POLITICS

Hollywood horse trainer and stunt rider in Stampede production

07/11/2012 04:00 EDT | Updated 09/09/2012 05:12 EDT
CALGARY - The Stampede is going Hollywood — from an equine perspective.

A major show at the 10-day celebration of cowboy life includes the participation of a Hollywood horse whisperer as well as an Alberta-based stuntwoman and trick rider.

TAILS tells the story, through the eyes of three horses, of how the Calgary Stampede came to be and involves equestrian arts, videography and special effects.

Sally Bishop performs as Florence LaDue, the wife of Stampede founder Guy Weadick, who was a well-known trick rider and roper in her day.

"What I'm doing in this show is called Roman riding. It is called that because Roman gladiators used to do that as a race around the Coliseum and it's something that I always wanted to do," Bishop said recently after a morning workout in Calgary.

Bishop stands on the backs of two horses as they circle the ring. It's not something for the faint of heart.

"It definitely still scares the hell out of me. Basically, every time before a show, I'm always nervous because if you weren't nervous there would be something wrong, because it's dangerous. You have to be literally on your toes and have your head up and be aware of what's going on."

Growing up with parents who were both trick riders, it seemed natural for Bishop, 39, to gravitate toward TV and the movies.

"I grew up around that kind of thing because my dad works in the film industry in providing horses and he did stunts as well. I kind of went after it and started getting more jobs."

Her latest stint was on the ABC series "Once Upon a Time" which is shot in Vancouver.

"I doubled as Snow White and I also doubled Regina, the evil queen, at different times.

"It is word of mouth I would say. There's really not an official channel to get into that business, but you have to let people know you are out there and what your skill set is."

Trainer Bill Lawrence's Stampede experience is a bit daunting, too. He's handled horses for a number of Hollywood films including "The Legend of Zorro," "Racing Stripes" and the Oscar-nominated "War Horse." But he's finding the Stampede event a bit of a challenge.

"I think this is a bigger challenge than "War Horse" was and when I left "War Horse" I thought I would never find one that tough again. This is live and there are 40 some shows including rehearsal," said Lawrence, who is based in Ellensburg, Wash.

Lawrence uses a technique called liberty training. Horses are free of ropes and bridles and the work is based on trust and using body language. There are no treats as rewards either.

"There's always a herd sire and he takes it where he wants. He bends his ears and they basically go the way he wants to go. Basically, I'm the herd sire. That's what I have to achieve.

"I basically become another horse to them."

Lawrence isn't fond of the term horse whisperer, but he doesn't dispute its use in his case.

"It's pretty much that. Basically it's a thinking game. There's very little you can do by force."

Lawrence demonstrates on the horse he is training. Skooks looks to the left, looks to the right, rears up on his hind legs and paws the ground with both his left and right hooves as a result of a series of hand movements by Lawrence.

"Everything I do is a cue to him — from my voice and depending on how I move."

Lawrence is in high demand in Hollywood but said the downside is the amount of time away from home. He spent 10 months shooting in Mexico and his work on "War Horse" had him in England for five months.

"We usually get the calls for the big movies because they want the good stuff ... "We're expensive but not like computer-generated images.

"A lot of people don't realize what we can achieve given the proper amount of prep time."