot for the series and needed a horse for Adam.
In 1962, while filming an episode titled ‘The Dowry’, Blocker was riding behind Roberts on a descending path when Sport stumbled in some mud and fell. Following closely, Blocker’s horse, Chub, started to fall as well. Both actors rightly jumped off the horses. The horses were fine, but both actors were taken to the hospital. Roberts fell onto his back, but was not seriously injured. Unfortunately, Blocker broke his collarbone. The remaining episodes of Season 3 show Hoss in a sling.
A month later, however, Sport started misbehaving and tossing his head so badly he was also replaced. A lookalike horse was then cast for the duration of Pernell’s tenure with Bonanza.
Unlike Pernell Roberts’ difficult experience with horses on Bonanza, many actors developed great, long-lasting friendships with the horses they used on film.
It is interesting to note how often you will see an actor using what looks like the same horse he used in another film. One of my favorite examples is Pie, the sorrel horse actor James Stewart rode in 22 films. [Pictured: James Stewart with Pie]
Thank you for stopping by today. I hope you enjoyed this post, and are having a wonderful weekend.
The next time you read or watch your favorite western (or any film where horses are used), pay attention to the trusty steeds. Never underestimate their importance to the story, their rider, or their influence on the audience. They are very important supporting characters, often integral to the plot, and a much loved friend. ~ AKB
For more information about Ashley Kath-Bilsky and her writing, please visit her website at: www.ashleykathbilsky.com .