I posted this old photo on my personal Facebook page recently, and was encouraged by a friend to post a blog because she wanted to know the whole story. So here it is:
My horses Dusty and Alf were equine actors in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries in 1992. Dusty was 33 years old at the time, and Alf was 5. My friend Brenda told me that the producers of the show had stopped by her horse farm and asked to film there, and also said they needed horses for the filming. So she asked me if I was interested, since at the time she didn’t have any suitable horses. The story was about a missing heiress from Bridgeport, NY (a town right next to where I live), who had disappeared when she was 17 from Chittenango High School, presumably with her boyfriend. Her name was Sandy Breed. Her mother had died and left her an estate in excess of $150,000, so they were trying to locate her. The girl had had horses when she lived in the area, so the film crew wanted to depict some horse scenes for the Unsolved Mysteries reenactment section of the story. My horses would be paid for the gig, so I was quite agreeable. I selected Dusty and Alf for the job.
The morning dawned fair and warm. We loaded the horses and all their tack into the trailer and traveled the 2 or so miles to Brenda’s place. We were all very excited. It was a full day, and very interesting, as I had never seen filming for a television show before. We simply hung around for most of the morning, watching the crew and letting the horses hand-graze in the lawn, as the crew and actors did some other scenes in the driveway of Brenda’s house. Lunch was catered by a local deli-style restaurant. After lunch, the director called for the horses.
Now, the actors who were portraying Sandy and her boyfriend were not riders. The man had slightly more experience, but that was not saying much! I had to give a crash course in riding, so I spent fifteen minutes or so with each of the actors. I decided that Dusty would be suitable for the woman playing Sandy, since she seemed a bit intimidated by the idea of riding and I knew Dusty would be as gentle as a mouse with an inexperienced rider. Once I gave her some basic idea of how to stop and start him and made sure she had control, I turned my attention to Alf and the actor portraying Bruce, the boyfriend. The director wanted to film the two riding along a ridge on the edge of Brenda’s property, which would require that this man have a bit more schooling with Alf, who was a younger horse and had more of a tendency to take advantage of inexperience than Dusty.
I became the horse wrangler on set, and I was fine with that, even though I received no formal credit. I wanted to make sure my horses were safe and well-treated, and that they caused no harm to anyone else. Even though they were both very well-behaved, accidents can happen even with experienced riders, so of course I had to be extra-diligent with rookies.
The ridge filming went well, and then the director turned his attention to a scene where “Bruce” would be giving a locket to “Sandy” while she was still mounted on Dusty. The afternoon was wearing on, and the light in the bit of forest he wanted to film in was fading, so they wanted to use a large whiteboard near Dusty to catch and reflect the light on the face of the actress. Dusty was having none of that, and every time they tried to get near him with the board, he backed away. Finally I was called in to see what I could do so they could get the shot. I ended up crouching down in front of Dusty, just out of the shot, and covering his right eye with my hand so he couldn’t see the white board coming at him. If you ever see the show, remember that I am crouching there on the ground in front of my horse with my hand over his eye, just out of sight, while one of the crew is holding a large white board above my head, when “Bruce” gives that locket to “Sandy!”
While filming that same scene, Alf was off camera to the right, being held by the actor. The actor wasn’t paying attention, and Alf stepped on his reins and broke them. The producer was kind enough to pay us for the broken reins, too, at the end of the day.
Despite the small issues we encountered, it was a fun day, an educational day, and my two favorite horses have been immortalized on film forever. When I watch the clip of them on the ridge, I remember that day with fondness. I remember what wonderful, kind horses they both were, and I feel blessed for having known them. They brought me into some amazing adventures that, without them, I would have never experienced. “Unsolved Mysteries” was only one of those adventures.
To see excerpts from the episode, go here: Unsolved Mysteries Clip (approximately 2 minutes). Yes, we filmed all afternoon for just those few seconds of air time!