Murphy’s Movie Debut

Recently I got the opportunity to be an extra in a movie called Hope’s Legacy. Filmed in Maryland, it features eventing and is a sequel to the movie Christmas Ranch. If I’m being completely honest with you, I haven’t seen that movie either, so I’m not entirely sure what it’s about (even after having the plot explained to me at least three times).

Anyway, the opportunity to ride as an extra for a film featuring eventing sounded too good to pass up, so I signed up.

Going into it, I had no idea what the day on a movie set would look like, but I knew that it would be a long one, especially because I was taking care of my friend’s barn that week. It was going to be an early morning and late night! Thankfully my mom agreed to help out with my friend’s barn that day so that we could fit the movie in, too.

We had little information about what to expect. We were told only to come with our horses, prepared to ride cross country and dressage.

Being the Pony Clubber and perfectionist that I am, I was sure to clean all my tack and give Murphy a good grooming the day before the filming. We were ready as we would ever be.

I was mostly excited because the movie was being filmed at Full Moon Farm, which neither Murphy nor I had been to. Spending time there would give us experience at a venue that we might compete at in the future, and even better, the day was supposed to be run like a competition to create the right atmosphere for the movie. It sounded like a great practice situation with no pressure or stress. 

Even so, that morning on the car ride to Full Moon (after my mom and I sweated through the barn chores at 5 am- we got them done in an hour!) I was still feeling that familiar nervous anticipation where my stomach drops. I wasn’t nervous at all in my mind- I was excited and of course a little anxious just because I wasn’t sure what to expect- but definitely nothing like the nervousness I get before a competition. I guess it was because I did everything I would do to prepare for a normal competition, and it was just anticipating what was to come.

We arrived to Full Moon about 15 minutes before call time, and several other trailers were right behind us. There was no one there to direct us, so we all parked like we would if we were at a horse show. We unpacked our stuff and met some of the other rider extras as we were all wondering who we were supposed to be talking to to find out what was going on. Eventually we went down to the indoor to try and figure out whether we were supposed to get ready to ride.

We encountered some crew members, so I asked them where we were supposed to check in. Their response confused me even more than I already was- they just said, “No, this is for the movie,” to which I responded, “Well that’s what we’re here for…” 

They were all very nice, and said that the producer wasn’t there yet, so they had no idea what was going on either. That was a little bit concerning. I was now thinking, “what did I get myself into…”

It turned out that just as I had no experience with a film production, the crew had no experience with horses, let alone eventing. Throughout the day, they asked for “interesting facts” about horses. I loved that they wanted to learn!

Murphy actually stood still while some of the crew said hello.

Eventually, the producer arrived and told us what time to be ready to ride. Unfortunately though, they said they would be ready for riders around 11 when we were told to get there at 8 with our horses!

A lot of the day was like a hunter show- hurry up and wait. 

They wanted to get some b-roll footage of us tacking up at our trailers, as if we were preparing to ride cross country. Predictably, when they got to Murphy I was putting the bridle on attempting to get the bridle over his head while he was flinging it around in the air and stepping away from the camera. And when I peeked over at the other horses, they were all standing quietly and patiently. 

Murphy redeemed himself when we got out on the cross country course though. He felt great and was very responsive. I was proud of how he handled the camera equipment and the standing around between jumps.

Murphy waiting patiently for his close-up.

Because the film crew wasn’t familiar with eventing, they weren’t always sure what to ask the riders and horses to do. At one point an assistant director asked me to leave the start box and jump the first fence. Then we had to do it over and over again to make sure we got the right angles and the right lighting, and whatever else filmmakers try to capture. I was glad we got to leave the start box a bunch of times because it was good practice for us.

Next we went to the water complex to get some water shots and I schooled some jumps around the water. The crew was open-minded and great about asking questions to make the scenes as accurate as possible. I was glad that I was able to get a little bit of a cross country schooling out of the day, too.

Cross country makes Murphy… sleepy?

Since they got the footage of me coming out of the start box, the director said that they would have me be the main extra rider on cross country. That was great… until they asked if I could make Murphy stop at a fence.

Wait … what? I did my best to tactfully say no explain that horses are trained to jump over jumps, and it would be encouraging bad behavior if I intentionally pulled Murphy up right in front of a jump. 

Thankfully, the videographers came up with a creative alternative. They would just film Murphy’s hooves coming to a stop, and also get footage of Murphy and me stopped in front of a jump, along with my reaction. It all went pretty smoothly, and Murphy handled it well. I made sure to jump the jump a few times again after he was “stopped” at it, and he was fine.

I’m not sure how my “reaction” turned out. The script said that the rider was supposed to “throw the reins up in frustration.” I explained that no rider would ever (or at least I hope not) do that during a cross country round. 

After the cross country shoot was over, we went back to the trailers where they were filming a dialogue scene. The director wanted the horses and people walking in the background during the scene to mimic the trailer area at a horse show.

One of the dialogue scenes. Photo by: Karen Buck

This part was easy. Murphy was more than happy to stand around and watch the action. 

I heard some of the dialogue as we Murphy and I walked by the actors. The scene involved a rider’s boyfriend excitedly encouraging her after her dressage test was over. He said something like, “That was a great performance! I had no idea your horse was such a good dancer!” I’m pretty sure no horse person would ever say that… but we will see how it turns out! 

Then we had a lunch break with one of my favorites: Royal Farms chicken! I enjoyed just sitting in the shade for a while and talking with some of the other girls who were also extra riders.

Don’t worry, there’s a salad under all those carbs!

After lunch we got dressed and tacked up for dressage and headed to the indoor arena where they were filming the dressage tests. The extras were asked to ride 20-meter circles in the background to mimic a warm up ring. As we got there, though, it wasn’t just the four people who did the cross country scenes. There were now about eight riders in the warm up ring! They didn’t need nearly that many riders doing 20-meter circles. Eight horses can’t even fit on a circle! So after I took Murphy around a few times, we decided to call it a day. It was hot, and I needed to take Murphy home then take care of my friend’s barn.

Things I learned on the film set:

  • I can do the riding, but acting is definitely not one of my skills!
  • The crew eats pretty well.
  • The videographers found our white shirts and breeches difficult to work with. White does funny things to lighting.
  • The film crew said they liked the “brown horses.” They were the easiest to work with because of lighting.
  • Sometimes it takes 20 takes to get what seems like one short simple scene.
  • They really do yell “action” and “cut” on a set.

Overall, I’m really glad I got to have this experience with Murphy! It was definitely a long day, but it was a fun experience and I got to talk with a lot of different people. I’m not sure if I’ll actually appear in the film, but regardless, I can’t wait to see how the movie turns out when it’s released in 2020!

Check out this video for some clips of the filming process.