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
In the Outlander Season 2 episode titled "Untimely Resurrection" when Jamie and Claire are in France, there is a scene where Jamie goes with the Duke of Sandringham to purchase some horses. In the scene, Jamie inspects a horse's teeth and says, “They claim they’re 3-year-olds, but this one has seen a fair few seasons more.” While not an exact science, inspecting a horse’s teeth can give a fairly accurate estimate of a horse’s age.
Age is determined by inspecting the 12 front teeth called incisors. Like humans, horses have two sets of teeth: “baby” also called “milk teeth” and "permanent teeth."
Age 1 year
All the “baby” or “milk teeth” have erupted. They are smaller, rounder, and have a lighter color than permanent teeth.
Age 2-3 years
The middle, permanent incisors on the upper jaw erupt and will come in contact with the lower incisors at about 3 years of age. Permanent molars have started coming in by this time.
Age 4 years
The canine teeth have erupted and the corner incisors are not in full contact yet.
Special note: Mares usually do not have canine teeth, but stallions/geldings do. Canines are also known as "fighting teeth" and have no benefit for eating.
Age 5 years
All the permanent teeth have replaced the “milk teeth.” The horse now has what is called a “full mouth” and all the incisors are in full contact.
Age 8-10 years
Teeth at this point are starting to show wear and yellowing is present. When the permanent teeth erupted at 5 years, there were cups on the biting surfaces. At about 10 years, the cups on the lower, corner incisors will have disappeared. Cups are still present on the upper, corner incisors.
After 8 years, it becomes more difficult to accurately estimate age.
Age 10 years
The incisors start angling more forward and the upper incisors start to look longer. The teeth will start looking less round and more triangular. A dark groove starts to appear at the gum line on the upper corner incisors called the Galvayne’s Groove.
Age 15 years
The Galvayne’s Groove will reach half way down the incisor. All the cups on the biting surfaces of the upper and lower teeth are gone. Lower incisors start to look shorter than the upper incisors as the teeth angle becomes more acute.
Age 20 years
Galvayne’s Groove will span the whole length of the incisor teeth from top to bottom. The teeth are more angled and look more triangular. They will also be very yellowed.
Age 25 years
The top half of Galvayne’s Groove will have disappeared. The angle of teeth is very steep and teeth look very worn.
Again, inspecting a horse's teeth is not an exact science in determining its age. A horse that has spent much of its life out on pasture and a horse that has been stabled its whole life can have very different looking teeth even if they are the same age. Vets and horse owners take into account the horse's over-all appearance to estimate its age, such as if the horse's hips and spine are starting to protrude or if there is gray hair around the eyes and muzzle.
So, I suspect that Jamie likely saw that the horse had a "full mouth" and the lower and upper incisors were in full contact, indicating that the horse was not 3 years old, but probably somewhere between 5 and 8 years old.
Fun facts: Have you ever heard the phrase, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth?" It means to not be ungrateful towards a gift. If someone was given a free horse, it would be rude and tacky to look at its mouth to assess its age and monetary value.
Also, "You're looking long in the tooth," was inspired from an old horse's teeth looking longer than a younger horse's.
Picture drawings are Public Domain and were taken from "The Exterior of the Horse" by Goubaux, Armand, 1820-1890 Barrier, Gustave Harger, Simon J. J
Let’s talk about the horses in STARZ's Outlander television show and the horse breeds you would find in 18th-century Scotland. If you want to read up on the show's premise, you can read about it here.
In the episodes that took place in Scotland, Jamie and Murtagh were riding Friesian horses, Dougal’s horse looked like a Percheron draft, and I am guessing Claire’s white horse from season two was an Andalusian. It’s no surprise Outlander and many other TV shows and movies love to use tall, flashy horses. Friesians, in particular, are one of the most mesmerizing horse breeds with their black silky coats, long flowing manes and tails, and wispy leg “feathers." You can’t help but stop and admire these beautiful horses. However, if you time traveled through a stone circle and were lucky (or unlucky) enough to end up in 18th-century Scotland, you would find that the horses would not be as impressive as the ones on the show.
Friesians, Percherons, and Andalusians are among the draft and “light draft” breeds, but the only draft horse you would have found in Scotland was the Clydesdale. It may surprise some people that this breed, which is mostly known for its association with a German-American beer company, was originally from Scotland. Modern Clydesdales typically grow to be 18 hands tall and weigh about 1 ton, whereupon they eat about 25-50 pounds of hay per day. I wondered how farmers were able to support an animal with such a large appetite. But in the 18th-century, Clydesdales used to be smaller until they were bred with taller Flemish horses later on, so their smaller sizes and smaller appetites would have been more manageable. Even though Clydesdales were smaller, they still would have been giants compared to other Scottish horse breeds present in the 18th-century.
Scotland is mostly known for its robust pony breeds. While travelling through mountainous landscape and boggy moors, one would want a lightweight, sure-footed, sound steed to navigate the changing landscape. The most common breed to be found in the Scottish Highlands was the Highland Pony. Standing 13-14 hands tall, they could carry a full- grown man very comfortably. They have very sturdy feet that could manage rocky terrain without easily going lame. Like the Clydesdale, they were used for various chores around the farm from pulling plows to carrying hunted game, however, the smaller Highland Pony would have been more practical for riding on narrow and steep mountain trails. Plus, their lighter 750-850lbs bodies would not sink as far into boggy ground.
Other pony breeds developed on the Scottish Islands, such as the Eriskay Pony from the Hebrides and the Shetland Pony from the Shetland Islands. The Eriskay Pony stood 12-13 hands high and was known for its thick winter coat that would help it survive in the windy and wet climate. They were used as crofter ponies to haul light loads and to carry children.
The Shetland Pony became a hardy breed being raised in a climate that gets over 1,200 inches of rain per year and hardly gets over 50F degrees in the summer. Being only 10 hands high, the Shetland Pony was not utilized for work until the 19th-century to cart their weight in coal out from the mines. My experiences with Shetland Ponies have always been positive. They embody who the Scottish Highlanders were - strong, resilient, and brave. I worked on a horse farm one summer teaching kids how to ride, and my favorite horse was a Shetland pony named Kermit. Besides being the cutest thing to walk the earth, (yes, even cuter than my kids,) he was what horse people would call “bomb proof.” Nothing could faze him. Kermit was a the most patient, gentle pony I had ever encountered. He could keep up with the larger horses while carrying a child, and would not spook easily. One time while I was leading a trail ride, my 15-hand, usually confident horse almost ran off with me when a fawn surprised him on the trail, but little Kermit was the brave one who stood calmly as the fawn passed by.
The last breed I will mention is the Galloway Pony that became extinct in the 18th-century due to crossbreeding. This breed stood 12-14 hands high and was known to be a hardy creature that could transverse mountain trails and moors. Farmers started breeding this pony with drafts to create a stockier, more robust pony to work their farms. Modern breeds - the Dales Pony, Fell Pony, and the Highland Pony- carry this breed’s bloodlines.
It would be safe to say that most of the horses you would see in 18th-century Scotland would be medium size ponies and “small” drafts that were suitable for farm work. I can imagine seeing other breeds, such as Thoroughbreds and Arabians, being brought up from England by English soldiers and aristocrats, but they would have been rare. While we love seeing the Outlander actors riding large, gorgeous Friesians around the mystical Scottish Highlands, in reality, 18th-century Scots would have likely been riding the smaller and grubbier Highland ponies.
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.