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One of the most iconic and memorable scenes from Blazing Saddles is the scene in which Mongo punches a horse after the horse's owner informs him that he cannot park his animal in a particular area.

The scene is very well done and looks amazing. I have always been curious how that scene was shot to make it so realistic.

Did filmmakers bring in a horse that was already trained for this? Was the horse trained to go down on a certain command? Is there any commentary from filmmakers, actors or stuntmen involved with that scene on how that scene was filmed?

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    You can see the stunt rider pulls back and right, hard, on the bridle in conjunction with the fake punch. That has to be the trained command for the horse to wheel back and down in that direction. – PoloHoleSet Sep 9 '16 at 16:52
  • @AndrewMattson That's the answer. – Paulie_D Sep 9 '16 at 17:15
  • @Paulie_D Sure. That's one part of the answer. I guess that Andrew Mattson worked on the set, so he just knows that ;) – steelersquirrel Sep 9 '16 at 17:23
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    This discussion should have ended back when we were leaning towards me being full of insightful wisdom, before we wandered into my observation of the obvious. – PoloHoleSet Sep 9 '16 at 17:49
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    Congratulations, this question is the winner of the corresponding topic challenge. – Napoleon Wilson Sep 11 '16 at 23:45
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Stunt horses have been around for many years...decades...going all the way back to the old westerns.

This type of "fall" takes some time for the horse to learn...

Horsechannel.com : How Stunt Horse are Trained to Fall

Teaching the Fall

Trained falling horses are valuable, and for good reason: It takes a special horse to execute this behavior.

"Think of a falling horse as an acrobat,” says Petrine Mitchum, author of Hollywood Hoofbeats: Trails Blazed Across the Silver Screen. "They need to be athletic and fearless, and also need to have a very trusting nature. So they have to not only have a calm, strong nature but also be willing to place total trust in their trainer.”

Before a horse is asked to fall, the ground is softened with a mixture of dirt, sand and sawdust, according to Mitchum in Hollywood Hoofbeats. With the trainer on the ground, the horse is taught to lie down from a halt. The animal’s left foreleg is tied up, and the trainer stands on the left side of the horse and gently pulls him off balance by pulling the right rein over the saddle. The trainer repeats the process daily until the horse learns the rein cue and no longer needs to have his leg tied. The trainer then teaches the horse to fall with a rider.

"The training is very specialized and not just anyone can do it,” says Mitchum. "It requires extreme patience and confidence, and the ability to read the horse and know what it is capable of, and when to push and when to back off. The trainer also has to have impeccable timing and a certain fearlessness, as well. To deliberately fall down with a 1,000-pound animal in a gallop is not for the faint of heart*.”

* The last part refers to a moving horse but, clearly, a stationary horse would be safer for the stuntperson

So, having trained your horse, it's just a matter of positioning the camera and timing the fake punch to coincide with the horse being commanded to fall down...oh, and a sound effect.

UpRoxx suggests there was more than one horse available

The horse punch, of course, came with some backlash. There were two horses on set that were trained to fall down, but that didn’t stop animal rights activists from sending Mel Brooks and the studio angry letters about the horse punch.

  • Wow. That's great information! It would be really great to find something from the actual filmmakers/actors that comment on this particular scene and how it was shot :) – steelersquirrel Sep 9 '16 at 17:45
  • I hope it exists but I can't find anything on point. The DVD commentary by Brooks is.. sparse and I suspect they would just take it for granted that we'd know it's a stunt and not question how it was done. Interesting to find out if something "canon" exists. – Paulie_D Sep 9 '16 at 17:51
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    Anecdotally, I was involved in the scene in Suffragette (21015) at the end where Emily Davison was killed by the King's horse. The horses on set were incredibly well-trained; they even got the partial jump as it knocked over the dummy 'Emily' that the original footage showed it was trying to make. The horses repeated those stunts for 3 days, without ever refusing. [For the Humane inclined, the ground was softened by 2ft of foam on top of peat/loam & covered in astroturf] – disassociated Sep 9 '16 at 20:31
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    I wouldn't be surprised to learn that well-trained stunt horses like that are somewhere in the Tom Cruise / Morgan Freeman sphere. Not necessary in the monetary sense, but in the "hey, I call you and tell you when I've got time, and you adjust your shooting schedule around me, or else I got another dozens callers on the line that will" sense. – Jörg W Mittag Sep 11 '16 at 0:00

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