Sophie Bolen is a young American actress who has an equestrian background and has starred in a few horse films, including most recently, The Horse Dancer, which is now available from Canadian Netflix.
1. For those who haven’t seen The Horse Dancer, please tell us about the film and the role that you play.
The Horse Dancer is about a gymnast who is competing to be in the Olympics; she’s a teenager, her name is Samantha Wick. Not everything goes as planned, how she wants it all to turn out. She has a great relationship with her grandma. Her grandma recognizes that she’s had a love of horses her whole life, but she’s never really gotten the chance to experience being around a horse. When plans change, her grandma sends her away to Black River Ranch for Girls, and it’s a summer camp – it’s the second in the series of the Horse Camp series – so then you get to see Sam’s story take place and she uses her gymnastics ability at the camp to help resolve some problems and to make a lot of friends along the way. It’s a great story for all ages, especially young horse crazy girls.
2. Other than Rodeo Girl, have you been in any other productions that involved horses?
It’s not out yet, but there’s a movie called A Parent’s Worst Nightmare – that one is a darker tale. I normally do family friendly, upbeat movies with lots of animals and fun stuff going on. This one is a drama and it’s about a girl who gets kidnapped by human traffickers. The story is about her parents looking for her and hiring the detective and what she is going through, and what it’s actually like. It raises awareness for human trafficking, because not a lot of people know what goes on.
We found a little way to tie horses into it. I’m pretty close with the producer/director and he wanted a scene at the beginning of the movie to show that my character, whose name is Alison, that she’s just a regular girl who does regular teenage things, and that her life could be flipped upside down just like that, even though she has a regular safe life.
We tied in a scene of Alison, my character, getting a riding lesson. It seems unexpected to be in that type of movie, but it’s one of the very first scenes. It’s really fun because we arranged it so I got to ride my own horse in it. My horse’s name is Billy; his registered name is Designed by Kid. It was really fun to have my horse be in a movie.
3. How did you get into horses?
My mom spent her whole life training horses; she was riding before that, she had a whole showing career and then she started her training career. She is now a retired Quarter Horse trainer … that was her whole life before she had kids. My brother is eight years older than me; when he was about three or four she decided life on the road – she was hauling tonnes of horses, tonnes of her students along the road – it was just a lot to be a mom and a horse trainer. So she dialled down; she always did lessons here and there, still being in the horse community and the training community. I grew up alongside her going to all her lessons. I would always ride – she’d prop me up on one of her friend’s horses for a lesson.
I really grew up with horses. I started to show in 4-H; I started as a clover bud – I started as young as I could, did all my record books and it was super fun; I still do 4-H to this day. For a while when I was 10 to 12 I showed in the Michigan Quarter Horse circuit. I haven’t had as much time now, being active and going out on auditions. I haven’t had enough time to put into a horse right now, but I still go and hang out at the barn as much as I can whenever I have free time from acting. Horses are a really big part of my life and I still am in 4-H and am getting ready to go for this summer.
4. What was the funniest thing to happen during filming that involved horses?
Oh my gosh, there’s tonnes of stories. Well, it’s actually kind of funny because one of the golden rules all producers and directors say is there are two things you should never do in a movie or film/TV; to first, never to work with animals and to second, never work with kids. Both of the movies I’ve been in I’ve been a child actor with horses, and there have been other movies with rabbits and dogs and all kinds of animals.
On Rodeo Girl, the horse we used was Scarlet; her registered name is Hunting in Red. She was actually a friend’s horse. My mom’s been very involved in the horse movies that I’ve been in because producers and directors recognize that she knows what she’s doing after all those years of experience and connections. She actually got the director hooked up with the horse that we used for Rodeo Girl, Scarlet. Scarlet is an Appaloosa and she showed in the Appy circuit. I’m not so much of a fearless rider; I love horses, but I am a little timid around them. I just do the pleasure classes and the horsemanship classes and equitation. I’ve never gone into the gymkhana classes, or barrels, so for this movie, Rodeo Girl, is about racing. I was so terrified the first time I ran around the barrels. Scarlet, she was so trained to lope pretty and go.
I started just loping around the barrels at first – the on-set trainer and her owner were like, “No, kick her, kick her!” Finally at the end of the movie, after being terrified on that first day, I loved barrel racing. I spent so many hours doing it throughout a couple of months of filming; I was kind of addicted and I was like, “Mom, we need to teach my little Quarter pony how to do it!”
For Rodeo Girl – when we were filming in other states for certain scenes it wasn’t really possible to bring Scarlet along so we would find horse doubles. There’s multiple Scarlets in the film. One time we were at Culver Academy in Indiana – they have a huge horse facility. We needed a horse so we went around – they were all gorgeous horses, very well trained – beautiful. The production team had to go find safe paint to use to give the double horse socks and a blaze like Scarlet had. You don’t really notice that, but there are multiple scenes where it’s a different horse, we just had to paint it.
5. Please tell us about the horse(s) that you rode for The Horse Dancer.
The first horse that we used, I think his name was Thunder; he was a really small cute little Paint that was one of the horses at the camp. This horse was so cute, so sweet – my character in the movie, Sam, had never been around a horse in her life so when I was first riding in the first couple of scenes it was so hard – I had to go back to bad habits while riding, because I wasn’t supposed to know how to ride a horse, that was difficult.
We also used this huge, beautiful horse that’s used for vaulting (in the movie Sam uses her gymnastics skills for vaulting) – his name was Charles and he was great. The sweetest horse. He was in a program in a barn called Karen’s Horse Connection. It’s a place to learn how to vault and how to ride; they have a vaulting team. They also do therapy there so this was just the sweetest horse. I was a beginner vaulter, I only had a couple of lessons before the movie – I had a stunt double for the very tricky stuff. I learned how to do just the basics … he was such a patient horse. It was just great. When you were riding him it felt so smooth and I wasn’t scared about standing up or doing any little vaulting tricks on him.
There was also a horse that we used when my character was learning how to vault – a camp horse named Zeb – he was just this old horse – so this was a real camp that we filmed at and most of the horses were actually there. I talked with the kids that had went there before and Zeb was one of their favourites, they actually learned beginning vaulting on him. He was just the sweetest horse.
My mom was trying to find a home for him during the winter; at the camp go away for the winter because it’s Michigan and it gets really snowy. We found some nice barns. Zeb actually passed away before the premiere and everyone was talking about him at the premiere because he was such a good horse. When he came on everyone was, “Aww …” It was so cool that his memory got to stay alive in the movie.
6. What do you enjoy most about working with horses?
There were horses before I discovered acting, which was a whole new passion. My family’s motto is to always find your passion and just pursue what you love. To have two of my earliest passions be my job; that is the best thing ever, to have horses and acting, it’s like a match made in heaven. I’m just so grateful to be able to do three movies with horses. I’m always looking for other movies, always other TV shows – I’m always on it when there’s an audition for a movie. That’s really amazing.
Also, it’s always a cool connecting experience with my mom. She knows what she’s doing – I really look up to her; how she trains, how she interacts with the horse – she loves her horses and that’s her passion in life is how acting is mine. When we’re on set it’s a really cool bonding experience. I love having that time with her and to have a mutual connection.
7. Tell us about your horse.
I always wanted a horse when I was little. His name is Billy – he’s a Quarter Horse. When I got him he was 13. I can’t remember the exact age when I got him, I think he was 10, so he’s getting up there, I think he’s 20s or late teens now. He is just a little cowboy horse. I was a really timid rider at first, but he was patient. I went through many, many years of 4-H showing circuits with him, went to a couple of different barns with him. He just has my heart, and he has my family’s heart.
It’s actually really special because I was totally surprised by the fact – I remember the day so clearly. I was still just a kid and I remembered that I wanted to go to Chuck E Cheese with my friends, the morning that I got Billy. My mom was like, “No, we can’t do that today, we’re going to the barn.” I was so upset, little did I know I was about to get the best gift of a lifetime. We got to the barn and I was so shocked – I had no idea, it was a barn we had never been before – my mom had this whole story planned out how she was going to see her other trainer friend. I literally had no idea that I was about to get him. I love him so much, he’s such a sweet horse.
I don’t have him with me right now – I don’t have the time that he needed and all of the attention and love that he needed, with my acting, we gave him to a family friend and she showed him all around. This girl called Haley – she loved him so much and they did so well together, she was so good with him, to be the best she could be and have fun while doing it. She just got a new horse, so we gave him to another family friend. He still is in the area. I can go see him whenever I want, but now another little girl has him – she actually just got him last week. He’s still ours – we decided we can never sell him, he’s just a once-in-a-lifetime horse, that you can’t let go of. We still own him, but we’re letting other people use him. He’s with another girl right now; I’m so excited to see where they’re journey leads them. She reminds me a lot of myself because she’s little and petite, she loves him so much – I see their videos on Facebook, keep up with whatever they’re doing – my mom goes and talks to them, to keep up with Billy. They just love him. It’s so fun to see another little girl live her dream through him.
8. What has working with horses taught you as an actress?
Working with horses has taught me – it’s really shown me a lot of patience and hard work that goes into it. I’ve only had a stunt double for a couple of very high jumps or competition scenes in very large arenas, so I’ve had stunt doubles for that and for the vaulting. It’s really given me a look into hard work and perseverance. Even though I know how to ride, I still put in extra hours to learn how to do the specific style that the horse is going to be in, like for barrel racing and stuff like that. It has also taught me a lot about overcoming my fears because some of the stuff I wasn’t completely sure of at first; for Rodeo Girl, there are scenes where she’s just running through the woods, running down a dirt path. They are beautiful scenes, but I wasn’t completely sure … when I got up there it was all okay. I really had a connection with the horse by the end of the film – in fact, I actually used Scarlet at the 4-H fair, where I showed her. It was really special. It’s gotten me over a lot of fears. I’m a much more confident rider after doing all those movies.
9. What do you think animals, and horses in particular, add to a production?
So many people have a pet. So many people have a heart for animals … it just adds more of a connection to a film – when you see a really sad movie, like people die in it – but when the horse dies, everyone around is just in tears, everyone feels sad. It’s just a really hard-hitting connection point I think hits a lot of people. With horses, so many little girls dream of having a horse and dream of being able to do that. I remember when I was little, I was obsessed with horse movies – Spirit, I think I watched that movie over and over again in one sitting. I would watch it multiple times, that what my mom tells me. I imagined being that girl, in all the horse movies. When I was little, when I first got interested in acting, I would just sit and watch musical productions – and movies without movie stars – I think it brings out the imagination and the heart in a lot of little girls.
Normally the characters in horse movies are uplifting, encouraging and positive roles – I think parents love that too. To see how to work with an animal, and it teaches people a lot of lessons. It helps them take these lessons to heart.
10. Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to share?
The Horse Dancer came out, because I have a background in musical theatre, I have a song called Hold On, it’s the theme song for the movie so it’s on the soundtrack, and you can hear it in multiple scenes. That is also released as a single. It is released on Amazon, iTunes and Google Music; it’s on on-line streaming. That’s really cool, because that’s the first time I ever dipped my toes in the music industry. It was so cool that I got to tie it into a movie.
I have a small role in a film called Crowning Jules; that just came out recently on DVD. I had a small role in that – the producer is one of the co-producers for Rodeo Girl, so that’s how I got involved in that movie. I also have A Parent’s Worst Nightmare, which should be coming out within the next year – that will go straight to DVD and to some on-line streaming services, like Netflix and Hulu, hopefully, I’m not really 100 per cent sure on that.
I have a lot coming out, my thing is holiday and Christmas movies, and horses. Not even that, Christmas movies and animal movies, are all I’ve ever done. I guess I just have a knack for that. Most of them are out on Netflix right now, and a lot of the holiday ones come out – like the Christmas Bunny and Small Town Santa – they’re always out and it’s getting to be that time of the year again so they should be on Netflix soon.