How many horses have been injured during filming of Hollywood Westerns?

atm-logoHow many horses have been injured during filming of Hollywood Westerns?

Barry Waldman
Centereach, New York

Records of animal injuries weren’t kept in the early days. During the chariot race in the 1925 film Ben-Hur, up to 150 horses were killed.

Yakima Canutt, the legendary Hollywood stunt man (and occasional John Wayne double), created one dangerous procedure involving horses. His Running W device threaded a wire, anchored to the ground, through a ring on the cinch, to the fetlocks of a galloping horse. When the horse reached the end of the wire, his forelegs were yanked out beneath him. The animal fell and launched the rider forwards spectacularly—but the horse was often injured or killed.

Restrictions were put in place after dozens of horses died in 1936’s The Charge of the Light Brigade (star Errol Flynn helped raise the issue). But the last straw came when a horse was jumped off a cliff by the producers of 1939’s Jesse James. The animal drowned; the horse either broke its spine or panicked.

The Hays Code banned apparent animal cruelty in 1940.

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian. His latest book is Wyatt Earp: Showdown at Tombstone.  If you have a question, write: Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327 or e-mail him at

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Marshall Trimble

Marshall Trimble is Arizona’s official historian and the Wild West History Association’s vice president. His latest book is 2018’s Arizona Oddities: A Land of Anomalies and Tamales. Send your question, with your city/state of residence, to or Ask the Marshall, P.O. Box 8008, Cave Creek, AZ 85327.