He was the only dark-eyed, completely white registered Quarter Horse that K.C. Peterson had ever seen, and the Nebraska rancher had to have him.
He bought him about nine years ago and broke him to ride. He didn’t spook easy, or much at all. Just about anyone can look good on Leroy.
“If you can’t ride Leroy, go ride one in front of Kmart,” Peterson said.
The horse's look, his size (about 16 hands) and his demeanor made Peterson all the more confident when he rode his prized animal over, leaned into his ear and frequently told it, “Someday, Leroy, I’m gonna get you in the movies.”
Peterson had a particular movie in mind -- “The Lone Ranger” -- and a particular role: Silver. And he has about 35 years of experience providing livestock to Hollywood productions.
His horses rode in “Cowboys and Aliens.” He provided a pair of steers, Willie and Waylon, for “Far and Away,” “Maverick” and a few Marlboro ads.
Peterson doubled as Robert Redford on “The Horse Whisperer” and was featured in a 1973 Robert Duvall-directed documentary about his trick-riding family, “We’re Not the Jet Set.” His brother and sister both work in the film industry, and combined you can connect a Peterson to a western movie about as easily as you can link Susan Sarandon to Kevin Bacon.
When told that Matt Damon showed up in Lincoln Wednesday, Peterson thought back to a shoot in 1992, when he wrangled horses and provided livestock for “Geronimo: An American Legend,” one of Damon’s early roles.
“Arm wrestled him in a bar,” Peterson said on a crackly phone call from the Otter Creek Ranch, just north of Lake McConaughy. “Right-handed. He beat me, too. I said, ‘You wanna go left?’”
He recalled that Damon took horseback training seriously while filming in Utah.
“Learned how to ride real good," he said.
Peterson had a similar glowing review of Armie Hammer, who played the Lone Ranger, and rode Leroy for a good portion of the shoot.
For years, Peterson had a hunch that Hollywood would one day remake the radio and TV serials, so he sought out a horse that looked like Silver in the event that a “Lone Ranger” movie would ever come down the pipeline.
It did, and Peterson contacted Bobby Lovgren, the head horse trainer for “The Lone Ranger,” whom Peterson knew from previous shoots, and told him about Leroy.
“I sent him pictures,” Peterson said. “He said, ‘When can you have him here?’”
In early 2012, he brought Leroy, along with teams of mules, teams of horses and wagons from the western Nebraska ranch to the shoot. Much of the filming took place near Albuquerque, N.M., where the film crew laid down about seven miles of railroad track, brought two steam engines and built a Wild West environ.
There, Peterson said, Leroy served as the horse often used when actors were shot riding Silver. Leroy, Peterson said, is what they call the main cast horse on set.
Another white horse, whose actual name is Silver, has been getting plenty of pub for the stunts and mugging it did that are featured throughout the movie. And there was a stable full of Silvers on set. But Leroy was the only one that would run close to the trains, Peterson said. If you watch the movie, you'll notice the difference between him and the others. He's the biggest, jowliest one.
Early in the shoot, Peterson watched as Hammer and Johnny Depp, who plays Tonto, filmed a scene in which they dashed across a stretch of desert on horseback. Peterson said Depp “tilted over like a little kid,” and then fell off his horse, which could have torpedoed the movie, and seriously injured or killed Depp. He escaped with just bruises.
“They got very lucky,” Peterson said.
The reviews and receipts of “The Lone Ranger” have been less fortunate. Peterson hasn’t seen the movie yet, but doesn't take it personally when one that he worked on fails to set the box office on fire. He hoped there would be a sequel, but Peterson said he's got plenty of work to do on the 18,000 acres he manages until Hollywood calls again.