Hi-Yo, Silver! What It Takes to Be a Horse in Disney’s ‘The Lone Ranger’
by Laura Cross
Published on June 19, 2013
Leaping onto a moving train, fleeing from a burning building, galloping through the desert with a handsome and mysterious masked man on his back — those are just a few of the tricks Silver, the Lone Ranger’s trusty white steed, performs in Disney’s new adaptation of The Lone Ranger.
To the average filmgoer, teaching a horse to perform any of these feats might seem incredibly daunting, but stunt and trick sequences are not as hard as they sound. The real challenge, according to Lone Ranger head horse trainer Bobby Lovgren, is far less expected and not quite as exciting: getting the horses to stay still.
“It's really the standing there doing the dialog and not moving, when the horse isn’t doing anything — those are very difficult because it takes a lot of patience from the horse,” Lovgren told Vetstreet. “It’s like having a little kid stand in the corner; it's very difficult.”
Surprised? To find out more about how the horses were trained for Disney's reboot of the iconic Western, Vetstreet went directly to the expert. Lovgren, a horse trainer from South Africa, has been training horses in movies such as Seabiscuit and War Horse for more than 20 years. He dished on the difficulties of finding white thoroughbreds to play Silver and gave us the inside scoop on actors Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer's equestrian skills.
Q: How did you choose the horses for The Lone Ranger?
A: Bobby Lovgren: This is a real different film because it’s with white horses. Before a lot of films we try to find horses with a lot of experience with particular athletic abilities, which makes it much easier to train, but with The Lone Ranger we had to go out and get the color first.
Q: Can you tell if a horse is going to do well on camera?
A: You really don’t know until you’re in that situation. We definitely try to find out a lot about the horses during our preproduction and try to simulate all situations of filming and things like that. But you know, it’s a little different once you go in; you’re under a little bit of pressure and you find out a lot more about them. That’s why we never do a film with only one horse.
Q: How many horses play Silver? Was there a breakout star?
A: We had four main horses for the majority of the time. We did have a few come in for specialty things sometimes. The main horse we used is actually named Silver, and he was named that before the film. I was lucky enough to work with him a few years before the film, and he did a majority of the work.
Q: Do you have any special strategies for motivating the horses during filming?
A: My job is to keep the horses fresh, feeling good, enjoying their job. If they’re not enjoying it, they’re not going to do a good job for you. It's all about finding the horse with the best aptitude for the job at hand and then being able to recognize as a trainer if he can do this so many times or if he can stand still just for so long, and then switch him out.
And we do that constantly.
They have their feed, their hay; everything they need is on my self-contained trailer. So we always keep them happy. Also, we train a little harder during our preproduction, so when we go and film, it’s a little easier.
Q: The Lone Ranger includes gunshots and explosions. How did you keep the horses calm around those loud noises?
A: First of all, you have to find horses that have the right aptitude for stuff like that. If they don’t have a little bit of aptitude for it, you’re not going to change that, and that goes with whatever it might be, whether it's jumping, athletic ability or anything — they’re all related, to me. For loud noises we use cotton balls for their ears and things like that. If it’s still too loud, we’ll use a sound effect and enhance it after the fact. So there are ways around it, but the majority of the time we can train for it or cheat our way through it.
Q: Were you involved in teaching the actors how to ride and interact with the horses?
A: That is all done during preproduction, and it’s really a team effort. The actors have to understand and be able to work with the horse as well as I do. The actors were really great, and they were there all the time during preproduction, working with us.
Q: So who’s a better horseback rider: Johnny Depp (Tonto) or Armie Hammer (the Lone Ranger)?
A: They both did great. They, of course, both had to do different things in the film. Armie rode a little more, but Johnny had to do more work on the ground, interacting with Scout and the other horses. I think they both had very challenging jobs to do with the horses, and they both put the time in during preproduction, so you’re really going to tell when you see the film.
Disney’s The Lone Ranger, starring Armie Hammer as the title character and Johnny Depp as Tonto, opens in theaters nationwide on July 3.
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