Hop a Long Cassidy (William Boyd): I’ll be the first to admit I was not a good horseman when I started the “Hoppy” series. An old stuntman named Trimble worked with me for a long time to improve my riding skills. After a while I managed to ride pretty well but I was never too fond of horses. I ride my horse Topper, chase rustlers and outlaws, shoot my six shooters, and do things that every kid and man in America would want to do.
Jimmy Ellison appeared in the first eight features with Boyd and says: Billy Boyd was not a good rider, and he never claimed to be. One time, we were supposed to come running out of a saloon, get on our horses and race down the street. Eager me—I got carried away, and as I’m making my getaway out of town, I look around, and Bill’s not on his horse, Topper, yet. The director yells, “Cut!” So I go back inside the saloon to try again, and Bill comes up to me and says, ‘Hey kid, for goodness sakes, take it a little slower next time, will you? I’m having a little trouble getting on my *#@** horse’. I felt like a show-off, so during the next take, I fumbled around a bit with my reins and saddle, and we rode out together.
To Boyd’s credit, he kept Topper after the series ended and took care of him until he passed away.
Smiley Burnette (sidekick to many): Sunset Carson once said: Smiley Burnette didn’t own his horse, Ringeye, the one he rode all the time in the movies. It belonged to the studio, and the ring around its eye was just painted on with one of those brushes that come in those little bottles of shoe polish. Smiley rode all over the horse, but he stayed on.
Alan Rocky Lane: Bill Whitney, director: He (Rocky) couldn’t ride worth a **&*. One time, he insisted on doing a croupier mount. I didn’t think he could, but he persisted. The stuntman (Davey Sharpe) said, “Go ahead, let him try!” Well, he came running up behind the horse and jumped, and hit the horse’s rear with his stomach. We all got a big laugh, but it’s a wonder I didn’t get fired. He rode a horse like the saddle was on backwards, and he was sitting on the horn. When asked if Lane were a good rider, Terry Frost said: Are you kidding! He thought he could but he couldn’t ride worth a *&*&. Of course, Rocky thought he was the best at everything. I worked with a lot of cowboys who did ride well but Rocky certainly was not one of them. Yakima Canutt once said: He was a poor rider; he ruined four good horses.
But let’s give some credit to Rocky Lane’s horsemanship: he did do the voice of Mr. Ed on television!
Tex Ritter was not known for his horse skills either. He rode White Flash and he often had troubles stopping the horse. There are accounts where the horse would take off running and Tex couldn’t stop him, they went on a long ride. Another time Tex and Flash ran into a bit part actor crossing the street, who went flying into the air and landing in a dirt pile with buttons and belt buckle torn off and his mouth full of gravel.
Charles Starrett was an impressive looking silver screen hero. I personally like his movies but I would have to rate him as more actor than cowboy. By his own admission, his double did most of the action scenes. He said, I certainly had the best stuntmen—Jock Mahoney for one. He was a great athlete and fearless. He was an excellent horseman and could jump like a deer. Before Jock, Ted Mapes and Jay Wisey, (Wisey made a series of pictures as Buffalo Bill, Jr.), and some others doubled me. I always felt I was hurt anytime one of the stuntmen got hurt. When Jock Mahoney started working on my films, he was all over the place. He did my fight scenes, stunts, and most of the riding. I kiddingly told some people that I was only around to do Jock’s dialogue. He was a tremendous athlete.
Louise Currie who starred with Starrett in the 1941 Columbia movie, The Pinto Kid commented: Charles was a handsome cowboy, so good looking. But he seemed to have a hard time riding a horse, just like I was. I got to know him very well, but I felt he should have been playing the visiting Easterner, rather than being a cowboy.
Jimmy Wakely’s horsemanship was summed up by Pierce Lyden (the ultimate bad guy in B-Westerns): To my way of thinking, Jimmy Wakely did not fit the bill as a Western Star. Jimmy always had trouble in the fight scenes, and he was not a good horseman. I would rate only Hoppy worse than Wakely.
Sterling Holloway: I didn’t care for my role as Autry’s sidekick, and I really didn’t care for horses. He could ride all right, but horses and I had a mutual agreement—they hated me and I hated them.
Pat Buttram (Gene Autry sidekick): I didn’t get along too well with horses…I always said that horses are hard in the middle and dangerous at both ends.
Oops! Yes, I almost forgot John Wayne. Perhaps, he shouldn’t be in this category but in the one before this one. Yes, he was once a B-Western “singing” cowboy. John Wayne was good at everything (well, except maybe for singing) so he had to be pretty good with horses. There is little written in Silent Hoofbeats about Wayne but what is written is informative. Wayne is quoted saying, Planes, cars, trains are OK for speed, but for excitement, there’s nothing like a horse. Put a man aboard a horse, and right off you’ve got the makings of something magnificent: physical strength, speed where you can see it, plus heroism. And the hero—he’s big and strong. You pit another strong man against him, with both their lives at stake, and right there, simplicity of conflict you just can’t beat. I feel fine about horses. After all, they’ve carried me a long way. Actor Adrian Booth said, I made a picture with John Wayne called Red River Range. John was wonderful to me. He knew I couldn’t get on a horse and he helped me a lot with my riding. But the Duke did draw a line in his relations with horses. He said during one movie, .…the director had me talking to my horse. It wasn’t just a case of my treating the horse like a faithful friend. I had to converse with him as though we were on the same intellectual level. I didn’t care for the idea, and made it known.
So, now you know the rest of the stories about the Silver Screen Cowboys and their famous steeds!
The Wannabe Cowboy, 2015