But riding like a jockey is something else again – enter the Equicizer. Director Ross explained that during much of the film Maguire was mounted on this device, although he had taken lessons in how to crouch down during a race by Chris McCarron. This leading American jockey worked as technical advisor and also acted in the movie.
Maguire admitted that he was sitting on it for all his close-ups. “It was attached to a flatbed truck,” he said. “We’d cruise around the track at 35mph (56km/h) moving forward and backward and side to side. I’d be on the balls of my feet standing for a minute and ‘driving’ the horse. And it’s not me in any of the races where there are bumping sequences.”
During pre-production, Ross had been at the Santa Anita racetrack and came upon a mechanical horse. “I saw it when I was passing through the jockeys’ room. It was spring-loaded to duplicate the exact motion of riding, and I figured that if I could mechanise one and put it on a truck with a camera platform I could drive Tobey around the track and shoot him with the grandstand and the crowd whizzing by. I’d be able to get the camera right next to his face and it would be a totally safe environment.”
He had it built and it worked, however, Tobey still found it demanding: “I didn’t realise what kind of athletes jockeys were. The first time I got up in the stirrups and did a bit of a gallop on the Equicizer, after a couple of minutes my legs were noodles. I could barely stand up.”
For the film’s other leading players their riding scenes were less complicated. Both Bridges and Cooper were reasonably experienced and nothing they had to do was particularly challenging.
“I’ve been around horses most of my life,” said Bridges. “Dad (Lloyd Bridges) had taught me to ride a long time ago. I used to love it when he made a western ’cause he’d come home in cowboy garb. Having to ride in Seabiscuit was great.”
As a young man Cooper had lived and worked on a ranch and raised cattle. “It was a great life when you’re a young kid; for me it was either going to be acting or ranching. And acting won out!” He fondly recalls the film’s opening scenes where he is preparing to round up a mob of mustangs.
“It was just a beautiful set-up and a beautiful introduction to my character. I was very proud of that film and it was great working with Jeff, he’s a good man.”
In that scene he takes six horses across the open range and attempts to lasso one of them. It was a stuntman doing the lassoing and that action took place in a contained area. The rope was immediately released before any tension was applied.
In another sequence, Charles (Jeff Bridges) mounts his horse and goes for a ride with his friend Marcella (Elizabeth Banks), who is also a skilled rider. The actors were only on the horses for a brief time, leaving most of the riding to the professionals.
Never believe everything you see on the screen or hear from a movie star!
A total of 10 horses shared the title role, each one displaying a distinct characteristic of the little bay stallion. Gravy, who was trained to rear and paw, played the disgruntled Seabiscuit. Muffin was the lazy one who had all the sleeping scenes, and Fighting Furrari was selected for the racing sequences. All were Thoroughbreds except for a trick Quarter Horse owned by Hendrickson. Triple Digit Cash specialised in “mouth work” and it is him the audience is seeing when Seabiscuit rips the silks off a rival jockey.