Once Upon a Time is a TV show that centres around real-life fairy tales and features such characters as Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin), Prince Charming (Josh Dallas) and their daughter, Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison). Many of Disney’s fairy tales – classic and current – intertwine throughout all six seasons. One of the most wonderful things about the show is the horses – I had the chance to chat with Jamie Payton, the show’s horse wrangler.
1. What exactly does a horse wrangler do?
We get a script; we break it down, or they break it down for us, and we get the animal breakdowns. We supply all the horses or wagons; or specialty horses they ask for on the show. They’ll ask for different colours or different breeds of horses. Like we have Prince Charming’s horse which is an Andalusian, and then we have the Evil Queen’s carriage horses which is a four-up that we have – there’s four horses driving the Evil Queen’s carriage – and those are Friesians, and they’re all black. The Evil Queen’s horses are also all black. So, it all depends on the different characters that are needing different horses, and on different shows.
2. How did you get involved in horses?
I’ve been in horses every since I was a little baby. My parents bought and sold Western stores when I was younger. A guy by the name of John Scott put me in the movie business; my first show was when I was 12 years old, I worked on a show called Harry Tracy, Desperado. It would’ve been in the 80s, the early 80s. I’m 50 now and I started when I was 12 on that show. Every year he would come back – John Scott – and put me in shows he would have. As I got older, I started driving to shows and locations and started doing it myself. As I grew older, I took over the movie business from John and he has helped me. To this day he’s still a good friend, we talk on a daily basis. If I need more livestock or more wagons or stage coaches I get them from John or if he’s got movies coming out to the coast he phones me and puts me on to them.
3. John Scott was involved in Heartland also, wasn’t he?
John Scott has done Heartland, he’s done Hell on Wheels, me and John did Night at the Museum 1, 2 and 3; we did the Revenant, we’ve done Dudley Do Right together, we’ve done Eragon together, we’ve done a lot of shows over the years as I grew up. As I said, John put me in there, stayed with me all the way through … now all I do is movies.
4. Has there been any specific horse in your life that has stood out to you?
I’ve got three or four good horses that I’ve had for a long time. That one horse that is smart, the Night of the Museum horse that I’ve had for a long time. He’s and Andalusian horse that I call Paradigm. He’s a very particular horse. But I have several horses and every horse has a different character. They’re all different to me, they’re all my buddies and I live with them all the time, I look after them all the time. Some I use more than others, some are main cast horses that they like to use, they’ve got the right colour, the right breed. I’m on three shows right now: When Calls the Heart, Timeless and Once Upon a Time.
We’ve done Timeless right from 101 to 110 – 111 will be another gentleman that’s going to do it.
5. Tell us about where your horses are located.
I base myself out of a Western town called Jamestown that I built. It’s right in Langley, part of Langley. I was raised on the coast. I also have another place in Kamloops where I base all my horses out of. I bring them down to work out of Jamestown – I set it up as a big Western town. I also have a big stable there where the horses live.
Like today, I just got wrapped off set and I’m loading up with a load of horses that we don’t need this week and we’ll go to my Kamloops place. I’ve got a big place there, 125 acres where I keep all the movie horses. I also lease another big ranch with about 500 head of cows – that’s 50,000 acres. I turn all my horses in the winter time that I’m not using – I turn them out on the big ranch.
6. Tell us about working with the horses on Once Upon a Time. What have you most enjoyed?
I’ve enjoyed the teams of four-ups, the carriages, the Viking stuff. And the actors, Lana [Parrilla, who plays Regina/the Evil Queen] and Jen, I’ve watched them right from the start. I did the pilot, and I’ve been on the show since the first day – when we did the pilot, we didn’t know it was going to be picked up. It was very interesting with the horses, what the actors learn, with the actors and the horses coming along, all the different things we’ve done on that show … we’ve done a lot of different stuff.
7. Do you have any behind-the-scenes stories you can share?
Not really. There’s not much behind-the-scene stuff … Lana’s good with the Evil Queen, she enjoys the kids, I’d bring the kids out to show them the Evil Queen set, when we’ve got the four-up and everything. There have been some days that have been very, very cold … and wet. Those are the rough days behind set, but you never see them … on screen, you think it looks good, but she’s cold. Those are the days that are long.
There was a good behind-the-scenes on episode 6×03 I think it was, when Lana the Evil Queen comes in and kills the girl’s horse – Paradigm, the white Andalusian – was acting, he just loves the camera – we had laid him in the stall and she comes in and gives him a spell – the horse put his head right up to the Evil Queen and then gasped for air, and then dropped back down to the ground and stuck his tongue out. I had to look at him twice – and thought what the heck? Lana looked over at me and she goes, is he okay? This horse loves acting so well … everything he does in front of the camera, it’s amazing.
Every time I show people pictures of that horse, they thought he was dead, that’s how well he played it.
8. What has been the most difficult scene to set up? The most fun to do?
Probably the Evil Queen, the running stuff with the four-up – the four and two. Setting them up to run up and down the street, run up at a full run and we’d have those running, trying to set the cameras, trying to get all that put together, that was the most difficult.
We’ve had a couple of other different scenes, a carriage team one where he told the riders to leave … basically the carriage horses decided to leave with the riders. That was kind of different because we had a guy laying down in the wagon but it was too hard and the horses decided to turn around. Nobody got hurt but it was different. Very difficult to do.
9. What do you think the horses of Once Upon a Time add to the show?
I think it adds character to the show, it’s different. I wish they had a lot more horses, but I’m not the guy that writes it. I think it brings character – you see Prince Charming on his horse, coming down the street. When you see the Evil Queen, everybody knows it’s the Evil Queen with her carriage. She’s got black, and then she’s got the bad ass black carriage – she looks mean. I think it just adds a lot of character to the show.
10. What’s the funniest thing to ever happen on set the horses?
The horses nudging, again with Paradigm, nudging the actors when they want to act, pushing the actors around a little bit … it’s not a good thing, but sometimes it’s just the bad timing of the actor having something in their hand they’re eating, the horse pushes them over, y’know with their head, to get their attention … that’s kind of the funniest thing that’s ever happened.
Once Upon a Time airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.