If there's one horse movie that always warms our equestrian hearts, it is The Black Stallion, based on the novel by native New Yorker Walter Farley. What more appropriate opportunity to celebrate the equine star of that movie than on Black Friday?
Texas-bred Arabian stallion Cass Ole played The Black in 80% of the film's scenes. Before winning the iconic role, he had won more than 50 championships including National Champion in Arabian Western Pleasure in 1975. His resume attracted horse trainers Glen Randall Corky Randall (trainers of Roy Rogers' Trigger), who settled quickly on Cass Ole because of his good looks and temperament.
Cass prepared for his close-up at a California ranch with costar Kelly Reno for several weeks before filming began. In addition to practicing for various scenes, Cass received a little physical augmentation, in the form of dye for his white socks and facial star to make him completely black, and mane extensions to enhance a "wild" look.
Though Cass Ole received billing in the credits as the movie's star, The Black was actually played by a number of different horses throughout the film. Cass had a "no swimming or racing" clause in his contract. So, in the famous shipwreck beach scenes shot in Sardinia, The Black is played by California horse Fae Jur, who had an independent nature and particular expertise in fake-fighting.
Other versions of The Black include Junior and Star, two stunt horses owned by the Randall family, that stepped in when scenes required strenuous fighting, running, jumping and swimming. (Star was reportedly so docile that when filming the scene in which The Black gets tangled in a rope between two rocks, the trainers had to throw pebbles at him to elicit any kind of reaction.) Also, the group of equine actors on-set, including Cass Ole, Fae Jur, Junior and Star, so disliked swimming that producers had to import several water-willing equines from France for some of the underwater sequences.
Still, Cass Ole is the horse we know and love from the majority of footage. He learned many new skills for the role, including pinning his ears to express anger, rearing, stomping and even nodding his head and giving pretend kisses. Cass went on to star in the Black Stallion sequel and made many celebrity appearances, including at Ronald Reagan's inauguration. Cass retired to stud at his home ranch in Texas, siring over 130 foals, and was humanely euthanized in 1993 after a bout with colic.
The Black Stallion has an official fan site run by Walter Farley's son, Tim. The film is available via streaming on YouTube, Amazon Video, Google Play, iTunes, and on DVD.
“You've never in your life seen a horse run so fast! He's all power-all beauty.”― Walter Farley, The Black Stallion
Photo: Cass Ole from allbreedpedigree.com