When I was a teen and young adult it was not uncommon to have the likes of Paul Newman, Charles Bronson and Mel Gibson on the sidelines of the show arena. My sister competed in the same classes as Clea, Paul Newman's daughter, and she still laughs about how Clea's famous father was not above hanging over the arena fence line and coaching his kid just like any other Horse Show Dad.
When I earned extra horse show money by braiding hunters late at night, more than once I stood in the barn aisle chatting with Maura and Thea Nielsen, whose dad was Leslie Neilsen ("Naked Gun" and "Airplane!").
In more recent years I've interviewed, chatted with, spotted at horse shows or sat in grandstands next to William Shatner, Kurt Russell, Tom Selleck and Sam Elliot. I found William Shatner to be a very gracious, funny person who really is a very good horseman; I watched him ride several horses and I must say, I was impressed! Kurt Russell was nicer and more down to earth than the people at his agency. Sam Elliot is a cowboy at heart and a horse lover from way back and Tom Selleck (who rides western) fully supports his daughter, who's a world class jumper rider. My girlfriend, who is still gobsmacked by Tom Selleck, about fell over the poor man while climbing to her seat at the World Cup Show Jumping Finals in Las Vegas.
"By the way," I whispered to her, "that man you just kneed in the face? That's Tom Selleck."
She about died.
There are plenty of celebrities who ride that I've yet to meet in person or converse with, but hey, my life isn't over yet! Robert Duvall is probably the one A-list actor who is My Hero when it comes to riding. He's done it all: ranch work and western riding (that's why he looks so natural on horseback in all those westerns he films) and riding hunters both in the show ring and in the hunt field.
I realize that the actors I've mentioned are from my generation of stars. Maybe that's because these actors matured in an era where it was necessary to know how to ride in order to get work: it was the heyday of the western film and TV series. Perhaps they learned how to ride for a job, fell in love, and continued with their newfound interest. But today there simply aren't very many horsey flicks being made. The ability to look natural wielding a gun or driving a sportscar during a chase scene is more valuable than being able to sit to a horse's trot without looking like an idiot. However, that's what got two particular actors to learn how to ride a horse. Both Oded Fehr (in "The Mummy Returns") and Billy Crystal (for "City Slickers") wanted to preserve their dignity so they took riding lessons before filming began. And guess what? They realized horseback riding was an enjoyable, stress-reducing pastime, and they continue to spend time in the saddle whenever possible.
Who knew that we had so much in common with the world of Hollywood? So next time you're in line at the feed store-- or out on the trail or buying a chili dog at the horse show-- look around. Maybe you're rubbing elbows with a star. Or at least know that you share a passionate love of horses with some celebrities. When it comes to horses, we have something in common!
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