Horseback Riding in the Paradise of Utopia

Utopia, Texas, boasts small-town charm and some movie-star American Quarter Horses.

From America's Horse

“Utopia, Texas, literally has 300-something people here and no stop sign. It is truly a lovely country town in the canyon.” – Wanda Waters

Wanda and her husband, Lou, have long used that idyllic setting to raise good American Quarter Horses at L.A. Waters Quarter Horses, and they also own a nine-hole golf course in Utopia.

In 2011, those things all came together when movie producers descended on the town to film “Seven Days in Utopia,” which follows the story of a talented young golfer, Luke Chisolm (Lucas Black) set on making the pro tour. He finds himself stranded in Utopia, home to eccentric rancher

Jonny Crawford (Robert Duvall), whose profound way of looking at life forces Luke to question his past and future direction. It’s an unlikely friendship that casts light on important life lessons.

The movie, which opened in theaters in fall 2011, is based on David L. Cook’s motivational book, “Golf’s Sacred Journey: Seven Days at the Links of Utopia.” David has a Ph.D. in sport and performance psychology, and his family has had a ranch in Utopia for around 100 years.

So, of course, Utopia (and locations around Fredericksburg, about 80 miles away) were the ideal locations for filming. The film team asked permission to use the Waterses’ golf course and other locations on their ranch. That soon evolved into the use of their Quarter Horses, too.

Lou and Wanda raise prospects with the bloodlines of Colonel Freckles, Doc O’Lena, Boon Bar and Hollywood Dun It. They owned Colonel Freckles, a 2004 American Quarter Horse Hall of Famer, for the last few years of his life, and he sired 417 performing foals who earned 2,719.5 AQHA points, 66 Registers of Merit and several AQHA Champion titles. Lou and Wanda have bred approximately 778 American Quarter Horses suited for reining, cutting, roping, working cow horse, ranch horse versatility, barrel racing and team penning. Wanda is an AQHA honorary vice president and was the first woman to become president of the Texas Quarter Horse Association.

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So imagine when Robert Duvall – a longtime horseman who has starred in several Westerns,

including the TV mini-series “Lonesome Dove” – walked onto the place. He started talking horses.

Duvall asked the Waterses’ son-in-law, Mike Outhier, a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association saddle bronc rider and roper, what he had that he could ride.

Out in the 200-acre pasture stood a 2001 buckskin stallion, Wild Card Dun It, with his broodmares. “Wild Card” is a homebred American Quarter Horse sired by Hollywood Dun It and out of Colonel C Hermosa.

“We bred him and raised him,” Wanda says. “We had our eye on him from the beginning. Immediately, we knew he was special.”

After Duvall rode the stallion, he wanted him to be the featured horse in the movie, over-ruling the movie’s livestock contractor, who had planned on using professional movie horses.

Wanda says, “Robert Duvall’s No. 1 thing he loved about this horse is that he would pick up a lope from the standstill. Gentle and calm.”

She describes Duvall as “an excellent rider. He is a true horseman and always rides his own horses in movies.”

At one point, Duvall was told that the producers had found a double to do the riding scenes. Wanda heard his response: “I ride my own horses.”

When Duvall was on Wild Card’s back, the horse was very cooperative and relaxed.

But then, you wouldn’t expect anything less from a horse who was the 2006 AQHA junior all-around horse, with points in heading, heeling, tie-down roping, working cow horse, reining, barrel racing and halter. Wild Card was the 2006 AQHA high-point junior horse in heading and heeling. He has his AQHA Superior in heading and heeling, AQHA performance Register of Merit and numerous all-around championship and circuit awards at AQHA shows.

Wild Card was started under saddle by Mike and then sent on to Ted Robinson of California, a seven-time world champion in the National Reined Cow Horse Association. Lou and Wanda send one horse every year to him for training. When Ted asked the Waterses if he could keep the colt in the barn, they knew they had something special on their hands.

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After deciding to put an AQHA record on Wild Card, Lou and Wanda sent him to AQHA Professional Horseman and Team Wrangler member J.D. Yates of Colorado, who took him to his AQHA titles.

“We give the credit to the breeding and definitely to the training,” Wanda says. “In the pasture, Wild Card is a ‘macho man’ with his broodmares; in halter, however, he is gentle and calm. This is a tribute to the whole Quarter Horse breed. That’s why we breed them.”

Wild Card was not the only member of the Waters family in the movie. Other L.A. Waters-owned Quarter Horses were used during the filming. Lou and Wanda and their family also played as extras in the film, along with many Utopia residents. Their daughter, Kristy Waters Outhier, and her husband, Mike, became wranglers for the movie. Kristy was AQHA’s youth high-point in the nation in working cow horse in 1988. She is now a U.S. Polo Association professional player.