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The History of Horses in Movies: From Silver to Seabiscuit

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As a horse lover and a movie buff, I have always been fascinated by the role horses play in the film industry. From Silver, the legendary horse from the Lone Ranger series, to Seabiscuit, the racehorse who captured the nation’s hearts, horses have played a crucial role in the movies.

As I delved deeper into this topic, I realized that the history of horses in movies reflects the changing tastes of audiences and our relationship with animals. From the earliest days of cinema, horses have been our partners, our heroes, and our inspiration, and I believe that they will continue to be so for many years to come.

In this blog post, I will take you on a journey through the history of horses in movies. We will explore the early days of cinema, the Golden Age of Hollywood, the rise of the equine hero, and the modern era. We will also look at some of the most iconic horses in movies and their lasting impact on audiences worldwide.

Horses in the early days of cinema

Riders of the Purple Sage poster

The early days of cinema were an exciting time for filmmakers and audiences alike. As motion picture technology was still in its infancy, filmmakers were experimenting with different ways to use the medium to tell stories.

One of the most prominent features of early cinema was the use of horses. Horses were used in many ways in the earliest films, from pulling carriages and stagecoaches to performing daring stunts and providing transportation for the characters.

Horses were considered an essential element in filmmaking, and filmmakers took great care to ensure that the equine performers were well taken care of. They were often treated as part of the cast and crew and were even assigned special handlers.

This attention to detail helped to create a sense of realism in the early films and made the horses an important part of the storytelling process. As the silent era progressed, filmmakers began experimenting with using horses as characters in their films.

The first horse star to emerge was Silver, the trusty steed of the Lone Ranger. Silver was a key element of the popular radio and TV series, and his popularity transcended to movies as well. Silver’s on-screen performances helped to establish the horse as an important character in movies and paved the way for other equine actors.

What made the Lone Ranger’s horse special?

Silver, the horse that played the trusty steed of the Lone Ranger, was special for several reasons, but primarily for his versatility. Silver was trained to perform different stunts and tricks and could convey emotions on screen. This made him the perfect horse to play the character of the Lone Ranger’s loyal companion.

Another reason why Silver was special was his relationship with the actor who played the Lone Ranger, Clayton Moore. The two had a strong bond and worked together on multiple projects, which helped to create a sense of continuity and realism in the performances.

Their on-screen chemistry contributed to the popularity of the series and made Silver a beloved character to audiences. Silver’s physical appearance also contributed to his popularity.

He was a white stallion with a distinctive long mane and tail, making him very easy to spot. His beauty and elegance helped to add an extra layer of mystique and appeal to the character of the Lone Ranger and to his performances.

In summary, Silver’s versatility as an actor, strong bond with the Lone Ranger actor, striking physical appearance, and timeliness of the series all contributed to making him special.

Picture of Trigger, one of the most famous horses in movies.
born1945, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Horse and The Golden Age of Hollywood

During Hollywood’s Golden Age, which generally spans the 1930s to the 1950s, horses were a staple of many genres of films, particularly Westerns. In this era, horses were becoming as famous as their human co-stars.

One of the most famous horses from this era was Trigger, who appeared in many of Roy Rogers’ films and television shows. Trigger was a beautiful golden palomino stallion with a distinctive white blaze on his face. He was trained to perform stunts and was even known for being able to “count” and “write” by tapping his hoof.

Trigger’s popularity was such that he was sometimes referred to as “the smartest horse in the movies” and could command top billing and steal scenes from his human co-stars. He became a cultural icon, and his popularity helped establish Roy Rogers as one of the era’s biggest stars.

Other famous horses from this era include Hopalong Cassidy’s horse Topper and the “Wonder Horse” of Gene Autry, Champion. These horses achieved fame and popularity in their own right, thanks to their on-screen performances and ability to connect with audiences.

During the Golden Age, horses were an integral part of the film industry. Their performances were an integral part of the storytelling process, adding a sense of realism and excitement to the movies. And many of them, like Trigger, became cultural icons that are remembered and celebrated today.

National Velvet LIFE 1945
National Velvet

The rise of Hero Horses

Horses began to take on leading roles in movies with films like National Velvet and Black Beauty, both released in the 1940s. These films were based on popular novels and told the stories of young girls who form deep emotional bonds with their horses.

The films portrayed horses as intelligent and empathetic animals capable of understanding and responding to human emotions.

National Velvet, which stars Elizabeth Taylor, follows the story of a young girl named Velvet who, with the help of her horse, a retired racehorse named The Pie, competes in the Grand National steeplechase.

The film portrayed horses in a very positive light, highlighting their beauty, grace, and intelligence, making it a beloved family classic.

Similarly, Black Beauty was a film adaptation of Anna Sewell’s classic novel of the same name, which tells the story of a horse who is passed from owner to owner, experiencing both cruelty and kindness before finding a loving home.

The film, like the book, emphasizes the bond between horses and humans and how horses can change people’s lives. Both of these films helped change how horses were perceived by audiences.

By portraying horses as complex, multidimensional characters, these films helped to create a deeper appreciation for horses and a more nuanced understanding of the human-horse relationship.

These films also paved the way for other horse-centered stories that would be produced in the following years, which would continue to change how horses were viewed and perceived by the public.

holsteiner.horse

Horses in Movies During the Modern Era

In modern movies, horses are used in varied ways, from realistic dramas to fantastical epic films. One of the most notable examples of a horse-centered film in recent years is the 2003 film Seabiscuit.

The film tells the story of the underdog racehorse Seabiscuit and his journey to becoming one of the greatest thoroughbreds of all time. The film used real racehorses to portray Seabiscuit and the other racehorses, and the equine actors were a key part of the film’s success.

The film was both a commercial and critical success, and it helped to revitalize interest in horse racing and the sport’s history. Another example of successful horse-centered films from recent years is the Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit.

These films use a mixture of real horses and computer-generated imagery to create the giant war-horses of Rohan and the terrifying Nazgul’s steeds. The films also use real horses to portray other horse breeds in Middle-earth.

These films, which are based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novels, were critically acclaimed and commercially successful. The horses played an important role in the film’s storytelling and the creation of the fantastical world of Middle-earth.

In addition to feature films, horses have also continued to play an important role in television. For example, in the popular fantasy series Game of Thrones, horses are used extensively in real-life filming and through CGI to portray the horses of different factions, such as the Night King’s dead horses and the Dothraki horses.

The use of horses helped create a sense of realism and authenticity, making the series’ fantasy world feel more real to audiences. Horses continue to be an important element in modern movies and television shows.

Their beauty, grace, and versatility make them well-suited to a wide range of roles, from realistic dramas to fantastical epics. Their performances continue to captivate audiences and play an important role in storytelling.

As technology evolves, horses in movies are increasingly utilized through computer-generated imagery and motion capture, but real horses continue to be valued for their performance and the sense of realism they bring on screen.

horse.barns edited

Conclusion

In conclusion, the history of horses in movies is a long and varied one, marked by the contributions of iconic equine performers and the use of horses to tell stories that resonate with audiences of all ages.

From the earliest days of cinema, horses have been used to transport characters and perform stunts, and their performances have added a sense of realism and excitement to films.

During Hollywood’s Golden Age, horses were not only used for their practical purpose but were also given starring roles, with some horses becoming as famous as their human co-stars.

The films of this era, such as those featuring Trigger, helped to establish the horse as an important element of filmmaking and set the stage for the many iconic equine performances that would follow in the years to come.

In the 1940s, films such as National Velvet and Black Beauty helped to change the way horses were perceived by audiences by portraying them as sentient, emotional creatures, which helped to create a deeper appreciation for horses and a more nuanced understanding of the human-horse relationship.

In modern movies, horses are used in many ways and are still considered important in film-making. Whether in realistic dramas, such as Seabiscuit, or fantastical epic films like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the continued importance of horses in film can be seen.

The versatility of horses makes them well-suited to a wide range of roles, and their performances continue to captivate audiences and play an important role in the storytelling process. Horses have played a crucial role in the film industry, and they will continue to do so for many years to come.

Check out my favorite horse racing movies.