Emma Samms: Hollywood horse trails

Emma Samms & John Candy

Emma Samms & John Candy - Credit: Archant

Quite a few of the characters I’ve played ride horse. I have to remember my lines, make the horse go where it’s supposed to and make it look like I know what I’m doing

Last week I was invited to join a friend on a riding holiday. This was described in the brochure as “A horse safari through stunning scenery with immaculate accommodation and great food and drink to enjoy after a day in the saddle”. Despite the superlatives, this did not appeal. In fact it didn’t appeal one bit.

Don’t get me wrong, I think horses are about as beautiful a creature as you can get and I love to watch them run or even just stand still. I simply don’t feel the urge to ride them.

I rode a few times as a child (see an embarrassing story involving a hawthorn tree and a woolly jumper in my June column) but after that, the only times I got on a horse was when I was working and the scene dictated it. Of course, as an actress, if you’ve accepted a role and there’s a scene where your character is riding a horse, you can’t just politely decline. And there is nothing that sucks any potential joy out of something more than the feeling of obligation. Having a camera pointed at you doesn’t help either.

For some bizarre reason, quite a few of the characters I’ve played ride horses. And they ride them well. This means I have to remember my lines, make the horse go where it’s supposed to go and make it look like I know what I’m doing. No nervous laughter, no gripping onto the mane with both hands and no screaming with fear when the horse looks like it wants to go home and is threatening to take off in the wrong direction.

In one of my first episodes of Dynasty, my character Fallon, (an excellent horsewoman) decided to take her horse out to practice some jumps. A stunt double was provided and I was told to just steer the horse towards the first jump and then stop, as the jump would be done by the stunt double. Unfortunately, no one had explained this to the horse and in its confusion I managed to fall off in a fairly spectacular manner.

The crew, at first, thought this was a stunt and started to applaud before realising that it was me on the ground and the stuntwoman was with them, watching the whole thing.

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I probably would have been fine if it weren’t for the fact that I landed on the battery pack of my radio microphone, which was tucked into the back of my breeches. The impact had ruptured a disc and an ambulance had to be called.

Luckily, I recovered quickly and few years later, when I was offered a role opposite John Candy in a big MGM movie, I was unconcerned that I would be required to do a big Fred and Ginger style dance routine, but the same cannot be said about the (inevitable) riding scenes in the script. My character (of course) was described as being an expert rider.

The good news was that being a big-budget film they could afford not only lots of dance rehearsals, but they could also afford to send John and I off for riding lessons. They hired the film industry’s pre-eminent horse trainers, a husband and wife team, wonderfully named Corky and Pinky Randall. They found a big, strong piebald horse for John and they put me on a beautiful black gelding that Michael J Fox had ridden in Back to the Future 3. This horse had a skill that I greatly appreciated. It never trotted. It went straight from a walk to a slow canter, thus missing out the ungainly trotting stage that had too often unseated me in the past.

Filming went very smoothly. At times we were on real horses and sometimes, to make filming easier, they would put us on ‘phony ponies’. These were stuffed horses heads (sorry) that would mechanically bob up and down for close-up shots of our faces as we were riding. At one point mine was attached to the side of the camera truck as we raced along a road. Perched on the side rail of the truck, in order to make it look like I was astride a galloping horse, I had to move up and down in a way that can only be described as humping the camera truck. Not very elegant and not very comfortable. Certainly enough to put me off any future riding holidays, that’s for sure.

A dancing holiday though? Sign me up.

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