You may not be familiar with the name Bobby Lovgren, but in Hollywood, when it comes to any movie in which horses play a major part, he is a superstar.
Lovgren’s latest job was as head horse trainer for the new film, “The Lone Ranger,” but this movie wasn’t Lovgren’s first rodeo. He’s been in the business of wrangling, training, racing and caring for horses and other equines for nearly 30 years. His past film credits include “The Mask of Zorro,” “Seabiscuit,” “Cowboys and Aliens” and “War Horse.” Lovgren is the man you call when you need to ensure not only that the horses in your movie are properly trained, but that the rest of your cast and crew are trained to be around the horses.
HEAD WRANGLER OR HORSE MASTER?
Other than being the head horse trainer for “The Lone Ranger,” Lovgren has been credited throughout his career as a horse master, a horse wrangler and a horse coordinator. But the distinctions between these titles, he says, are slight. “A head wrangler and horse master are the same thing. This is the person in charge of the whole animal department,” Lovgren told PawNation. “A trainer is in charge of all training of the animals.”
PREP MAKES PERFECT
The majority of that training, and much of Lovgren’s work, takes place during preproduction. For “The Lone Ranger,” that means three months of preparation before filming began, which Lovgren said was a great experience. “Everyone was really positive about learning and doing a good job.”
THE "REAL" SILVER
Lovgren worked on the film beside boss wrangler Clay Lilly, and one other horse trainer, Jess Brackenbury. Brackenbury “was there to help me with the specific riding sequences that needed to be trained,” Lovgren said. Several horses are used to portray one character like, in the case of “The Lone Ranger,” the title character’s iconic white horse, Silver. For that role, Lovgren told us, “We had four horses all the time and, for some sequences, brought two specialty horses in.”
SMARTER THAN YOUR AVERAGE HORSE
Those speciality horses are Lovgren’s bread and butter. Head wrangler Lilly may focus more on the many “extra” horses that populate the film (“I really don't know how many total were used. That is a Clay Lilley question,” Lovgren said.), but Lovgren trained and coordinated the equine “stars” of the film. Lovgren frequently works with some of the same specialty horses on his films. They have the experience and skills typical horses don’t.
“The star horses provide a lot of experience to fall back on when some shots change or you need something on the spur of the moment,” Lovgren said. “This is what is difficult for a horse that has just been brought in on short notice or has limited training.”
THE CREW WHISPERER
Lovgren’s job isn’t done once shooting begins. He continues to work with directors and film crews throughout production. In fact, he not only needs to be an expert horse trainer, but has extensive knowledge of filmmaking, too, so he can properly translate the director's ideas when he works with the animals. Lovgren said this is the most important part of his job.
MAKING MOVIE MAGIC
“Training really only takes place during prep,” Lovgren said. “It is important for me to be able to learn as quickly as possible how the director works and sets things up during filming. This enables me to give him options on how to utilize the animals to get the best performance and ensure the safety of the animals.”
Despite his decades of experience, every new project offers new wrinkles and challenges for Lovgren to solve. When asked what unique obstacles “The Lone Ranger” presented, Lovgren had a surprising answer. The biggest challenge didn’t have to do with training the horses or the actors, or shooting a particularly difficult stunt or sequence. Instead, the toughest challenge was casting Silver.
NO ROOM FOR HORSIN' AROUND
“I think the biggest challenge was finding the white horses,” Lovgren said. “On most films, I am able to use dye or makeup to have the horses double each other. That is not possible on white horses. Also just keeping them clean and ready to work was a full-time job.”
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NO SPOILER ALERT
Working on “The Lone Ranger” was not without its own rewards and new experiences for Lovgren. “We did some things on the film that I had never trained before, so that was really exciting,” Lovgren told PawNation. But for now, he’s keeping mum about the particulars to avoid any potential spoilers. “I can't say what they are until the film has been released.” It looks like we’ll just have to go see “The Lone Ranger” when it opens on July 3!