There is a long history of horses in films and TV, from spaghetti westerns to modern-day classics such as War Horse.
Sometimes, the actors and actresses look as comfortable in the saddle as anyone, whilst with others, their discomfort is plain to see. In some instances, the stars even have stunt doubles to perform their riding scenes, such is their inability to effectively control their mount.
In flicks such as Secretariat, a lot of basic handling seemingly goes out the window, whilst other low-budget movies and TV shows often cannot stretch to training riders for prolonged periods of time. With a larger budget, some excellent riding can be taught over time, and some stars are even good enough for experienced riders to spot and commend.
Viggo Mortensen, for instance, has been known to buy his horses after filming and is a well-known equine fan. He even purchased the horse who played Shadowfax in Lord of the Rings, and not for the first time.
"I bought the one [horse] in Lord of the Rings even though I wasn't with him all the time, I just developed a real good friendship with him,” said the star, who played Aragorn. “His name is Eurayus. He kind of came into the movie like the way I did. You know, did not have much preparation and was just thrown in and had to swim, basically. And it was rough on him and it took a while for us to kind of get in sync and for him to be comfortable around the set.”
Jamie Foxx is another star who did not need any training for his role as a rider in Django Unchained, the critically acclaimed Quentin Tarantino movie. Foxx played a freed slave who joins forces with a bounty hunter to rescue his wife, but it is also well-known a member of his own household had a key role too, his horse Cheetah. Django Unchained also starred Christopher Waltz, a Tarantino favorite, and his experiences of riding in movies are a little bit different. He fell and injured his pelvis during the filming of Django Unchained, in complete contrast to Foxx’s experiences.
Waltz is not the only actor to be hurt whilst training or filming. Orlando Bloom broke several ribs on the same set as Viggo Mortensen in Lord of the Rings, tumbling from his mount, Ironically, it was not the fall that did the damage, but the collapsing scale-model of the dwarf Gimli that collapsed on him after he fell!
How proficient a star is on horseback is very much determined by their natural riding skills as much as anything. Whilst it would be possible to train a rider in a couple of weeks, it is not a skill that all can acquire quickly. In the case of Waltz and Bloom, riding may not come naturally, whereas Foxx and Mortensen would have no problem getting roles further down the line which require horse riding.
One rider who did get some training for a role is Gordon Ramsay. The chef-turned star of the silver screen featured in the show Gordon, Gino & Fred: American Road Trip, with one episode titled Brokeback Mountain, according to Foxy Bingo. For that episode, Ramsay trained at an Arizona ranch and despite having never ridden before, went out to do a cattle drive later in the show. Ramsay was not an immediate natural, but his experience did demonstrate that riding at a basic level can be taught, it is only when stars need to get horses to move quickly, or even perform jumps, that real training is required.
Rather ironically, one of the most famous horse riders from film and TV, Clint Eastwood, had a problem with horses. He starred in more than 20 western films, including classics such as Hang ‘Em High and Rawhide, and he rode very well. The problem for Eastwood was that he was allergic to horses, and he is not the only one. Other celebrities allergic to horses include Rachel McAdams, Sandra Bullock, Ellen Pompeo, and, yes, Gordon Ramsay.
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