Rusty Hendrickson has added “Flicka” to his list of movie credits. This story of a Wild Mustang and the girl (Katy) who befriends him which is set to be released in movie theaters on October 20th, is another home run for Hendrickson. Movie sets are not new to Rusty or his horses, which have spent most of their lives in front of the camera. Those horses come alive for the filming crew when they need to but are quiet for the actors when the cameras are focused on them.
“Flicka” is filled with horses of all shapes, sizes and colors. The McLaughlin Ranch starts out as a Quarter Horse Ranch but finishes as both a Quarter Horse and Wild Mustang Rescue Ranch. There’s even some Paint and Palomino color added to the herd. There are scenes with horses charging off at a dead gallop or quietly wandering through the mountains in Wyoming. There’s also rearing, rodeo, rain drenched and animal fighting scenes and behind all those successes is horse movie trainer, Rusty Hendrickson.
TRAINING THE ACTORS
Yet his job doesn’t just begin and end with the horses. He’s also in charge of training the actors to ride and while that may sound like an easy task, most come to him having never ridden a horse before. Often in just weeks he has to turn around these obviously novice riders to appear as if they’ve been riding all their lives.
In “Flicka” that task was even more daunting because Alison Lohman, who plays the part of the lead actress Katy, was never on a horse before. In “Flicka” she spends most of her time riding bareback. Those of us who ride know that learning in a saddle is a challenge, but riding bareback is a true test. Horses’ backs aren’t always as comfortable as a saddle.
Rusty’s easiest assignment was Rob, the dad played by Country Music star Tim McGraw. “He had the most experience,” explained Hendrickson. “He had been around horses somewhat. He came to us with a good sense of balance. It was easier for him than the others.” Tim was assigned a Registered Quarter Horse gelding called Biscuit who was “real quiet around the camera,” explained Rusty.
Nell, Katy’s mom played by Maria Bello had no riding experience, but she also “didn’t have to do a ton of riding in the movie,” explained Rusty. “She seemed to like it and wanted to spend more time riding. She tried to do whatever we asked of her and was successful.”
Maria rode a Paint Horse named Belle. “She really liked Belle,” continued Rusty. “Belle belongs to a young girl who shows her in reining. She is a very well trained mare that is colorful and pretty.”
Howard, Katy’s brother played by Ryan Kwanten, “did not come with a lot of experience,” noted Rusty. “He did a good job of keeping the horse quiet and on the mark. I think he liked it a lot and would have ridden more if they would have let him.”
Howard rode Dollar, a Quarter Horse who has “been in every movie that I worked on. He has a quiet obedience about him and a lot of physical ability to go with that. I take it easy on him.” Dollar spends his time at home with Rusty enjoying his days turned out in a pasture.
The toughest challenge for Rusty was teaching Alison to ride. “She is not a very physical person so she didn’t have a lot of physical ability. She is a lovely girl to sit and converse with and she is gentle. You would get the feeling from her that she would quit if it was difficult.”
Yet with Rusty’s encouragement and guidance, Alison stuck it out and in the end appeared as if she’d spent a lifetime on horseback. Until Alison caught Flicka she rode a Quarter Horse that was called Yankee in the script. In real life Yankee is known as Benny.
“I thought she got along well with Benny,” said Rusty. “Benny is a very large unflappable good citizen. She appreciated the fact that he didn’t have a bony back.”
THE RIBBON WINNING FLICKA
Flicka “was many horses but there was one horse they tried to use as much as possible. The hero Flicka was Ribbon,” explained Rusty. In the movie Katy falls off of Flicka, which was actually true to life because early on while riding Ribbon she did fall off, but Rusty explained it was one of those easy falls. “Learning how to ride at a gallop is hard and we had limited time. She just slipped off,” he commented.
They used Ribbon in any of the close up scenes because of “the facial expressions. That horse has a lot of personality. The nature of the story is that the horse is supposed to have some life and this horse is larger than life. It’s not Benny but this is also not a horse that would buck you off. It’s a horse my kids ride. Ribbon is not a dangerous horse but a very lively, energetic and spirited horse.”
While teaching actors to ride is a challenge it’s a process. “Riding is like anything else; it does take time and application to get it. In the beginning there is a lot of apprehension that you have to get over. At some point it starts to click.”
For Alison, that moment when she clicked with the horse was near the end of the movie. She recalls finally feeling comfortable as she stood on a mountainside on the Wyoming Ranch.
“There is a shot at the very end and it was my most comfortable moment,” explained Lohman. “The backdrop was mountains and a sunset. I could never ride the horse that threw me off. It was really a frustration of mine and that’s when I finally got comfortable.”
After it was all over it was clear that all of the actors had enjoyed most of the time they spent on horseback. For Rusty that’s like a baseball player hitting a home run. In his case he hit two of them, because not only did the actors succeed in riding for the camera but the horses did what they were supposed to for the actors. And that’s why when a movie involves horses the first man they think of is Rusty Hendrickson.