Monday Minstrel: Horses in Western Movies.

John Wayne and Dean Martin riding in a scene from ‘The Sons of Katie Elder’, 1965

Horses have appeared in many genres of film from the beginnings of the film industry, in historical films (such as Ben Hur and El Cid) and even in films about famous horses (such as Seabiscuit and Phar Lap), but they have been essential to Westerns ever since the first, The Great Train Robbery (1903). Many of these early Westerns required horses to perform stunts that could seriously injure or kill the animals;they were treated as disposable extras. Horses were regularly filmed falling to the ground thanks to trip wires, holes in the ground and other dangerous practices. These reached a head in the filming of  Jesse James in 1939. To film a scene of a horse plunging over a cliff into water , the horse was put on a slippery platform that tilted so the animal went over the cliff and died. Following public outrage, the American Humane Association was given the right to set safety guidelines and monitor how animals were treated on sets. From 1966 to 1980 due to legal issues the American Humane Society lost some of its rights, but they were reinstated after a horse was killed due to unsafe explosives in the filming of  Heaven’s Gate.  Today horses are either trained to fall safely or perform a suitable stunt, although anything too dangerous can be achieved with an animatronic  horse.”  ——-Excerpt from ‘The Horse Book” by Kathleen Walker-Meikle.


Just as a side note to this Heaven’s Gate is renowned as  a hugely expensive disaster costing many millions and was a total box office failure. But if any good came of it the death of the poor horse brought back regulations and oversight for horses and other animals in the making of films. Now you can see, in the film credits, that any animals used were treated humanely and not put at risk.


10 responses to “Monday Minstrel: Horses in Western Movies.”

  1. Miss A Avatar

    I always had a little dream to become a cowboy (girl). Watching western movies as a little girl , I could never care less about the actual movie.. I was only watching the beautiful horses.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      I was the same!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. raynotbradbury Avatar

    I love western 🙂 and also I hope that horses who r working in movies getting the best “time” when they r older too…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Emma Cownie Avatar

    I was never happy watching Westerns where the horses suddenly fell, I could never be sure if they were trained to fall or had wired on their legs pulling them down. Cruelty in film-making is still an issue, not just with horses but also dogs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      I agree. I do think that now the humane associations are on set to look out for the animals welfare but it is still a very unnatural process for any animal.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. iScriblr Avatar

    Enjoyable read!😀

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Lizzy Avatar

    I always enjoy your Monday Minstrel insights, Anne!!! (: (:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      I’m so glad to hear that Lizzy! Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Judy Avatar

    Every time I watch a western, I think the horses are the hardest working performers on the screen and weren’t paid nearly enough.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      You are right. I wonder what it was like in the real life Wild West. As horses were the only method of transport they were pretty valuable and i think they may have been treated better than the horse ‘extras’ in the movies.

      Liked by 1 person

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