There are no records of any of the many TSC members going on to pursue equestrian professions. Lara Jean Marshall, who played Lisa Atwood, says she enjoys some pleasure riding these days. Her latest acting role is a far cry TSC though. Now 30, she plays a villain in the sci-fi series We Were Tomorrow, in which she repeatedly stabs people. Her favourite SC horses were Prancer and Patch. Keenan MacWilliam, who is presently a producer at Herself, a feminist art website, once stated she really liked Starlight and Cobalt.
These four horses, like the other nine in the cast, each had a double. “And then we had 15 as background which were speciality horses,” said Graham. (These were trained to rear on command, run to a mark, push objects, nod, lie down, bow, kneel, sit and fetch). “A lot of the show was based on guest actors who’d do a couple of eps and then disappear. This was when we’d use one of our specialties.”
On one occasion a scene called for a “sick” horse to lie on the ground and be examined by vet assistant, George Whiteside, played by a 19-year-old Chris Hemsworth. At the time nobody thought he would go on become a muscular superstar making millions in Hollywood! Both he and the horse performed the sequence splendidly. “I worked with Chris recently when I was the horse master and animal trainer on Thor – Ragnarok,” says Graham.
On TSC, Graham always worked closely with the producers. “I was given a lot of lead time and never thrown in the deep end. I’d also be asked to put forward storyline ideas.”
For much of the time he collaborated with the late Lynn Bayonas, who once said: “With any production you have hair-raising moments, but I think the combination of children and animals works a treat – they get such a buzz out of working together, too.”
“Lynn always was keen to showcase the horse work and welcomed suggestions,” says Graham. “And after a day’s filming I’d be shown the rushes and asked to select which scenes looked the most realistic.”
Some smart alec viewers would ask why the stabled animals always wore headstalls. “Because when a shot was required of an actor standing with her horse, she could put her hand up onto the headstall and control its head so it looked towards the camera,” says Graham.
The only thing he couldn’t control was the overuse of neighing, whinnying and nickering – a problem which exists today in almost all horse films. These inappropriate sound effects are put in by overzealous editors in post-production and have been happening ever since talkies were invented.
Like the horses, the SC girls had doubles who would stand in for them when a scene required rearing, galloping or falling and such — but when many of them had to appear in The Saddle Club Live Show, a spectacular held in the Sydney Super Dome in 2004, there was no opportunity for back-up. They were on their own with 30 horses.
The girls nailed it, proving to 7000 spectators they could walk, trot, canter and sing at the same time. The Sydney Morning Herald’s review of the show in April was most impressive: “The girls are excellent riders and the horses are highly trained. A climactic race showed their extensive experience. Nearly all dealt with horses spooked by camera flashes from the audience, despite warnings before the show. For the finale our horsey heroines waved to the crowd like radiant royalty as they whizzed past in a white horse-drawn carriage with roses attached to the sides. And the little girls with mouths agog and eyes like dinner plates waved and wished even harder for a pony.”
Graham still has happy memories of those times. “In those live performances and in all three TV series the cast was fantastic and always respectful of the horses, three of which I still have in the paddock at home. They’re in their 30s now and doing well.” Graham is currently in Byron Bay working with small animals on Nicole Kidman’s Nine Perfect Strangers.
It’s been a while since Kidman was filmed in the saddle; Baz Luhrmann’s Australia (2008) was probably the most recent picture. Many of the horses for that $130 million production came from equestrians such as Daniella Dierks, George Sanna and this magazine’s very own Roger Fitzhardinge. But more on all that next time!