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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
movie work on Seabiscuit began late in the summer of 2002. The producers
demanded meticulous attention to detail.
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.
role began in Montana. He and Polson resident Greg Mathson gathered
nine horses from Idaho, Montana and Canada and drove them down to
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.
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.
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.
had rare coloring. He was a little bay horse with no white on him.
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."
Seabiscuit wore red and white blinders. "That'll disguise any horse,"
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.
mostly the six months on the set gave Gray a chance to see, and
participate in, the filming.
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
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.
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.
scene never got used. We worked pretty hard on a lot of parts that
just didn't make the movie," Gray said.
few of the parts cut would have shown Gray, but he doesn't mind.
don't care if I'm in it or not, but they used us five or six times
and paid for it," he said.
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.
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."