During pre-production, Tatum O’Neil worked hard on acquiring a British accent and even harder learning how to ride. All she had ever done before was trot around the hills of Southern California in a western saddle.
In Los Angeles she underwent intensive training with Marcia Williams, a member of the USEF National Show Jumping Hall of Fame who had previous film experience coordinating the riding sequences for The Horse in the Grey Flannel Suit and The Horse with the Flying Tail.
Marcia was impressed with her pupil’s abilities, describing Tatum as a very fast learner. “In just two months she was jumping a course of three-foot fences which many new riders take four of five months to learn.”
Tatum was also proud of her achievements and wished she had continued with riding. “I had to do big jumps, and that was very hard and scary, but I was very confident,” she would later recall. “I never got thrown off the horse. I loved riding. I think I should have kept doing it. I would have had a much better life.”
However, Tatum went in a few other directions. She severed relationships with her father, Ryan, accusing him of physical and mental abuse. Married John McEnroe, had three children, divorced eight years later. Developed an addiction to heroin, lost custody of her children, attempted suicide, was arrested for having crack cocaine and is lucky to be alive today at the age of 58.
In this sequel to National Velvet, the 1944 classic starring Elizabeth Taylor as Velvet Brown (see Equestrian Life, September 2020), Tatum plays her orphaned niece, Sarah, who dreams of Olympic glory with the British eventing team on her horse, Arizona Pie. There is also a romantic element to International Velvet where Sarah falls for an eventer from the US Equestrian Team. In the original 1944 version, young Velvet’s ambition was to win the Grand National Steeplechase, and no romance was depicted up on screen. Although Hollywood gossip suggested there was a whole lot of it going on between Taylor and Rooney in the dressing room.