America's Horse remembers two famous Quarter Horse stars.
By Becky Newell | January 30, 2011
Nicknamed after a brand of chewing tobacco, Charlies Surprise grew up as a ranch horse who was used for roping and gathering cattle. With all that exposure to obstacles and “boogers,” it was no surprise that the calm, cool and collected Beechnut found his way to working on movie sets, one of which was “City Slickers.”
The set of “City Slickers” is where actor Billy Crystal met “Beechie.” A man who says he can’t and won’t have animals because he’s never home, Billy says he and the black gelding started an “on-location romance.” Because of the connection the pair made, movie wrangler Jack Lilley gave Beechnut to Billy after filming was done. Then with Beechnut’s blaze disguised, he and Billy worked together again in “City Slickers II.”
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The only other appearance the two actors made together was when Billy rode Beechie onto the stage of the 63rd Academy Awards show in 1991 in honor of that year’s big winner, “Dances With Wolves.”
Billy says they didn’t even have to rehearse Beechie’s appearance.
“I had his handler walk alongside us,” Billy says. “But nothing bothered Beechie.”
After that, Beechnut was retired to a stable where Billy could visit and ride him. When Beechie became too old for Billy to ride, the actor would just take a book and lie in Beechie’s pasture and read.
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“He’d come up to me and look over my shoulder,” Billy says. “He was like my best friend.”
Billy was in Canada in November 2008 when he got the call that Beechie had gone down and was not doing well. A few hours later, Billy made the decision to have his friend of 18 years euthanized.
Renowned movie horse Hightower, who was owned by movie wrangler and horse trainer Rex Peterson of Tehachapi, California, had a role list as long as some A-list actors'. Some of Hightower’s more prominent roles were as Pilgrim in “The Horse Whisperer,” Ginger in “Black Beauty,” and Julia Roberts’ getaway horse in “Runaway Bride.”
“I retired him after we finished filming ‘Princess Diaries II,’” Rex says of the gelding. “He was one of the best-known movie horses in Hollywood.”
Over Hightower’s last 24 years, Rex had worked wonders with the horse, “who never argued.”
“He was given to me as an unregistered 2-year-old by a Thoroughbred ranch that I had done some work for,” Rex says. “I took him home and made him my ranch horse.”
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Rex says Hightower was never registered by that ranch because he was by a Thoroughbred stallion and out of a Quarter Horse mare (even though Thoroughbred-Quarter Horse crosses are allowed in the AQHA registry).
A couple of months later, Rex got a call from a movie production company that needed a wrangler and a horse. That’s when Rex put Hightower to the test. And the sorrel gelding didn’t let him down.
“He had a heart as big as the great outdoors,” Rex says. “He just got better and better with every movie he made.”
Hightower died October 30, 2008, at the age of 26.