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In National Velvet [1944] Elizabeth Taylor, as a young actress, fell from a horse and broke her back; this caused her a lot of pain for many years.

Surely a stunt double could have been found. There are small people in the world [e.g in Game of Thrones] or camera work could have made someone look her size. For someone young and inexperienced, that was a huge risk from the studio.

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    Teenage girl horse culture is a huge thing in some social circles, and it appears that not only was Taylor a horse fan but she was filming with her pet horse. She probably wanted to do as many scenes as possible, and it's not unusual for girls of that age to be competent in gallop and small jumps. If it was being filmed in the present era I suspect someone would insist she wear a back protector, though. – pjc50 Jul 2 at 13:07
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    Did Elizabeth Taylor break her back, or merely injure it? I used to more or less assume that everyone who broke their back was paralyzed for the rest of their life, which obviously wasn't the case with Elizabeth Taylor. – M. A. Golding Jul 2 at 15:58
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    @M.A.Golding not so. I broke my back (compression fracture of a lower vertebrae) in 1983 and just had to wear a brace for a few months. In fact, I didn't know it was broken for more than a week. Now, if it had been compressed a bit more, then I'd have really been screwed. – RonJohn Jul 2 at 16:03
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They did

Alice van Springsteen was the stunt double for Ms Taylor in National Velvet

Her first work as a film stuntwoman came in Will Rogers' last movie, "In Old Kentucky" (1935). A member of the Cowgirl Hall of Fame, she went on to serve as a stunt double for Elizabeth Taylor (in 1944's "National Velvet"), Marian Davis, Jane Wyman, Ingrid Bergman and Barbara Stanwyck (in "The Big Valley" TV series of the 1960s.)

Hollywood Reporter

I'm still looking for a full report of the accident but there are cases where it's necessary for the actual actor to perform minor stunts. There may be minimal risk but that does not mean there is no risk.

A horse is a large creature and you're a long way off the ground....falling off hurts!


It also seems that "Pie" (the horse) was not the gentle creature one might imagine..

The Pie was a 7-year-old thoroughbred named King Charles, a descendant of famed racehorse Man O War. He was owned by a society woman at the Rivera Country Club in Los Angeles who had trained him as a show jumper, and she offered to let Elizabeth Taylor ride him while at the country club. Elizabeth immediately fell in love with the horse, and he was acquired by MGM for $800 to star in National Velvet with her. She undertook a rigorous training routine to prepare for the movie, and rode King Charles for 90 minutes every day while also feeding and bonding with him at the Rivera Country Club for the rest of the day.

From the beginning, King Charles was a difficult horse to get along with. He wouldn’t listen to commands, and he regularly bit crew members, once seriously injuring a trainer who was trying to make him play dead for a scene. The only person he would listen to was Elizabeth. The two had developed a special bond, which is very evident in the final film.

Source

However, this incident just appears to have been an unfortunate accident.

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    Because this is a film that mainly involves horses and horse-riding, it makes sense for the main actress to be seen as riding. Probably not the dangerous scenes, but general riding should have been acceptable if she were a proficient and confident rider in real life (which appears to be the case). – Snow Jul 2 at 6:26
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    @user2121 So is driving a car. – Konrad Rudolph Jul 2 at 13:11
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    @user2121 Yes, horseback riding can be very dangerous, as there are many examples, but children like Elizabeth Taylor have sometimes ridden horses in more dangerous stunts in movies, such as Frankie Darro (1917-1976) and Betsy King Ross (1929-1981) in The Phantom Empire (1935). I note that Mongolian and Plains Indian children would become skilled horse riders when much younger than Elizabeth Taylor. – M. A. Golding Jul 2 at 15:53
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    @M.A.Golding Riding isn't just the skill of the rider - the horse is much more powerful and if decides it's going to bolt, say, and not listen to the rider... – user2121 Jul 2 at 16:00

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