Seabiscuit

Seabiscuit is the true story of a Depression-era equine hero and his underdog jockey Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire), who overcame incredible odds to win the hearts and raise the spirits of a nation drowning in economic crisis. The film, also based on the best-selling novel of the same name by Laura Hillenbrand, features a menagerie of equine actors, some ex-racehorses, all of which were hand-picked for the film by the professional horse trainers that worked to bring the legendary story of the small, spirited bay and equally tenacious yet half-blind jockey back to life.

  • Starring: Tobey Maguire, Jeff Bridges, Elizabeth Banks, Chris Cooper, William H. Macy and Gary Stevens
  • Director(s): Gary Ross
  • Producer(s): Universal Pictures, DreamWorks SKG, Spyglass Entertainment, Larger Than Life Productions, The Kennedy/Marshall Company
  • Screenwriter(s): Gary Ross, Bruce Joel Rubin
  • Distributor: Universal Pictures
  • Animal Coordinator: Rusty Hendrickson
  • Release Date: Friday, July 25, 2003
  • Rating: Acceptable

Featured Animal Action

Animal Action Summary

Over 40 horses are featured in the film, with 10 sharing the complex role of Seabiscuit. All of the animals were cast in their various roles based on the type of action that they could comfortably and willingly perform, and much attention was paid to the individual strengths of each horse. While the racing sequences were filmed at actual racetracks in Los Angeles, Kentucky, and New York, all of the racing in the film was simulated, with the horses' running distances never exceeding 3 furlongs, or three eighths of a mile, per take. American Humane (AH) Animal Safety Representatives monitored the animals in Seabiscuit throughout production, enforcing our Guidelines to ensure that No Animals Were Harmed™ in the making of this film.

Detailed Animal Action

The Horse Whisperer

The film opens with sensitive horse trainer Tom Smith (Chris Cooper) riding up on a horse and looking out over the expanse of an open range. He guides 6 horses across the land and attempts to lasso one of them. A professional stunt rider doubled for the actor in this scene, which was filmed in a contained area. He expertly lassoed one horse and immediately released the rope, before any tension was applied to the animal. All of the horses were rounded up after each take.

A wild and scared horse rears on his hind legs. Tom calms the horse down using his hands. A trained rearing horse was used for this scene. The trainer stood off camera and cued the horse to rear on command, while the actor appeared to "calm" the horse by gently stroking him.

Several men wrestle an injured horse to the ground, preparing to shoot it. Tom shows up and saves the horse from being killed. A trained "lie-down" horse was used for this scene and the actors simulated the struggle with the animal, who was taking cues from his off-camera trainer.

Red

Young Red Pollard (Tobey Maguire) rides a horse in a ring. The young actor's double, who is actually an expert horse rider and jumper, deftly took the horse over a 3-foot high balsawood fence and a low log.

After the stock market crashes, Red earns money for his family by competing as a jockey in horse races. One of his first races is aggressive, as he and another jockey fight and punch each other while on horseback. Most of this scene was filmed on fake mechanical horses and edited with simulated racing in post production.

Red soon gets a job as a hired hand at a race track in Saratoga, New York. Red begrudgingly leads a horse around a hot walker, a carousel-like device used to cool down horses after a race. The trainer attached the horse's halter to the hot walker chain and instructed the actor to lead the animal in the scene. The footing was soft and dry and three trainers were present to supervise the action.

Days before a big race, Red offers to practice with another horse as a favor to an old friend. While Red is merely breezing the horse, or riding it slowly, around the track, a loud noise suddenly frightens the animal and it takes off running. The horse trips and falls to the ground, knocking Red off of its back and then dragging him all the way back to the stable. A professional stunt rider rode the horse in this carefully choreographed sequence, which was filmed over the course of several weeks. The rider cued the horse to take off in a gallop and the loud noise was added in later in post production. A specially trained falling horse was cued to go down onto a soft area on the ground, prepared in advance with sand and moss padding for the comfort of the animal. Next, an off-camera trainer led the horse — the stuntman already perched on his back — until the animal took off into a full gallop and then was released. The stuntman was attached to the saddle with a quick-release wire, and on cue, "fell" from the animal and was dragged several feet before the horse was halted by the trainer.

Seabiscuit

Ten bay horses shared the title role, each one displaying a distinct characteristic of the famous racehorse. Gravy played the disgruntled Seabiscuit, as he was trained to rear and paw, Muffin was the lazy Seabiscuit, happy to lay on the grass and sleep, and Fighting Furrari's feisty nature was preferred for the racing sequences.

Seabiscuit is introduced in the film as a colt, trotting alongside its mother in an open field. The colt is separated from its mother, forced into a trailer to travel to its new home. The mother and colt were filmed running side by side in an enclosure. The colt is then filmed with his mother just off-camera, and immediately able to return to her side.

Seabiscuit proves to be a stubborn animal, preferring to lie in the grass all day rather than obey its owner. A jockey tries to break Seabiscuit's resistance by hitting the horse with a whip. Muffin was cued to lie down by an off-camera trainer. The horse was not actually hit by the whip.

Impressed by Seabiscuit's determination, Tom convinces Charles to purchase the animal. Seabiscuit is next heard fighting from the inside of his new stall, bucking and rearing against his rope restraints. Red slowly approaches Seabiscuit to offer him an apple, but the stubborn horse refuses his offering. Rearing horse Gravy was cued to rear and paw by an off-camera trainer, while most of the noise from inside the stall was added in post production. And while the apple is initially refused by the animal, he was allowed to gobble it up once the cameras stopped rolling.

Later, Red attempts to ride Seabiscuit around the race track, but the horse instead takes Red on a curvy course rather than following a straight line, further demonstrating his willfulness. A professional jockey rode the Seabiscuit horse for this scene, using rein commands to cue the animal to go left and right across the track.

Taking a different approach, Red decides to take Seabiscuit out for a ride in nature. Red rides Seabiscuit at a fast pace through the woods, jumping fallen trees and dodging branches. A professional stunt rider rode the horse in this choreographed scene. Every jump was practiced prior to filming and the area was prepped for safe footing and cleared of any potentially harmful debris and overhanging branches.

Despite Red's efforts to bond with the horse, Seabiscuit still resists being in his stall alone. Tom attempts to calm the horse with the presence of a companion animal. He picks up a small goat and proceeds to place it inside the stall with Seabiscuit. Not a moment passes before the unsuspecting goat flies out of the stall, fortunately landing on all fours before trotting off, far away from Seabiscuit. The horse soon makes some animal allies, and lounges in his stall with another horse and a dog. Two Pygmy goats named Brownie and Peggy shared the brief role of the rebuffed goat. A ramp built to reach the stall window was placed inside the stall while a cushioned platform was placed just outside of the stall door. Two trainers held the goat steady on the inside ramp while another trainer lured the goat to jump outside using a bucket of grain. The goat jumped onto the platform pad, which was about 2 feet, and the goat happily ate from the grain bucket as her reward. Seabiscuit's horse friend was played by a Belgian Quarter horse named Pumpkin. Both horses were cued to lie down on the hay and a Bloodhound named Lucy was added to the happy couple, also cued to lie down among the lounging horses. There were also several rabbits (named Biscuit, Ticket, and Mako) in the stall on waist ties to keep them on their mark.

Track Stars

Having made some progress, Red tries Seabiscuit out again on the racetrack, and is surprised by his drastic improvement. With only one other horse on the track, Seabiscuit is inspired to pull ahead only when the two animals are neck and neck. It is clear that Seabiscuit is driven by the competition. Later, Seabiscuit and War Admiral face off in a dramatic race.

All of the race scenes were carefully choreographed. The racing was simulated, with the animals running no further than 3 furlongs per take. Each horse rested between takes from 30 minutes up to several hours. Professional jockeys rode many of the horses chosen for the simulated races, using prop whips on their own legs as they rode; the whips were not used on the animals. In addition, many of the racing close-ups were filmed with the actors riding an equiciser, a mechanical device made to look and move like a real horse, also used by professional jockeys for practice.

Now a nationally heralded winner, Seabiscuit poses for several victory photos during a montage scene. Trainers positioned the horse for the various photos and rewarded him with a grain bucket and companion horse for his cooperation.

As they arrive for a national racing event, many horses are led out of their trailers through the pouring rain. The star horse of the event, War Admiral, is housed in a private stable, and Tom, Charles, and Red spy on the animal for a glimpse of Seabiscuit's main competition. To gear up for the actual race, Red practices with Seabiscuit on the track at night. A professional rider carefully guided the horse, named Royal Robber, around the dimly lit track. Professional groomers were employed to walk the horses out of their trailers and through the wetness.

Can't Keep a Good Horse Down

Seabiscuit walks out of his trailer and is reunited with Red, who is still recovering from his injuries. Seabiscuit is also injured, and is limping slightly due to a torn ligament in his leg. Red and Seabiscuit recuperate together in the country, laying on the grass and resting. The horse in this scene was healthy and uninjured. Trainers cued the horse from off-camera to walk out of the trailer and towards the actor. Muffin was also trained to lie down on the grass.

Now strong enough to ride, Red and Seabiscuit trot through the countryside, startling a flock of birds to fly out of a tree. Trainers released homing pigeons from special wooden release boxes for this scene. The trainers held the boxes and hid in nearby bushes, releasing the birds as the horse cantered by. All of the birds were banded with identification.

Other Animals

Horse-drawn carriages drive through an old western town. The horses were attached to the carriages, which were slowly driven through the town.

During a bull fight scene, a bull is seen bloody and injured, with several banderillas (brightly adorned, barbed sticks) gored into the animal's shoulder. This sequence was stock footage and was not filmed for this production.

At a picnic, a large animal is roasted on a spit and later, the Pollard family serves roasted pig for dinner. The dead animals were purchased as food products.

Charles (Jeff Bridges) mounts his horse and goes for a ride on the country. He is joined by his friend, Marcella (Elizabeth Banks), who is also a skilled rider. The actors rode a minimal amount and left most of the riding to the professionals. The country path was prepared prior to filming and cleared of any harmful debris.

Chickens scatter around the desolate town. Trainers scattered feed on the ground and placed the chickens around the set. Trainers retrieved them once the scene was complete.