In fact, in the new movie, Silver possesses a beguiling combination of mystery, humor, majesty, eccentricity and heroism. This Silver is a horse that suddenly appears in treetops and on the roof of a burning barn; a horse who recognizes something special about John Reid (Armie Hammer), even when he’s already buried after being “killed” at Bryant’s Gap.
“Something very wrong with that horse,” notes Johnny Depp’s Tonto to the Lone Ranger, puzzled by some of the animal’s behavior. But Tonto also knows that the animal is John Reid’s “spirit horse,” a being that recognizes the young man as a “Spirit Walker,” one who has been to the other side and returned. “Silver is a scene-stealer,” confirms director Gore Verbinski. “He shows up in the most unexpected places.”
With Silver featuring so prominently in the film, it was incumbent upon the production to find not only the best animal for the role, but also the best person to train it. In that respect, the path was absolutely clear, and it led straight to Bobby Lovgren, acknowledged as the finest in the world at his very specialized profession. The South African–born Lovgren, who grew up in an equestrian family, was a stable manager and rider in his home country before moving to Los Angeles and learning the ropes under legendary movie horse trainers Glenn Randall Sr. and Corky Randall.
Lovgren is now perhaps best known as the head trainer on Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse,” but previously he devoted his skills to the likes of “Seabiscuit” and “The Mask of Zorro.” The key to his success is that Lovgren loves and understands horses, and that feeling seems to be mutual. “We have to find out what horses understand,” says Lovgren. “Are we communicating with them properly? And then making sure they’re comfortable and enjoying it? We always try to make it easy for them, and that’s why I do short lessons. I’ll do a lot of them in the day, but never so that it’s strenuous for them. That way they pay more attention, just like a little kid.”
Lovgren notes that when seeking the perfect horse to portray Silver, “you have to find ones that play and look the part. You have to find out what their personalities are, what they can and can’t do, whether they jump well, stand quietly for a long time. All these things are very important.” Luckily, the “hero” horse Lovgren chose to play Silver is also, incredibly enough, actually named Silver. Lovgren had already worked with the ten-year-old Thoroughbred–quarter horse mix a few years back. “It was nice going in with a horse that I knew and could rely on,” he says.
As for the classic “Hi-yo, Silver” moment where Silver rears up with the Lone Ranger on his back—imbued, of course, with a Verbinski-esque twist, Lovgren beams, “Honestly, that was one of the easier things. And it was really nice because Armie Hammer did that himself. Armie was really awesome. I was lucky enough to work with him on ‘Mirror Mirror’ as well, so going in knowing him made all the difference in the world.”
Easy for Lovgren, perhaps, but not so much for Hammer. “It’s very counterintuitive to rear on a horse,” explains the actor, “because you’d think you go backward, but in reality you have to throw all your body weight forward, because that horse knows where the tipping point is.”
Opening across the Philippines on July 17, “The Lone Ranger” is distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures International through Columbia Pictures.