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THE LONE RANGER

The Return of Silver
There was Tom Mix's Tony the Wonder Horse, Roy Rogers' Trigger, Dale Evans' Buttermilk, Hopalong Cassidy's Topper and Gene Autry's Champion, but arguably, no equine hero of classic Westerns ever equaled the fame of the Lone Ranger's Silver. Although that "fiery horse with the speed of light" was beloved by millions on the radio programs and television shows, Gore Verbinski and Jerry Bruckheimer's "The Lone Ranger" gives the horse something he didn't really have in past versions of the tale: a distinct personality.

In fact, in the new movie, Silver possesses a beguiling combination of mystery, humor, majesty, eccentricity and heroism. This Silver is a horse that suddenly appears in treetops and on the roof of a burning barn; a horse who recognizes something special about John Reid, even when he's already buried after being "killed" at Bryant's Gap. "Something very wrong with that horse," notes Tonto to the Lone Ranger, puzzled by some of the animal's behavior. But Tonto also knows that the animal is John Reid's "spirit horse," a being that recognizes the young man as a "Spirit Walker," one who has been to the other side and returned. "Silver is a scene-stealer," confirms Gore Verbinski. "He shows up in the most unexpected places."

With Silver featuring so prominently in the film, it was incumbent upon the production to find not only the best animal for the role, but also the best person to train it. In that respect, the path was absolutely clear, and it led straight to Bobby Lovgren, acknowledged as the finest in the world at his very specialized profession. The South African -- born Lovgren, who grew up in an equestrian family, was a stable manager and rider in his home country before moving to Los Angeles and learning the ropes under legendary movie horse trainers Glenn Randall Sr. and Corky Randall.

Lovgren is now perhaps best known as the head trainer on Steven Spielberg's "War Horse," but previously he devoted his skills to the likes of "Seabiscuit" and "The Mask of Zorro." The key to his success is that Lovgren loves and understands horses, and that feeling seems to be mutual. "We have to find out what horses understand," says Lovgren. "Are we communicating with them properly? And then making sure they're comfortable and enjoying it? We always try to make it easy for them, and that's why I do short lessons. I'll do a lot of them in the day, but never so that it's strenuous for them. That way they pay more attention, just like a little kid."

Lovgren notes that when seeking the perfect horse to portray Silver, "you have to find ones that play and look the part. You have to find out what their personalities are, what they can and can't do, whether they jump well, stand quietly for a long time. All these things are very important." Luckily, the "hero" horse Lovgren chose to play Silver is also, incredibly enough, actually named Silver. Lovgren had already worked with the 10-year-old Thoroughbred -- quarter horse mix a few years back. "It was nice going in with a horse that I knew and could rely on," he says.

Although Silver performed most of the actions the role required, Lovgren also cast several other white horses, among them Leroy, Parrot and Cloud, for specific actions. It's Cloud who races across the rooftops of Promontory Summit, a sequence that took weeks of preparation with Lovgren, the horse wranglers, and stunt rider Lyn Clarke. "That whole sequence was an unknown," admits Lovgren, "because that had never been done before, to my knowledge. Our biggest concern, as it is every day, is the animal's safety, making sure there was no room for error. We had a lot of rehearsals on lower containers, and for that sequence, we patterned the horses so that whenever they went up there they did exactly the same thing over and over again, which normally on a film set never happens because things change from scene to scene."

Tonto's mount, known as Scout in the classic television series, was played by two American Paint horses, one called Sergeant and the other -- believe it or not -- called Scout! Lovgren began training Silver, Scout and the other horses four months before filming began at a facility called Horses Unlimited, a few miles from Albuquerque Studios. "It's always the slower things that are much more difficult," notes Lovgren. "Running, jumping, those are relatively easy. But standing there doing a certain behavior, like picking up a hat, or a bottle, many times in a row, you find out how patient a horse is. The question is how many times the horse can do it before I have to switch to the double, because everything we do is backed up by another horse."

Sometimes Lovgren was challenged by not only the horses' limitations, but his own as well, particularly for a shot of the Lone Ranger and Tonto sitting on their horses on the edge of a cliff at John Ford Point in Monument Valley. "I'm not fond of heights, so that was scarier for me than it was for the horses," he confesses.

And yes, there is a classic "Hi-yo, Silver" moment where Silver rears up with the Lone Ranger on his back -- imbued, of course, with a Verbinski-esque twist. "Honestly, that was one of the easier things," says Lovgren, "and it was really nice because Armie Hammer did that himself. Armie was really awesome. I was lucky enough to work with him on 'Mirror Mirror' as well, so going in knowing him made all the difference in the world."

Easy for Lovgren, perhaps, but not so much for Hammer. "It's very counterintuitive to rear on a horse," explains the actor, "because you'd think you go backward, but in reality you have to throw all your body weight forward, because that horse knows where the tipping point is."

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