Prints was a big 16hh leopard appaloosa which we acquired in 1988. We got him for free as he had chronic foot problems. He had been used for jumping and barrel racing, and suffered coffin bone rotations in his front feet, probably associated with "mechanical founder" from the stress.
Having rehabilitated his foot problems, he became a most prominent addition to our herd, taking care of beginners, working as a parade horse, doing stage work, and being put to use in any situation where we need an experienced, dead-calm horse along (such as accompanying colts out for their first trail rides).
Prints the "star"
We had some nylon harness and it fit him, so I ran down to the lumber yard and bought a bunch of PVC pipe to build a sled so we could see how he would react to pulling something. No problem!
That Sunday afternoon, we took Prints to the parking lot behind the theater and hitched him to the wagon. At first I led him. No problem. So we tried ground driving. No sweat. So we figured, "What the heck?" I climbed up and clucked him off.
The first few yards reminded me of someone learning to drive a clutch. Prints would start, feel the weight, stop, then the wagon would push him forward. After several "hops", I slapped the reins and we were off without further incident, concluding with driving up three steps to the rear stage door and onto the stage. Whew!
Prints on stage in The Music Man
We had one opportunity for a rehearsal. We had to place marks on the stage floor since we had to enter "blind" through the side stage curtains. During performances they couldn't raise the stage door, so we had to go in the side entrance of the theater, up stairs and all, and walk quietly down the hall to the stage wings while the scene before ours was taking place. We had tried this route in rehearsal, however the floors weren't waxed then. (After doing a rendition of "Skittering Dog on Ice", we convinced the custodians to forgo the wax jobs on that particular hallway until after we were done with the performance series!) We also learned about snagging harness on door hardware when walking a large horse through a small opening.
On opening night, we made our grand entrance amidst 33 singers and dancers, with an 8 ft. drop to the orchestra pit to our right. Prints made it to his marks, the audience gasped, then... Prints discovered there were PEOPLE out there in the dark. With blinders on, he couldn't see off to the side, so he slowly cranked his head around and looked around the auditorium. I hopped down and produced a couple of carrots... not knowing how he would react. Once he had a good look, Prints was satisfied and stood quietly while the wagon was unloaded by the actors.
Due to space problems off stage, the wagon shafts had to be assembled just before each entrance. We also had to hitch up and make our starting marks in the dark. There was little time for error. The lighting technician was responsible for the wagon and shafts. One night he was stuck fixing a lighting problem and a substitute set up the wagon. That was going to be a night we wouldn't forget.
We were set to go, a child actor was in the wagon to hand out the instruments, the singers and dancers were doing their thing, and we heard our cue. The next thing I knew Prints had fallen down! He stood up and we started forward, striking the prop of City Hall, which started rocking back and forth. The musicians looked up apprehensively but kept playing. The director in the wing across the stage covered his face and I had this immediate vision of a Mel Brooks' comedy in the making. We wobbled across the stage to our marks, Prints stopping where he always did. It was at that point that I noticed the bit had come loose and was laying across Prints' chest. I bailed out and went to Prints' head, although he seemed to be taking it all in stride. Later we discovered that the shaft bindings weren't locked, one side came loose causing the shafts to swing, pull Prints down, and without any steering (bridle or wheels) he managed to drag the wagon to his marks.
A couple of years later we were asked to repeat the performance in Oakland. We said, "Thanks but no thanks!" Prints did a great job, it was a fun adventure, but there was no point in tempting fate and getting him hurt.