Jonny Gray, best known for his roles in Max & Shred and Bruno & Boots, is a real-life equestrian – which shows in his casting as Josh Luders in YTV’s Ride. The show is set in England at Covington Academy, an elite riding school. Catch the season finale of Ride on Oct. 6 on YTV.
1. Tell us about growing up with horses. How did you first learn to ride?
I first learned to ride at a farm before we moved out to our farm, when I was a “city boy.” When I was about six years old there was this lady that would always let us ride her horses for free and give us free lessons until we started getting older and more of our family members started to get more interested. Then she kind of like was, ‘Okay, you have four kids that are getting free lessons; you guys need to either look into getting a horse; or you guys can keep on getting lessons for me, but start paying for them.’ So my parents were kinda like, ‘Okay let’s do it, let’s get a horse’ Well, two horses – one for them, and one for the kids. I kind of just grew up on that one horse until I was about seven years old and we moved out to a farm.
As soon as we moved out to the farm, two horses turned into 10 horses; because as we got older we started enjoying riding and then next thing you know we started getting into polo. Once we started playing high-level polo we needed more horses per kid. We were learning polo from our parents – and then we started getting better than our parents. We got a polo teacher for about a year and by then we were about 20 horses deep on our farm. I grew up learning to ride and got the passion through my parents.
2. Do you have a favourite horse to ride?
My favourite horse to ride at my farm, her name is Suede. She was my first polo pony and she is a professional polo horse. So she would just do everything for me I barely had to do any movement and she would just follow the ball. She was quick as lightning and she was the most sound horse we had. You could shoot a gun by this horse’s head and she would just stand there. She would come up to me and lick me. I would call her name in the paddock and she would trot over. I grew up with her so I had this huge chemistry with her. I kind of got too good for her after a while, she was just a little bit too old. I felt bad having to run her really hard up against guys that had really young horses. So I had to stop riding her.
The best horse I’ve ever ridden was when I was on Ride was named Sultan. It was the war horse – the horse that they used for War Horse. It was incredible. I’ve never ridden a horse like that. It knew where you were going literally just by the way you were looking. It could sense where you were looking and it would go there. If you wanted to stop you just had to look on the ground and boom you stopped right on that mark. Just by looking at it. It was almost surreal. This horse was very professional, it was incredible.
3. Do you have any funny behind the scenes stories – regarding horses – from working on Ride?
One of the takes I had to centre the horse on a certain mark and jump off the side. He was kind of getting a little bit antsy and I trotted him out, but he was still a little bit antsy. When I was on the mark the one time he turned and he just took a big dump, right where I was supposed to jump off. Because he turned sideways, they yelled cut, and then he pooped, and I’m like oh crap. They said to go again and he was almost right at his mark so I pulled him back onto his mark facing the camera, said my one line and jumped off right into the manure. I didn’t immediately notice, looked down and that’s when they yelled cut. If I didn’t have boots on I would’ve probably puked. That’s the best story I have. Other than that, they were so professional the entire time.
4. Your horse’s name is Whistler in the show; what’s he like? What breed is he, and what’s his real name?
His name is Sultan;.I do believe he is a Thoroughbred, but I didn’t really ask. He had that Thoroughbred style with a big chest and skinnier, legs but then when it gets up to his thighs he was really solid. I’ve ridden hundreds of horses and I have never ridden a horse like this. It was incredible. If you wanted him to go faster you just had to do a tiny, tiny little squeeze and then boom, he’s right there, right on his canter. His stop to gallop is maybe two strides, and he’s at a dead gallop. It was incredible. When I watched him jump – I’ve never seen a horse jump this high. He was jumping to just below my shoulder and he was clearing it like it was nothing. He’d come out of this slow trot and he’d go over it like he was flying.
5. How is working with horses on film different than riding at home?
It’s very technical. Like you do in acting, you have to hit a mark; in the scenes, the horse is an actor too so he has to hit his mark. He’s a big animal, so it’s hard for them; they’re antsy, they don’t like to just stop and stand in one place for a while. They want to move around and be looking. You have to nail your line to get him on his mark. If you’re in the right place you only have one or two chances before he moves around and then they have to cut again. That was the hard part, the really technical part of it. But honestly, other than that, nothing. They handled it so well. All the doubles looked great, they have the right shots to piece together so it doesn’t look like a double. Other than that little technical thing, I couldn’t find another problem.
6. What’s your favourite thing about working with horses?
My favourite thing about working with horses is it’s how comfortable I am around them and some people they are scared around them and they think they’re these big scary animals. If you really get to know a horse you can feel the personality in it. That’s why I love horses, because they’re just so different. They’re this huge animal you wouldn’t be able to find a chemistry with – you think you wouldn’t be able to – but horses recognize you and once they get to know and they feel more comfortable with you. Just because of their size I find that so satisfying with a horse.
On set I found I could just easily find my connection with Sultan after riding with him and telling him he was a good boy, feeding him treats. He started to warm up to me and we started to work better together. He was more co-operative if I wanted him to stay on his mark perfect or they needed him to shake his head, he wouldn’t be stubborn about it because I was on his back. They’d want him to shake his head and he’d just follow orders.
7. Do you ride outside of filming?
Yes, I do. When I’m home I try to get out once or twice a month. I haven’t ridden at all this month or the last few months just because I’ve been busy. I love going for a nice hack ride and just walking around, or going for a dead gallop – that’s a good way to clear your mind is to get on a horse, tack it up real quick and go for a good ride. Sometimes it’s hard to ride by yourself because horses don’t like riding alone. Especially when the other horses are at the barn. Sometimes you just have to bring another horse, just with a halter and a lead rope. I love riding.
8. How is riding like snowboarding?
Nothing! There is nothing, well, maybe just the balance of sitting up in your saddle, because you need to hold on tight. Maybe leaning … well, not really, because when you’re turning … It’s so much different, because when you’re skiing or snowboarding you’re sideways. You’ve got to open your shoulders up and you’ve still got to keep your balance. You’ve got to keep it low … and it’s all you. When you’re on a horse, you’re not doing anything, it’s all the horse. You could be a really bad rider on a really good horse and look like a good rider; you can’t be a bad rider on a snowboard and look good.
9. Do you have any current projects you’d like to share?
I’m working on another Bruno & Boots movie. We did one last year called Bruno & Boots Go Jump in the Pool. That aired on Nickelodeon and YTV. Currently I’m filming No. 2. That’s the project I’m working on right now. It’s called This Can’t Be Happening at Macdonald Hall and that’s the second one – the other one is called Bruno & Boots: The Wizzle War.
10. Any final thoughts?
No, I don’t think so, that was a great interview. I liked your questions.