Wrangler Ed Dabney has supplied many horses to the film industry, including the hit Fox-TV show Sleepy Hollow. In this week’s Star Crossed Horses Ed tells us about his horses’ training regimen and what it takes to be an equine“star.”
1. How many horses do you have that have appeared in film?
2. What notable shows, etc., have they appeared in?
Fox-TV Sleepy Hollow, seasons 2 and 3; Fox-TV Making History; PBS – Untamed Legacy; PBS – We Shall Remain; Columbia Pictures – The Patriot; Warner Bros. – The Postman; TNT – Gettysburg; Columbia Pictures – Geronimo; TNT – Crazy Horse; ABC TV – North and South; ABC TV – Class of ’61; and various commercials and music video.
3. What sort of special training do your horses have?
The horses we choose for film work must have a quiet disposition and willing attitude. Our training starts with a good foundation of fundamental riding skills then we proceed to more advanced training in varied terrain and negotiating obstacles. We do lots of desensitizing with them by exposing them to every crazy thing they might encounter on a film set such as a variety of noises, flashing lights, fireworks, explosions, gunfire, crowds of people and equipment, urban environments, smoke, fire, vehicles, etc.
4. Do any of your film horses receive special treatment? (i.e. feed, exercise, etc.)
As any horse should, our film horses receive the best of nutrition, medical, dental and farrier care, massage therapy and chiropractic treatments when needed, regular exercise and 24-hour turn out in pastures. Just before filming a scene they get the full “spa” treatment of bath and shampoo.
5. Do your horses “specialize” in any certain types of film?
Our horses have done all sorts of films, but mostly historic films set around the American Revolutionary War, Civil War and Indian War periods.
Some of our horses have special skills such as liberty work and rearing up on cue.
6. Do you have any behind the scenes or funny stories about your horses related to filming?
All the crew members on a film set seem to enjoy having the horses on set. The presence of horses adds an extra spark and excitement to any film set. The crew all want to come over to the horses and pet on them. They want to know all about the horses as far as their names, ages, etc. Our horses are very friendly and enjoy the extra attention.
During the filming of The Patriot, I was asked if I had a horse that would jump over a bomb as it explodes during a cavalry charge battle scene. I had an amazing Quarter Horse/Thoroughbred gelding, named Boone, that would do anything and go anywhere I asked. Boone had lots of heart and courage. The “bomb” was a ground charge made of detonation cord in a large steel bowl which is buried at ground level. It is electrically wired to an offset control device that a technician would use to detonate the charge. On top of the detonation cord is placed peat moss and pieces of cork. When it is detonated, the peat moss and cork files up in the air to look like earth exploding. During the filming I was riding Boone as he flawlessly jumped over the bomb just as it was detonated under his belly while he was in the air over it. We were momentarily engulfed in a cloud of peat moss and cork. Boone was not disturbed at all as he galloped on into the cavalry charge. After the scene it took quite a while to clean all the peat moss off Boone and myself!
7. What are you most proud of with regard to your horses?
Our horses seem to enjoy the challenge of film work. They work hard but are always willing and ready to perform. You can literally see their expression change and they know they are “on” when they are in front of the cameras and they hear the director giving orders.
8. Tell us about training regimen; how often do you work with your horses?
Once a horse’s early fundamental training is completed we continue to work with them a few times a week to keep them tuned up and to add new skills.
9. Are your horses appearing in any upcoming shows that you’d like to tell us about?
Our horses are currently appearing on Fox-TV’s popular drama series Sleepy Hollow, which can be viewed on fox.com, Hulu, Netflix and Amazon.
10. Any final thoughts?
Working with horses on a film set is fun but demanding and challenging. Lots of time, equipment, preparation and expertise goes into fulfilling a film commitment with horses. I have been working in the film industry with horses for over 25 years and have been blessed to have had many outstanding film horses that gave great efforts to successfully accomplish some difficult scenes. It is amazing how much horses will do if we take care of them and treat them right. They are wonderful partners!