In the 2002 animated movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, there is a scene when U.S. Army soldiers capture Spirit and attempt to incorporate him into the U.S. cavalry. You can watch the scene here: Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.
At the end of the scene, you can see the farrier attempting to use a hot "US" branding iron on Spirit. In 1853, the United States military started branding their horses on the left shoulder with the "US" mark showing the horses belonged to the United States government. In the mid 1880s, the branding was modified to include the number of the regiment below the company's letter on the left hip. When a horse was decommissioned, it was branded with a "C" for "condemned" on its right shoulder.
Tracking individual horses in the military had become an arduous task. Farriers relied on physical descriptions in their logs to track when each horse was last shod and their age. Can you imagine trying to track twenty bay horses with star markings or twenty chestnuts? As one can imagine, this method proved to be very inaccurate and disorganized.
Around the time of the American Civil War (1861-1865,) the Preston system was developed where a unique four-digit serial number was burned into the front hoof of each horse. The problem with hoof branding was farriers needed to re-brand the numbers every six months and sometimes the numbers would become illegible if the hoof wall was damaged. In 1912, the military started experimenting with lip tattoos placed on the inside upper lip for identification. By WWI, lip tattooing had replaced hoof branding.
Today in the United States, freeze branding has replaced hot iron branding as a permanent branding method. Freeze branding uses liquid nitrogen and alcohol to take the dark pigment out of the skin, making the skin white and the hair grow white. The only horses that are branded today by the U.S. Government are captured Mustangs set up for adoption and horses that are carriers of equine infectious anemia. The brand placed on Mustangs contains the registering organization (the U.S. Government), the year the horse was born, and then the serial number.
Mustang gelding adopted out by the Bureau of Land Management (USA). You can see its freeze brand on the left side of its neck near the mane's crest. Photo by Ealdgyth (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Hoof branding can still be done if owners wish to have their horses branded temporarily. Some horse owners have branded their zip codes on their horses' hooves if they are in a high risk danger area where they may need to evacuate quickly. Some horse clubs will also brand hooves for special memberships.
Lip tattoos are still used today on certain breeds and racehorses to match them with their registration papers which includes their full name, birth year, breed, owner, and history. It is also a way to help identify stolen horses.
Branding is starting to give way to micro-chipping. It's still very new in the equine world, but as people are becoming more familiar with it, I can imagine most registered horses being chipped in the near future.
Horse Owners - do any of you have a branded horse?
If you are a STARZ Outlander fan, you will likely recognize Ronnie B. Goodwin from Season 1 as he played one of the 18th-century Scottish Highlanders of the MacKenzie clan. He can mainly be seen with the other MacKenzie men riding through the countryside escaping the English red coats, collecting the tenant rents, and keeping an eye on the strange Sassenach woman. His character never had a name or any lines, but he did have a formidable presence on screen that was hard to miss.
Ronnie was gracious enough to agree to an interview with me and answer some questions about his experiences working as an actor on Outlander and working with the horses in the show. He also shared some information about his personal passion for horsemanship and photography.
Can you tell readers who you are, where you live, and your experience in film?
My name is Ronnie B Goodwin. I live in a small town called Dumbarton about 30 minutes from Glasgow, Scotland. I have been making films and working on films since my early 20's predominately riding horses and acting. I always have had a love for film, photography, and art. My background is in engineering, farming, and most outdoor activities along with a love for adventure and exploration.
How did you hear about and audition for Outlander? Did you take a riding test to show you knew how to handle a horse?
One morning I was doing my usual emailing and social networks, and an ad appeared on Facebook "Bearded Horseman Required," so I clicked the "Like" button. Next day, I was being auditioned for a little known show called Outlander. It was the first days of auditioning, so I got to meet the main cast, show runners, and mingle a bit. From that day on, I had the most intense, enjoyable, miserable, and taxing experience of my life. I was cast as a Highlander Horseman-no name, no lines, just a lot of shouting.
Tell me about the horses you rode in the show.
I was handed a 17.2 [hand] Hanoverian called George - an old hand at filming. He was in War Horse and Van Hellsing, and his CV (resume) was greater than mine. He was a very gentle giant and responded to almost every instruction I gave him. His ability to not spook and keep his head was fantastic as guns shots and squibs were going off every time we were out on set. He was a joy to sit on.
Was there any other horse on the show you wished you could have ridden such as Sam Heughan's (Jamie Fraser) Friesian or Graham McTavish's (Dougal MacKenzie) Percheron? Did you get to ride any of the other horses seen on the show off-screen?
I was on George for the duration of my time on the show (8 months) on and off, not consistently. I did wish I was on a smaller horse at some points, particularly when having to mount and dismount 20 times in a row. I am tall, but after awhile it got quite exhausting. I would have loved to sit on Sleepy - Sam's horse. Never had the chance to ride off-screen other than the riding auditions.
Do you have any funny stories about the horses on set? I heard in an interview that sometimes the horses would take off with the actors and the camera people would keep rolling hoping to get some good shots.
On one occasion I was to mount George, and then lift Roy on to the back of mine as his horse had been shot from under him. I mounted, leaned down to gather up Roy, and his weight took the two of use off the horse. My feet were still in the stirrup irons, and I ended up upside down under George; my kilt was around my ears, and the entire crew were watching. We had been in the wet all day and George was very wet, and as the day went on his girth loosened. The groom got a ticking of as did I.
There were a couple of occasions when horses were spooked and both horse and rider would be off like a shot. Nobody was hurt, but a few red faces :).
I saw some interviews from the main actors who talked about how the horses were cared for more than them. During breaks, how were the horses cared for?
The horses were very well cared for. There was always a vet nearby, and yes, fed and watered more regularly than cast and supporting actors. I was happy to see the care they received.
Did you have much time to work and get comfortable with the horses you rode before you started filming or did you arrive on set and ride a strange horse?
We showed up, the horses were tacked and ready, we got on and started our day. Sometimes after long periods of standing around, we would walk the horses to keep them warm.
What is it like to ride in a kilt? Was it hard to keep a good leg grip and stay steady in the saddle? Would you ride in the kilt again on your own time or never again?
Firstly, the saddles were Portuguese saddles with big thick sheepskin numnahs (saddle pad,) and this made it tough to grip. I could barely touch the horse with my heels. The saddles were high in the front and high in the back, so mounting was always a task; always fiddling with the kilt after seated on the horse, not very Highlander, and riding in the kilt was not so bad. Getting off was sometimes difficult as I got tangled on the high points of the saddle with steel weapons and musket, could get messy, but all went well. On my own time, I would never ride in a kilt; always getting nipped on the thigh, and could get very cold and wet. Crazy times :)
Have you been involved in other film productions where you worked with horses?
I was a rider on Lorna Doune many years ago. Also, umpteen short films and work for TV.
Tell me about your history with horses. What breeds have you owned?
I owned for a short while a Clydesdale cross Irish Draft named Leah. He was a big sweetheart and still works for the disabled kids. I had to sell him when he turned 5.
Where is your favorite place to ride a horse in Scotland?
When I visit my sister, we go for the occasional ride on the grounds of Balmoral. She breeds Highland Ponies for the Queen. Balmoral is also where I take pictures on a good day.
Tell me about your photography. How did you get into it? What do you enjoy shooting the most?
I make films as well as photography. My career took a bit of a twist. Last day shooting on Outlander, we were making the Time Warner ad for the show; riding and doing my thing. On the way home I started to sweat and feel extremely sick. I had been bitten by a tick, and soon after I found I had contracted Lyme. So for the next almost 3 years I had to rethink my career and get healthy, so I put down my film camera and started gathering wildlife images, landscapes, etc. I had no energy to make a film so did what I could to keep active. My images are now how I make my living.
Describe your style and what you hope to communicate with your photos.
I simply like to make pictures that get me excited, and when I put them on my site, it is a joy to see people from all over the world purchasing my work and hanging the images in their homes. As far as style is considered, I have worked hard to create my own style; unique I would think.
Where in the world would you like to travel to photograph? I see you were able to get some great pictures in Colorado.
I love to travel Scotland as the light always changes, and even a mucky day can look amazing. I did travel to Colorado. I had an event organised by my good friend Brian Terpstra. I did a talk at the Drake Centre, we explored the Rockies, did some fishing for wild trout, ate a lot of food and had a ball. I am hoping to do a proper explore on my next visit.
Below is a sample of Ronnie's beautiful images including some wonderful shots of Scottish ponies. You can view his whole collection and purchase images on his website https://ronniebgoodwin.selz.com/
Great thanks to Ronnie for this interview and for giving some great behind-the-scenes on Outlander and what it's like to act with horses. Please check out Ronnie's websites and follow him on social media.
Gallery and shop: ronniebgoodwin.selz.com
I am Amy. I love movies, TV, and horses. I grew up with horses and taught kids how to ride during my summer breaks from school. Now I am a country girl living in a city hoping to someday move back into a rural area and own a horse again.