Ben Hur Theme / Miklos Rosza
Western Movie Stunting 101:
The Art of Falling: Part 1:
Elementary Western Horse Stunting
There’s only one good thing about Falling off a horse. It’s damn easy.
(Especially galloping full speed, handling a weapon, or without a saddle)
Making it look good however – and landing safely – is another matter.
So Saddle up … or not … we’re goin’ Stunting!
Those Poor Horses
Yakima Canutt. was a Rodeo Champion, before and during his career as a Western Film Stunt Artist. He knew what Falling was all about – and it’s obvious side effects – injury and death – though he obviously Fell a lot less than most cowboys. But his experience in Rodeo is definitely what led to his place as a Western Film Stunt Master.
But getting bucked off in a Rodeo, and Falling in a Western movie, are not quite the same thing. In Rodeo you don’t want to Fall. And if you do, you aren’t very concerned about how it looks. In Stunt Falling you’re trying to Fall – and make it look good – the more sensational, the better – higher, farther, faster …. always pushing the envelope. And in Rodeo, and especially Stunting, Yak pushed the envelope big time. He pretty well invented the Stunt industry. In either case however, you still need to land safely. Not an easy thing to do.
But before we ride any further, there’s one thing that needs to be mentioned … the Horses.
Early Western Horse Stunts seemed to demonstrate a tremendous disregard for the safety of the horses.
One example: Stunt Falls from horses sometimes employed trip lines that tripped/yanked the horses down – while galloping at full speed. The Stuntman, of course, knew a Fall was coming – the horse did not. I haven’t seen any statistics, but I can surmise there was a considerable toll on the horses. This was rightfully criticized and eventually stopped. Nowadays Stunt horses are extensively trained in Falls and any other Stunts involving horses. To Yak’s credit he later took great care and pride in inventing techniques which greatly limited injury to both man and beast – culminating in his masterpiece – one of the greatest Stunt events in film history – the spectacular (and dangerous) – Chariot Race in Ben Hur (1959) – a monumental stunting achievement that took Yak two years of planning and preparation. And despite urban legends to the contrary, there is no evidence that any horses (or actors) were killed.