Not all of the actors in “The Lone Ranger” are people.
Now in theaters, the movie stars Armie Hammer as the masked lawman, Johnny Depp as his Native American sidekick, Tonto, and a white horse named Leroy, from Ogallala, Neb., as the Lone Ranger's extra-smart horse, Silver.
K.C. Peterson, a native Nebraskan with more than 30 years of experience in the movie industry, bought the tall, white horse born near Sutton, Neb., nine years ago, when Leroy was a yearling. Leroy lives on Peterson's Otter Creek Ranch just north of Lake McConaughy.
Peterson supplied mule teams, saddle horses and wagons — “the most livestock of anybody on the movie,” he said — for nine months of “The Lone Ranger” preproduction and filming in 2012, mostly near Albuquerque, N.M.
When he heard about the movie, Peterson sent a photo of Leroy to Bobby Lovgren, veteran horse trainer for movies such as “War Horse,” “Cowboys and Aliens” and “Seabiscuit.” Lovgren had worked with Peterson before on movies and spent about three months training Leroy for this one.
“You go see the film, Leroy stands out,” Peterson said of his horse. “He's a looker. He's got personality. He's almost human. Plus he's a baby sitter, so gentle you can put grandkids or even grandma on him. Anybody can ride this horse.”
That kind of horse patience is key to shooting close-ups, which can spook more high-strung horses. In addition, director Gore Verbinski wanted to make Silver a personality in “The Lone Ranger,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
The Times quoted Hammer as saying, “The horse and I are not speaking. He stole the whole movie.”
While the moviemakers used several white horses for various stunts in “The Lone Ranger,” Peterson said Leroy is in key scenes that show the Lone Ranger riding or talking while mounted on Silver, or Silver interacting with Tonto.
“They wanted a big horse,” Peterson said. “Armie Hammer's a big guy (6-foot-5). He towered over other horses. He rode Leroy for all his riding lessons.”
Peterson, 55, said Leroy didn't have a lot of competition when it came to playing Silver. Finding a white horse with dark eyes is like looking for a needle in a haystack, he said. The other white horses had spots that became visible when wet, “and some of them were kinda homely headed.”
“Leroy is a purty, purty horse,” he said.
But Leroy is a working horse, not a movie star, and he gets used on the Otter Creek Ranch for roping, brandings and other work.
Peterson has been around show business since 1969, when actors Robert Duvall and James Caan were in the Ogallala area filming “The Rain People.” Caan returned to Nebraska to ride with Peterson's family.
K.C.'s oldest brother, Denny, was a world-champion trick rider in 1958. Denny trained K.C. and his brother, Rex, who became the head horse trainer for movies like “Black Beauty,” “All the Pretty Horses” and “Hidalgo.”
By 1978, K.C. Peterson began appearing in movies, including “Heaven's Gate,” “The Last Desperado” and “The Winter People.”
Though he does not appear in “The Lone Ranger,” K.C. was a stand-in for Robert Redford in “The Horse Whisperer.” His sister, Shelly, also was a double in that movie.
K.C. and some of his livestock have appeared in “Far and Away,” “Maverick” and “Geronimo,” among other movies. He's a member of the Screen Actors Guild and the Teamsters of Hollywood.
“It's all who you know,” Peterson said of snagging movie work. When he's not making movies, he's taking care of his ranch and is an equine dentist.