Storm might not be the flashiest gal on camera, but she’s a hard worker. At 27, she’s been around the block a few times and thanks to her know-how, she’s a favourite of her costars.
A solid black, 15-hand Saddlebred/Haflinger, Storm has appeared in countless film projects including movies, TV series, commercials and music videos. She is perfect for actors, wranglers and stunt people alike, no matter what their equine experience level. And she’s versatile. She can jump, pull a carriage, work around other animals, travels any terrain, doesn’t mind people hanging off her side and being (fake) shot off her back. She can also do tricks such as say yes, no, smile, shake hands, neigh and rear on request.
While she isn’t the most majestic stunt horse in owner MarieBeth Young’s herd, Storm is confident, a quality that makes her an extremely safe bet on usually hectic film sets.
“With some of the more submissive horses it’s a lot harder to train them to get used to the bombs and the fires and animals, tons of people and cameras, things right over their heads and squeezing through tiny spaces,” says Young. “She’s not a timid horse, so she’s always been excellent with that. I’ve been able to take her anywhere – indoors, up to trains. She’s met moose, bears, cougars. We’ve had bombs go off about twelve feet away and you could literally hold her with a thread.”
Based in Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON, Young has about 20 horses she provides for film projects. Of those, five are stunt trained, including Storm. Young is co-owner of Steel & Steed, a company which specializes in fight and stunt development and coordination. On the “steed” side of things, she and her business partner Justin Moses provide horses and wranglers for tricks, mounted combat and stunts. They also teach actors and stunt people everything from basic riding skills to specialized skills involving swords, spears, axe throwing, archery, firearms, and learning how to fall safely – and even how to pick up other actors from the ground while astride.
Storm is particularly good at reading what type of rider is on her back. “I can put completely inexperienced actors on her, and she will not put a foot wrong,” Young notes. In fact, to the mare’s credit, if her rider doesn’t know the correct aids or cues, she simply won’t move, or she’ll mosey back to Young. “Other animals, they’ll do exactly what they’re told. But the problem with an inexperienced rider kicking the horse, now you’ve got a horse running through the scene uncontrolled.”
Any mounted activity on set other than standing or walking is defined as a stunt, according to Steel & Steed’s terms of agreement. “If you want her to be used as a stunt horse, it has to be a stunt rider, because they have to be confident or she won’t do it. Then, when they say action, you better hang on.”
Young herself usually rides Storm in more intricate scenes requiring an equestrian finesse that has developed over their nearly three-decade-long partnership, which began when the horse was only two days old. “I took her everywhere and did everything we could – riding, driving, cattle, firearms, I’ve hooked her up to all different wagons, side-saddle.” Before entering the film world about six years ago, the pair also performed in live events such as parades, store grand openings and business promotions. “We’re very in tune.”
As most people in film and TV will acknowledge, there’s a lot of waiting around involved in their craft. This doesn’t bother Storm in the least. She’ll just snooze either under saddle with a rider up top or tied somewhere in the background until she’s required. But, laughs Young, as soon as she hears the word action, her head pops up and she waits for a command.
While on set, she’s always perfectly behaved, but at home it’s a different story. The leader of the herd is “quite grumpy and snarls at the other horses,” squealing and stomping if she’s displeased. “And yet,” adds her owner, “I can put a five- or six-year-old child on her and she won’t put a foot wrong.”
Just a few of the recent projects in which Storm has appeared include: the feature films Black Gold and The Black Donnellys; the History Channel’s docudrama 100 Days to Victory about the end of the First World War; an award-winning SickKids hospital commercial (watch here); and a music video for Toronto rap band Swamp Thing’s song ‘Hot Molten‘. Coming soon, you will also be able to see her in a Netflix series called Age of Samurai: Battle for Japan, which is described as a real-life Game of Thrones.
“You name it, and this tiny little mare can do it,” says Young.