Hollywood Stunt Horse Trainer – Horse Illustrated

The Lone Ranger, The Magnificent Seven, Hostiles, and News of the World are likely to conjure thoughts of stars Johnny Depp, Denzel Washington, and Tom Hanks. But when Mary Thosley discusses those movies, the actors aren’t the stars of the show. For her, it’s all about Wimpy, King, Ace, Cowboy, Riley, and the many other star horses she worked with and trained for those movies as a horse trainer in Hollywood.

Photo by Mary Mildy

Tossly’s equine-crazed life began with backyard horses in Washington state.

“We’ve always had horses from the time I can remember,” she says. “I was driving before I could walk.”

She competed in hunter/jumping events until her freshman year of high school, then convinced a racehorse breeder that she knew how to break ponies.

“I lied and said I’d done it before, and I fumbled my way in, breaking a bunch of ponies for her,” Tavasoli recalled. “Her husband trained racehorses, and I ended up going to the racetrack afterward and taking care of the horses. Later that year, I started running on them.”

Serendipity on the big screen

She spent the next decade as a sprinter and assistant coach at racetracks across the country. While in New Mexico, riding horses and running them on tracks, breaking horses, and running a training stable, Tewsley stumbled into training horses. Or rather, I stumbled upon it.

Hollywood Stunt Horse Trainer
Tom Hanks rides a Wimpy in News of the World, a movie released in 2020 in which Hanks plays a Civil War veteran. Image courtesy Mary Tosley

“I got into it completely by accident,” she says. “One of our friends had a movie job, and they needed some horses that looked like racehorses but were broke. My stray horses were all old racehorses, so they could still run, but you would say whoa and they were slamming on the brakes. They were perfect because they It was a teen drama based on a racehorse, Wildfire. I started brawling and renting horses to them and doing stunts.”

The wildfire ended after four seasons, and Tavasoli moved on to run a breeding farm. She turned down two horse trainer jobs because she felt obligated to the owners of the breeding farm.

Then came The Lone Ranger (released in 2013, starring Johnny Depp).

“I thought if I didn’t make the career jump, I probably never would,” she recalls. So, I went ahead and made a jump. Me [left] My job and my home at the same time. I bought a travel trailer and went to work on movies, and I’ve been doing it ever since.”

The highs and lows

As a horse trainer on the set of The Lone Ranger, Towslee worked with Bobby Lovgren, one of the most popular horse trainers in movies.

Trick horse wrangler
A deep attachment to horses led Towslee to many other careers with horses before finding her way alongside the entertainment industry. Photo by Mary Mildy

“There was a lot of freedom cheating,” Tavasoli says. The film had some complicated stunt sequences that had to be worked out, and the director wanted as little computer-generated stuff as possible. The Lone Ranger’s horse, Silver, had to be on rooftops and jump from building to building. Silver [also] It had to be in a tree over the Colorado River, so they built us one. Bobby trained the horse to stand on a rail, so it looked like it was standing on a branch. Silver had to jump into a train car and run across it while the lone ranger was shooting, so they built us a train car that was big enough.

“It was a process of keeping things safe,” she adds. “You have to be very creative to figure out how you’re going to get what they want to see on camera.”

The cast, crew, and of course, the horse trainers, traveled to amazing filming locations, including Canyon de Chelly, Monument Valley, and many locations in New Mexico.

Stunt horse trainer
King, a Friesian cross and one of Towsley’s favorite horses, doubled as the lead horse in News of the World. Photo by Mary Mildy

But lest you think that working as a movie horse trainer is teaching horses tricks in stunning scenery, there are downsides to the job. Think of the white horses galloping in the red sand.

“We had five white horses – I spent a lot of time washing [them]Tavasoli laughs. “We were in Monument Valley in the middle of all that red sand, and there were gusts of wind. Our white horses turned pink, and when you wash them, they turn orange. And it was cold, so you can’t really give them good baths. It was just awful. I think they fixed it digitally; We couldn’t clean it!

“We’d be working all night doing rain scenes and freezing ass,” she adds. “But you can also do some really cool stuff and meet some really cool people.”

Horse wrangling was done on A Million Ways to Die in the West and The Magnificent Seven, which featured 140 cast horses.

Stunt horse trainer gangbus

Tavasoli’s first gig came as the Wrangler Gangboss in the 2017 film Hostiles. Gangboss manages the Wrangler crew, trains the movie’s horses, gives the actors riding lessons, and handles the horses and actors on set.

Hollywood trick horse
Towslee’s horse, Wimpy, is on standby for all kinds of distractions. Image courtesy Mary Tosley

“I would say the most important component of being a mobster is communicating with the assistant director’s department, relaying that information to the dealers, and then organizing them to achieve what the director wants to see,” Tavasoli says. “A lot of it is making sure everything is safe for the horses around the cameras and making sure the actors are okay. Then we have other sponsors who handle the background horses. Anytime there’s a horse on set, we’re there.

“Often, we’re so close — if the camera sees half actor and half horse, we’re probably on our knees helping to steady the horse. It’s not always charming,” she adds, laughing.

Towslee is one of the few horse wrangler mob bosses in the industry.

“I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a shame to be female, but there is a shame [also] Tavasoli says. “And it has its challenges. I’ve been very lucky because my boss, Clay Lilly, has always had my back. Some of the cowboys have been in the business longer than me, even though they’ve been very supportive of me. I respect their opinions a lot.”

Hollywood stunt horse trainer
Lying down on lead is an important skill for horses on movie sets. Photo by Mary Mildy

It’s easy to respect anyone who has the skills to operate at this level – in other words, an accomplished knight. Galloping dozens of racehorses, breaking horses, and training horses for decades goes a long way toward helping a horse talk.

“You have to know the horses: how they will react to a situation, whether they will get upset about it, or whether you can use the situation to get the desired action,” Tusli explains. You must know what drives the horse.

She continues, “Another thing is to be someone who really pays attention to what’s going on around you all the time and can spot things that are going to cause a problem.” “The movie sets are incredibly busy, and there are a lot of moving parts. We have actors on horses in very difficult situations sometimes. You always need to get your head in a dizzy position.”

Favorite co-stars

If pressed, Towslee would name Sam Elliott as her favorite actor to work with.

I worked with him briefly years ago, and now for the last five months on the 1883 Series [a prequel to the hit show Yellowstone]. What a wonderful man. He has some humility and grace. ”

But any conversation inevitably comes back to its horses.

“Pistol, a quarter horse, is fantastically talented as a movie horse,” she says of a horse she recently worked with while filming a series. “He’s like a Border Collie, he’s so smart.”

Horse trick
Pistol, a quarter horse, is one of the smartest and most talented horses Towslee has worked with. Photo by Mary Mildy

King, a Frisian cross, is another favorite who has been in half a dozen films and doubled as the main horse on News of the World.

Some horses know they’re performing.

“[Some can be] A little bit of ham,” says Tavasoli. “You have some interesting horseshoes that you’ve been using for years and years. They’ve done countless Indian raids, bank robberies, and gigs, and they still keep going. She never shakes them. They’re in a whole league of their own.”

However, the action is not all fast-paced cowboy shootouts.

“Your horses in the background basically run from A to B all day or stand hitched to a suspension rail,” she explains. “A movie set has all these moving parts that are often very close to the horses, so they have to be very forgiving of things.”

Stunt horse trainer
Pisol shows how horses can be trained to find and stand on an accurate mark while at liberty. Photo by Mary Mildy

Temperament is the number one trait that Tavasoli and her boss look for in potential movie horses.
“Sometimes you’ll get a horse that you think would be perfect for the movies, and as soon as they set foot on a movie set, they’re like, ‘No! I can not do that! ”

“There’s a different energy to a movie set, with lots of people and equipment and cameras. You try to introduce the horses to it slowly, but only your best horses end up with the cast.” [riding] they. They are really special, the ones who make good horses.”

Variety is the spice

No day is the same as a Hollywood horse trainer.

“That’s probably one of the things I love most about it,” says Tavasoli. “I’m not very good at things that are incredibly repetitive. Every day is different; it keeps your mind busy. I really enjoy that, plus the fact that I get to work with animals every day.”

The funny thing is, way back when I always thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to work with movie horses? And just suddenly, I do.

This article appeared in the April 2022 issue of Hollywood Horse Trainer Illustrated horse magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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