On Film

Horses Helped Pioneer Motion Pictures

by Kristin Berkery

In the late 1800s, a hot question was debated by many: Does a horse lift all four hooves off the ground during a gallop? Motion pictures didn’t exist at the time so there was no easy way to know the answer.

Currier & Ives

A Currier & Ives image illustrating how the gallop was perceived before film.

California Governor Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University, argued that horses take all four feet off the ground during a gallop with the front and back legs extended at the same time, as depicted in Currier & Ives lithographs. Stanford, a wealthy man, hired English photographer Eadweard Muybridge to settle the argument.

In spring 1872, Muybridge went to Union Park Race Course in Sacramento, California, to photograph a Thoroughbred racehorse named Occident owned by Stanford. The photographer was able to record only faint images on wet plates, but it was enough to settle the purported $25,000 bet in Stanford’s favor. (Stanford was only partially right — all four hooves are off the ground under the horse, not outstretched.)

Muybridge set out to invent a system that would use 12 cameras (later using 24 cameras) spaced 27 inches apart and trip lines to capture motion on film. As a horse ran across the area to be photographed, it tripped the lines and triggered the camera shutters to open and close. In 1878, he finally succeeded in capturing a horse named Sallie Gardner running at speed on Stanford’s personal racetrack in Palo Alto, California. The press was invited to witness the event so there would be no doubt in people’s minds that the pictures were authentic.

Sallie Gardner

Sallie Gardner in motion. These were the pictures that showed the world that all four of a horse's hooves are off the ground during a gallop.

Titled The Horse In Motion, the pictures made it easy to see for the first time what a horse really looks like when it’s running. Even so, there were still people who didn’t believe their eyes and argued that horses could never move that way.

A pioneer in the invention of motion pictures, Muybridge also had a troubled life. Stanford published a book called The Horse In Motion featuring Muybridge’s work, but didn’t give the photographer credit. Muybridge sued Stanford over the matter and lost.

In 1874, while he was working on his motion picture system, Muybridge learned that his wife was having an affair. Irate, Muybridge shot his wife’s lover to death. He was tried and acquitted for murder. Stanford paid for Muybridge’s legal defense and Muybridge’s wife divorced him.

Muybridge’s invention also lead to the photofinish after the photographer wrote a letter to the British scientific publication Nature suggesting that his device could take a picture the moment horses ran across the finish line, determining the winner. There were some challenges implementing his idea, but the first photofinish camera was installed at a racetrack in 1888.

A cat filmed by Muybridge

A cat captured on film by Muybridge

After his success photographing horses, Muybridge captured a wide variety of animals in motion, including bison, cats, ostriches, and humans in various gaits. Muybridge’s photos of locomotion are still studied today.

Muybridge gave a presentation in 1880 at the California School of Fine Arts that included an invention he called the “zoographiscope,” which projected his photos in sequence onto a screen to show motion. This is believed to be the first motion picture presentation in history.

To learn more about Eadweard Muybridge, visit The Compleat Eadweard Muybridge.

Movie Review: Young Black Stallion

Young Black Stallion (2003)
Produced by Beth Howard, Frank Marshall, Fred Roos, Jeanne Rosenberg, Kathleen Kennedy
Directed by Simon Wincer
Written by Jeanne Rosenberg, Steven Farley, Walter Farley

Summary: This film has two strengths — the talented equine actors and the beautiful desert scenery (filmed in Namibia and South Africa). Once you see some of the mediocre human acting, you’ll probably feel grateful that the movie is only 49 minutes long.

The director, Simon Wincer, also directed Phar Lap, which star Tom Burlinson calls “one of the best films in which I’ve appeared.”

The Young Black Stallion

Neera with young Shetan, protrayed by Sidi Exclusive

Disney’s first IMAX film, Young Black Stallion is a prequel to The Black Stallion (1978). G-rated and safe for little kids, this is a good addition to a horse-crazy kid’s movie collection.

Our protagonist, a young girl named Neera, bonds with a black colt she discovers in the desert. The colt helps Neera return home but then disappears back into the desert. Neera learns that her grandfather was once a horse breeder but could no longer afford it. The grandfather turned his best mare loose in the desert and kept an old mare for pulling his cart. (We learn later that his best mare was Shetan’s dam. The cart mare was actually a pretty special horse in real life, but I’ll get to that in a moment.)

Sidi Exclusive Arabian horse

Sidi Exclusive, who played the yearling Young Black Stallion with Neera. Photo from Sidi Exclusive’s Facebook page

The colt, Shetan, appears again and this time Neera becomes determined to train him for an upcoming race. The winner of the race gets to pick the best horse from each race participant’s herd for their own breeding program. The odds are against Shetan and the race is a grueling fight to the finish line, but our hero (and heroine) prevail and the grandfather’s breeding program is restored.

Scene from Young Black Stallion

According to the bonus features on the DVD, each horse actor had just 30 to 40 days of training before appearing in the film, and the horse trainer had to stand waaaaaaaaaaaay out of the scene and still communicate with a loose horse. Obviously the horses chosen for the film were very intelligent and willing animals. I get the feeling the emphasis of the film’s director/producers was on finding beautiful horses and training them well rather than developing strong human characters and a good plotline.

One quirky detail that bugs me is that the extended beginning shows us that Shetan’s sire was a Friesian (???) who came down from the heavens. I can forgive the fantastical descent to earth, but portraying a Friesian (a Dutch breed) as the sire of a desert Arabian is just weird.

Thee Cyclone Arabian horse

Thee Cyclone, who portrayed the Young Black Stallion as a mature horse

If you enjoy Arabian pedigrees, this movie has plenty to entertain you. The old sway-backed cart mare is actually a rare German-bred *Salon daughter (and Nazeer granddaughter); the grey antagonistic stallion in the race scenes was a son of the *Salon daughter; the chestnut antagonistic stallion in the race scenes was a rare straight Russian son of *Nariadni; the yearling black stallion was played by Sidi Exclusive, a dapple grey son of the chestnut *Nariadni son; and the mature black stallion was played by Thee Cyclone, a bay Thee Desperado son. If you know these horses, you’ll have fun looking for family resemblances in the movie.

Meeting a Movie Star at the Horse Expo

by Kristin Berkery

TC Bey Cedar at home in Hawaii. Photo by Lionel Seals

I grew up around horses, but now that I live in the city my daughter rarely sees them. The horse-loving gene runs in my family, so I took her to the Western States Horse Expo at Cal Expo in June to give her some early exposure. She was 15 months old so activities for her age were limited, but I knew I could make it fun for her anyway.

At the Young Rider arena, kids can make horse-shaped cookies, paint a real horse, ride ponies, and win prizes. Throughout each day, there are breed demonstrations and chances to meet all kinds of horse breeds up close and personal, including rare ones like Haflingers, Kiger Mestenos, Gypsy Vanners, and Peruvian Pasos. At the Breyer Model Horse booth, kids can paint model horses for free and take sculpting and tackmaking classes (at additional cost). Breyer even holds a model horse show where kids can bring out their favorite models to be judged and win prizes.

There are horses of all different breeds and disciplines casually ridden around Cal Expo and the riders often stop to talk to onlookers. This year, we saw an Andalusian stallion in traditional Iberian tack, a Friesian stallion (like the horse in LadyHawke) ridden by a woman in Spanish costume, a previously-wild mustang calmly under saddle, pack donkeys, and a black Arabianstallion who was a movie star.

TC Bey Cedar

My daughter and me with TC Bey Cedar ("Beyley"), an Arabian stallion by Bey Shah who did his own stunts in the movie Hidalgo.

The black Arabian stallion was just hanging out in a circle of people, looking bored but still friendly. My daughter had a good time seeing all the horses, but she didn’t want to touch them because their size intimidated her. We spent awhile looking at the black stallion until my daughter got up the nerve to pet his nose. That was exciting to me because he was the first horse she ever petted. After that, we learned just how special this horse really was!

The stallion, nicknamed “Beyley,” portrayed the prince’s black racehorse, Al Hattal, in the movie Hidalgo. He had no stunt doubles, so any scenes featuring Al Hattal were played by Beyley only. Beyley was spotted by talent scouts and purchased by Disney when he was four years old. Disney had Beyley trained to rear, “fight,” and do other exciting horse tricks. When the movie Hidalgo began shooting in Morocco, Beyley was sent over there for his scenes.

Viggo Mortenson playing Frank Hopkins on one of the five horses who portrayed Hidalgo

After returning from Morocco, a half-share in the horse was sold to a local trainer who fell in love with him. Disney wouldn’t sell the entire horse because they wanted to use him in other films. Unfortunately Beyley had a pasture accident and badly hurt one of his knees. He was laid-up for four months, at which time Disney said they couldn’t use him anymore. They sold the remaining half of the horse to the trainer who loved him.

Beyley lived a life of luxury on Oahu, going for rides on the beach and enjoying the companionship of his mares. He attended various horse events as an ambassador for his breed, and people were shocked to learn he was a stallion because he was so calm and kind.

We posed for a picture with Beyley at the Western States Horse Expo, but my daughter preferred to look at the horse rather than the camera. I can’t blame her – he was a handsome guy. After we got home, I ordered a DVD of Hidalgo so my daughter can watch it with her friends someday and tell them, “That was the first horse I ever petted.”

[Originally published August 2007; updated November 2011]

Champagnes: Horses of a Different Color

by Kristin Berkery

When I was a kid and my family would go on road trips across the U.S., I remember my parents playing the song “The Tennessee Stud” performed by Johnny Cash. I can still clearly remember the lyrics:

The Tennessee stud was long and lean

The color of the sun and his eyes were green

>He had the nerve and he had the blood

There never was a horse like the Tennessee stud

At the time, I was completely puzzled by this description. I’d never seen a horse with green eyes in my life, and I couldn’t imagine what a yellow horse with green eyes would look like. It actually sounded a little scary.

Champagne Spritzer, a classic champagne tobiano Missouri Foxtrotter filly owned by Myrna Warfel of Ridin' High Ranch LLC and photographed by Linda Vishino of Zorro Farms. Champagne foals often have bright blue eyes.

Fast-forward to a few years ago… When I heard the song again in the Quentin Tarantino movie Jackie Brown, I had a flashback to my childhood. But this time, the meaning of the song suddenly hit me. The Tennessee Stud was probably a gold champagne Tennessee Walker with hazel eyes. Now it made sense!

I first learned about champagne horses by accident when I read about Khalvin Khlein KPM, an amber champagne three-quarter Arabian grandson of Khemosabi. Khalvin’s dam was a champagne Half-Arabian mare who probably got her color from the Saddlebred side of her pedigree. (She also had Quarter Horse breeding.) I became interested in equine color genetics around that time, so I did more research into this unique gene.

Cita Champagne, a gold champagne AQHA mare owned and photographed by Audra Pennebaker of Snakewater Farms. She's considered a "self-gold" champagne because her mane and tail are the same color as her body. Many other gold champagnes will have a lighter mane and tail than the body color.

Champagne is a dominant modifier gene like cream or dun, which means that when a horse inherits it, the gene affects or dilutes the basecoat color. For example, when the cream gene is applied to chestnut, a palomino results. When champagne is applied to chestnut, a gold champagne is produced, which can look deceptively like palomino but has some distinct differences. A gold champagne is a horse with a yellow-gold or orange-gold body color (often with a pronounced metallic sheen), blond or white mane and tail, light-colored eyes, and purplish-pink skin. (There are some gold champagnes with manes and tails the same color as their bodies – they’re referred to as “self-gold” champagnes.) Throughout history, gold champagne horses were often called “pumpkin-skinned” or “light-skinned” palominos.

An amber champagne horse results from the champagne gene applied to bay. The horse may appear to be buckskin at first glance, but then you’ll notice the mane, tail, and legs are actually a chocolate color, the gold body color has a metallic sheen, the eyes are light, and the skin is a purplish-pink.

Perfections Champagne Callalily, a classic champagne Missouri Foxtrotter mare owned and photographed by Cathy Hill of Five Hills Farm. Even though she's in her winter coat, you can still see the metallic sheen and some reverse dappling. She also illustrates the monochrome color of classic champagnes (black + champagne).

Classic champagne is produced when champagne is applied to black. Some people describe it as “Weimaraner-like” because it’s a monochrome color, others have called it “lilac dun,” and still others confuse it with grulla (dun + black). The horse has a muted brownish body color with a metallic sheen, and the legs may be a darker shade of the body color. The eyes are light and the skin is a purplish-pink.

Some other newly discovered shades of champagne include grey champagne and sable champagne. When grey and champagne combine, the genes are considered co-dominant so the horse never completely greys out. At a distance, grey champagnes’ coats appear white or very light cream with a metallic sheen (sometimes accompanied by a brown-tinted mane and tail), but upon closer inspection you see a large amount of champagne-colored fleabites. They also tend to have very heavy, almost black, mottling or freckling on their pink skin.

Sable champagnes are brown horses with the champagne gene applied. The color may be mistaken for classic champagne until genetic testing shows a horse is positive for agouti. (The presence of agouti indicates the horse is not black, so it could not be classic champagne.)

There are even more shades of champagne created when the champagne gene and cream gene are applied to a basecoat color. For instance, gold cream champagne results when a champagne gene and a cream gene combine on a chestnut basecoat. Amber cream champagne is produced when champagne and cream are applied to bay. Classic cream champagne results from champagne and cream applied to black. As you can imagine, horses with these two different dilution genes are generally very light in color, but they can have brown-tinted manes, tails, and legs. As with all horses that carry the champagne gene, cream champagnes have light eyes and purplish-pink skin.

Peponita Poco Lass, a grey champagne AQHA mare owned and photographed by Shari Beymer of Beymer Paints.

As if this gene wasn’t complicated enough, champagnes may undergo color changes as they age. Their pinkish skin may darken to a purple color and become very mottled or freckled. Their eyes, which could be bright blue at birth, could change to hazel or amber in adulthood, and sometimes go through all three colors during the horse’s lifetime.

Coincidentally, not long after I started researching champagne horses, I discovered a well-known classic champagne Tennessee Walker stallion named Champagne Look in the town where I live. His dam, Champagne Lady Diane (foaled in 1969), made the color famous. She was given her name because her classic champagne color was reminiscent of sparkling wine, and the few people familiar with the unique color called it “champagne” in honor of the mare. However, it would take many years before geneticists and breed registries would acknowledge the color.

A closeup photo of the champagne flecks in Peponita Poco Lass' coat. Photo by Shari Beymer.

When Champagne Lady Diane was a young mare, her owner, Diane Green, wondered what color her horse could be, so she sent hair samples to the University of Tennessee and Auburn University for testing. The laboratories were stumped. They knew the mare wasn’t dun, grey, roan, and didn’t have the cream gene. But what was she? The labs described her as “a genetic color accident.”

Today, geneticists don’t believe that Champagne Lady Diane was the first champagne horse, considering that stories have been passed down for many years about “buckskin” and “palomino” horses with pink skin and light eyes. (In addition, “The Tennessee Stud” hit the music charts ten years before Champagne Lady Diane was foaled.) It’s believed that Champagne Lady Diane owes her color to her dam Mack’s Golden Girl H, probably a gold champagne mare, and there are other lines in Tennessee Walkers that carry the champagne gene as well.

Champagne is found in a number of American breeds, including Saddlebreds, Tennessee Walkers and related breeds, Quarter Horses and related breeds, and American Cream Drafts, among others. There are documented part-Arabians with as much as 7/8 Arabian blood that express the champagne gene.

A couple of years ago, my grandmother in Kansas purchased a 20-year-old Missouri Foxtrotter mare as a companion for her retired Arabian gelding. Over the phone I asked my mother what color the mare was, and she hesitated for a moment. “She looks buckskin, but she’s kind of a funny color.” My ears perked when I heard this because I knew champagne was found in Foxtrotters, and “funny color” is a good way to describe champagne when you’re not familiar with it. So I began asking the probing questions: What color is her skin? Purple with freckles. What color are her eyes? A funny light color. Eureka! She had to be a champagne-colored horse. I was able to verify it in person, and was amazed to see even her winter coat had a metallic sheen.

Champagne horses are out there, but we may not always know it when we find them. If you ever came across a horse that had a color you just couldn’t describe, or it didn’t quite look like the buckskins, palominos, and duns you’d known before, maybe that horse was a champagne.

Years ago I saw Michael Crichton’s first movie Westworld but never noticed anything memorable about the horses…until I watched the movie again in 2002. As I admired the beautiful horse Yul Brynner’s robot character was riding, I noticed something different about it – he was amber champagne! He looked like a buckskin, but he had light eyes and light skin. I tried to find information on the web about the horse but never discovered what breed he was or where he came from.

There are a few sites on the web that explain the champagne gene and provide many reference photos of champagne horses. My favorites include the International Champagne Horse Registry at www.ichregistry.com and the Champagne Horses Website at www.champagnehorses.net.

Originally featured in the January/February 2005 issue of Horsing Around magazine.