'The Lone Ranger' and the Trouble with White Horses

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There are a lot of bad things to be said about The Lone Ranger, so not much has been said about the good. One of the good things: the horses who play Silver are tasked with matching Depp, mug for mug, and they pull it off with aplomb. Not an easy feat. 

Silver is as integral to the Lone Ranger's identity as the mask. His name is in the catchphrase, for godssake. This professed horse-girl knew little about the Lone Ranger growing up, but still had the Breyer collectible of his horse. The new film elevates Silver — who in past iterations has simply been repaying a favor — to the level of spirit animal, a mystical creature who bonds to our hero John Reid as part of some sort of cosmic destiny. "There is so much interaction between the actors and Silver that his personality really comes across very well," the film's horse trainer Bobby Lovgren told the Atlantic Wire in an interview last week. 

So Silver plays a big role in the new film (Tonto's horse Scout does not get the same love), which for Lovgren meant finding horses with a particularly pristine look. In film, if the horse character is any other color than white, the production can use dye or makeup to get the desired hue. That's a technique Lovgren has used before on films like War Horse, which, as the The Telegraph explained in 2011, "employed a specialist equine make-up team – and all principal horses, those playing Joey and his thoroughbred companion Topthorn, were dyed and their markings temporarily altered to match."

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But with a white horse, you can't fudge it. And so Silver—or rather the four and then-some horses that played Silver—had to be naturally white and carefully cleaned and groomed throughout the shoot. White horses, Lovgren explains, "are much more work intensive because of keeping them clean, all day, from scene to scene, having them match from one scene to another is very, very difficult just because of the labor part of it. You have hot conditions, sweaty and they get dirty all the time." Thus the shoot, Lovgren said, had a "full time crew" dedicated solely to maintaining the horses' sheen.

All that fastidiousness and training pays off. Silver has the unenviable task of providing steady comic relief in the film, which sways wildly in tone from camp silliness to deadly (quite literally) seriousness, but these high maintenance equine actors rise to the challenge. In fact, Silver may be a better partner to Depp's erratic, oddball Tonto than the Lone Ranger himself. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.