Today, we honour horses greatest contributions to the television arts.
Among mother earth’s most majestic creatures and an on-screen stalwart since the invention of celluloid, horse-actors have more than earned their right to both celebrity and safe treatment by their human counterparts,. Thankfully nowadays if an animal is endangered purely for the sake of our entertainment, the world reacts with appropriate horror. But if it wears a hat, we squeal with delight.
Pie-O-My - The Sopranos
Whether Tony Soprano’s bottomless love for animals was a symptom of a specific type of sociopath, or, as we choose to believe, the sign that his soul wasn’t cooked all the way through.
Season three sees Tony and his depraved soldier Ralphie share responsibility for an ageing race horse, and when Ralphie loses interest and a suspicious fire ravages the stables, Tony is forced to care for it in its final hours.
The horse ends up haunting Tony, through a commissioned painting of he and Pie-O-My that resurfaces despite the fact he threw it away, and a dream where he and Carmella discuss letting a horse in the house (when really they’re talking about Tony’s ‘whores’).
Lil Sebastian - Parks and Recreation
In season three, we meet then mourn the loss of Lil Sebastian, a mini-horse (that is hung like a full-sized horse) so fawned over by Pawnee residents that they cannot fathom anyone from outside holding it in anything other than reverence.
Thankfully, Leslie Knope gives the horse (that Ron Swanson claims has all of Jerry’s diseases) the farewell it deserved with a touching obituary that wishes the animal the ability to urinate freely in the afterlife.
It was almost as moving as Andy Dwyer's band Mouse Rat performing the Lil Sebastian tribute song 5000 Candles in The Wind. Later, the song was performed by the Parks & Recreation cast on Late Night with Seth Meyers.
Lisa’s Pony - The Simpsons
Matt Groening famously said after this classic episode aired in 1991 that animating horses is “the most difficult thing to do”
We’re glad team Groening stuck with it, as the episode that sees Homer buy Lisa a pony holds a special place in many of our hearts, as we get to see father Simpson trying to do what’s best, and that even if he doesn’t get there, it’s the trying that counts.
Of course, this episode also gave The Simpsons writers the chance to reference the famous ‘horse head’ scene from The Godfather.
Mr. Ed - Mr. Ed
Played by the enigmatic Bamboo Harvester, Mr. Ed was amongst the first non-human sitcom megastars, and he galloped into the living rooms of households for eight long years.
Perhaps still the animal actor most synonymous with animal actors, Mr. Ed’s inoffensive wit was a weekly treat for kids an adults alike, and the show played into our bizarre desire to see animals act like humans.
Stories say that Bamboo Harvester worked to his own clock, and would often trot away from set mid-scene if he was done for the day.
Half the cast - Luck
Those who were salivating over Deadwood season four only to have that saliva frozen in position, were given a glimmer of hope with creator David Milch’s theatre-in-the-round (the ‘round’ being the race-track) Luck, starring, amongst a long list of brilliant actors, Dustin Hoffman.
Milch, who grew up at the track, held Luck closer to his heart than any of his previous offerings, which is why it’s such a shame that the treatment of animals became such an issue.
After a third horse died on set, this time in a fairly horrifying fashion, HBO pulled the plug on the series, and considering how much stock Milch and EP Michael Mann put into capturing the thrill and energy of a horse race, the threat of further accidents was just too high.
Unfortunately, I have never seen the show and therefore couldn’t tell you the difference between a McLeod’s daughter and… another McLeod’s daughter, but even I know that horses were a vital part of this homegrown soap, or at least, its advertising.
The animal worship doesn't end with the Melbourne Cup. For more of our hair-covered friends, check into The Supervet airing Monday nights on SBS at 7:30pm. Or watch the first episode on SBS On Demand: