Will Work for Apples
March 25th, 2016 by Lori Russell
Linda Pishion of The Dalles, Oregon, works with her Arabian horse, Ricky, who appeared in the movie “Wild.”

Linda Pishion of The Dalles, Oregon, works with her Arabian horse, Ricky, who appeared in the movie “Wild.”

For many Hollywood actors, success is defined by fame and fortune. For Ricky, it’s all about the apples.

The white Arabian horse, owned by Linda Pishion of The Dalles, Oregon, made his movie debut in “Wild,” the adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir of her 1,100-mile solo hike on the Pacific Crest Trail. Filmed in Oregon, the movie features Oscar-winner Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl and Academy Award-nominated actress Laura Dern as her mother, Bobbi.

Ricky plays opposite Reese in a scene at Bobbi’s ranch.

“It was 90 degrees in the height of summer and they made it snow,” Linda remembers.

Ricky patiently endured the cameras, wires, lights and a snow machine as a model stretched out on his back. Since his successful debut, he also has appeared in projects for Microsoft and Adidas.

Despite being named after Lucille Ball’s husband on the iconic sitcom “I Love Lucy,” as a youngster Ricky was an unlikely candidate for a modeling and film career.

“He was a skittery cuss when he was young,” Linda says. “He was very scared and insecure.”

Lucky for Ricky, Linda is an experienced horsewoman who has trained horses since she was a girl. The Arabian, who grew up as part of the family in the company of the Pishions’ other horses, has blossomed into a bit of a ham. Today, he knows 27 tricks, including saluting the producers on set, yawning when he is tired and shaking his head “no” on cue.

“He has come a long way,” Linda says. “He is receptive to learning.”

Like their human counterparts, equine actors have agents. Ricky is represented by Talented Animals, a firm that coordinates a variety of canines, livestock and exotic creatures for the entertainment industry.

“They call when there is a job and tell you what the producer wants the animal to do,” Linda says. “It could be to go to a person, to stand on a mark or to bow.”

For “Wild,” the producers needed a white horse to walk across a corral to a specific spot and stay there. Filming was set to begin in a month.

Linda began by breaking down the action into a series of smaller steps, leading Ricky on a rope at first to show him what she wanted him to do. The pair practiced in five-minute increments several times a day.

For each successful attempt, Ricky received a slice of apple from Linda’s homemade training device—a long stick with a fork taped to the end.

When the Arabian was able to walk a few feet, find his mark and hold it, Linda began gradually increasing the distance until he could walk the length of a corral. For the scene in which he would appear, a trainer would not be close enough to Ricky to give verbal commands, so Linda taught him to begin his trick at the sound of a doorbell.

A successful trainer must have knowledge of animal behavior, a command of training techniques and a lot of patience. It takes hours of repetition to train a horse to perform what appears on screen as a simple natural task.

“You can’t get frustrated, because all your feelings go through to (the horse),” Linda says. “It is better to just stop, take a break and try again later.”

Once Ricky had mastered the trick, Linda sent a tape of his performance to his agent. She, in turn, forwarded it to the producer. Then the waiting began.

Other actors also were considered.

In November 2013, days before shooting was set to start, Linda received word that Ricky had been selected for the part.

“I had two days to get the horse sparkly clean and ready,” she says.

Linda cannot divulge the exact location of the shoot for “Wild,” but confirms it was somewhere “up near Mount Hood.” She says she was surprised how many people work behind the scenes on a movie and how many times they do a scene over to get it perfect.

“There is no glamour,” she says. “Behind the scenes, it is work.”

Horse and owner arrived on location early in the morning. Filming wrapped up around midnight.

After a month of preparation, when it came time for Ricky’s debut, Linda was nowhere in sight. According to plan, she had given the reins to another handler.

“You cannot watch during the actual filming,” she says. “I was stuck in the barn behind a bale of hay.”

While Linda did sneak a glimpse of a scene before the crew spotted her and sent her back into the barn, it was more than a year before she finally saw Ricky’s performance—from her seat in a movie theater.

As whispers of possible Oscar nominations circulated about the movie and its cast—ultimately Reese and Laura were both nominated—Ricky was already busy learning new tricks.

For this actor, success really is all about the apples.