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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


December 27, 2003 - Issue 103


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Gray leads horses to water and makes 'em act


by Robert Struckman - Char-Koosta News


Credits: photo- Seabisquit

SeabiscuitLONE PINE -- Richard Gray sits at his table at home near Hot Springs. On the wall hang pieces of western art and a few antique items. His broad porch out front has a few dogs and three well worn chairs. He smoothed a piece of paper on the table. It's the schedule for a day of filming of the movie Seabiscuit at a ranch in Pomona, Calif.

Gray trained horses for the adaptation of Laura Hillenbrand's award-winning nonfiction book, Seabiscuit, which tells of a racehorse that captured America's heart in the years before World War II and the men who helped turn him from a bitter loser into a champion. The movie will be released on video and DVD later this month.

Gray has worked with horses for most of his life, though never before for a Hollywood production. That came about almost by accident, Gray said, or at least not by design.

More than 20 years ago Gray met Bud Hendrickson in Kentucky and galloped horses for him. Hendrickson has since retired and lives near Arlee. His son, Rusty, found work wrangling horses in Hollywood. Gray and the Hendricksons stayed in touch.

"(Rusty) wanted to do the same as me, only make money," his father said with dry humor. The younger Hendrickson, who lives in Montana when not working in California, has worked on more than 70 feature films including "Dances with Wolves."

"He's one of the big guns in the Hollywood wrangling business," Gray said. About his own role, though, Gray is more modest. "I just got picked is all. There's a lot of good hands out there, probably better than me."

The movie work on Seabiscuit began late in the summer of 2002. The producers demanded meticulous attention to detail.

The dirt track courses were historically accurate. Real jockeys rode proven race horses. The horses even ended the races in the correct historical order. It all gave the movie a sharp sense of immediacy, as if the horses and riders were really trying to beat each other.

Gray's role began in Montana. He and Polson resident Greg Mathson gathered nine horses from Idaho, Montana and Canada and drove them down to California.

The sets were familiar to Gray. He had conditioned horses on all the tracks seen in the movie. But the filming required new and fascinating twists. For one thing, the special demands of a movie required scores of horses and about a dozen handlers. For each race portrayed in the movie, a jockey would ride as many as five or six mounts. The horses under each jockey had to look and behave exactly the same.

To get the realistic race scenes, all the horses had to be trained to run in formation, each day going a little faster. By the time the horses were ready for the cameras, "you'd swear a race went by," Gray said.

"We had replacements for every horse out there. There were seven Seabiscuits. One was trained to limp. Another was trained to rare up and be mean. I worked with the mean one," Gray said.

Seabiscuit had rare coloring. He was a little bay horse with no white on him.

"We had to do some dyeing. Most of the Seabiscuits had a bit of white on the nose or here or there," Gray said, laughing. "But when they were moving, you couldn't tell this one from that one."

Plus, Seabiscuit wore red and white blinders. "That'll disguise any horse," Gray said.

On the set Gray met the film's stars. Tobey Maguire was polite but quiet and busy, he said, reading his lines as he hurried past. Jeff Bridges was more talkative. "It wasn't anything to see him walking through the barns, talking to the horses and the people," Gray said.

But mostly the six months on the set gave Gray a chance to see, and participate in, the filming.

The scenes with close-up action shots of Maguire mid-race were actually filmed from a truck with a mechanical horse attached to it for Maguire to ride. Other action scenes were shot from a camera mounted on the vehicle.

In one of Gray's favorite scenes, the director wanted a jockey to fall from a horse in full-stride. The only problem was the cost. A stunt man would charge tens of thousands of dollars. "This jockey from the West spoke up and said, 'I'll do it,'" Gray said.

Another rider pushed the jockey, and he jumped so it looked as if he fell. The jockey rolled, got up, brushed himself off and did it again. After three takes, the director stopped him.

"That scene never got used. We worked pretty hard on a lot of parts that just didn't make the movie," Gray said.

A few of the parts cut would have shown Gray, but he doesn't mind.

"I don't care if I'm in it or not, but they used us five or six times and paid for it," he said.

He laughs, though, when he admits that he has watched the movie several times and waited for the rolling credits to show his name. He plans to watch the movie again if it is re-released as the Oscars near.

These days, though, Gray looks to the future. He is converting a cow barn into a horse barn. He plans to build paddocks behind it and a small track. His idea is to train thoroughbreds. "That's a hard world to crack," Gray admitted. "It's worth a shot."

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