In this update to author Mary O'Hara's timeless tale, 16-year-old Katy McLaughlin (Alison Lohman) tries to convince her father that he should consider handing her the reins of their family ranch in Wyoming one day, even though he's dead-set on Katy going to college instead. To prove her mettle as a rancher, Katy finds a wild mustang, Flicka, and sets out to make her a riding horse. Similar in more ways than the teen knows, both Katy and Flicka do anything and everything to buck authority, refusing to give up their freedom without a fight.

  • Starring: Maria Bello, Alison Lohman, Tim McGraw
  • Director(s): Michael Mayer
  • Producer(s): Gil Netter
  • Screenwriter(s): Mark Rosenthal
  • Distributor: 20th Century Fox
  • Release Date: Friday, October 20, 2006

Featured Animal Action

Tragedy on the Set of Flicka

American Humane deeply regrets the accidental death of two horses on the set of Flicka. With the full cooperation of the production company and 20th Century Fox, American Humane conducted investigations into these tragedies and found that both deaths were unpreventable accidents. The City of Los Angeles Department of Animal Services (LA Animal Services) conducted its own investigation into the incident at Hansen Dam and concurred with American Humane's findings. In neither instance did the filmmakers or the animal trainers fail to comply with American Humane's Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media.

On April 11, 2005, at Big Sky Ranch in Simi Valley, Calif., a horse sustained a compound fracture of its right rear tibia after it made a misstep during a well-rehearsed "point A-to-B" running scene. The veterinarian on the set — a specialist in equine medicine — identified the injury as very rare and of such severity that euthanasia was the most humane option. News media at the time inaccurately reported that the injury had occurred after the horse stepped into a hole. American Humane's Certified Animal Safety Representatives observed rehearsals and clearly found that no holes or dangerous debris were present in the horse's path. Based on the professional judgment of the attending veterinarian, our investigation concluded that this death was accidental and could not have been predicted or prevented.

On April 25, 2005, at the Hansen Dam Equestrian Center in San Fernando Valley, Calif., a horse tripped on its regulation-length, 13-foot-long lead rope and fell to the ground, breaking its neck. This scene was performed with four horses, 12 professional cowboys, and four pickup riders in a controlled environment under the supervision of four American Humane Certified Animal Safety Representatives. While performing the scripted action of the scene, the horse got loose from the cowboy who was holding its lead rope. At liberty for less than 20 seconds, the horse suddenly changed direction and took the ultimately fatal step on the rope. LA Animal Services investigators, called in by the production company as required by protocol, concluded that the horse died of a broken neck and death was most likely instantaneous.

The four horses involved in the April 25 sequence, as well as the four that had performed in a prior take without incident, were not "wild mustangs," as erroneously reported in some news reports. All of these animals were domestically bred bronc horses accustomed to humans and the use of leads, and they often perform in rodeos across the country. At no time was any animal abused. The horses involved in the day's filming of this scene were returned to their home in Montana.

American Humane has worked with the head animal trainer and coordinator to ensure the safety of horses on numerous films, including Seabiscuit, The Black Knight, and All the Pretty Horses. These movies contain intense animal action, especially with horses, and each received American Humane's coveted End Credit Disclaimer "No Animals Were Harmed"®.

Although these were both unforeseeable and unfortunate accidents, the "No Animals Were Harmed"® Disclaimer obviously cannot be given when an animal is fatally injured during production. The modified language appearing in the end credits of Flicka reads as follows: "American Humane monitored the animal action." This statement attests to our continued involvement on the set and encourages the public to visit our website for the complete film review and explanation of the anomaly.

American Humane carefully considers potential animal safety issues in each revision to our Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media. In our more than 65 years of oversight for the film and television industry, countless animal injuries and deaths have been prevented by our presence on the set. Sadly, accidents do happen, but as long as animals continue to be used in film and television entertainment, American Humane will continue to monitor their treatment.

Featured Animal Scenes

As Katy McLaughlin rides her trail horse, Yankee, in one of the film's early scenes, she sees a majestic black mustang that rears up, whinnies and scares off a mountain lion eyeing her mount. Wranglers walked the trained mountain lion to the set with a collar and lead and stood on either side of the lion after getting it settled on a mark. A third handler standing in front of the camera called the lion's name, showed it one of its toys, and dropped small pieces of food so the lion would take a few steps forward and stare at the camera. The shot of the horse (Flicka) rearing was filmed separately.

Determined to bring the black mustang in, Katy manages to lasso Flicka and ends up being dragged on a wild ride until she cuts the rope. Flicka runs off, disrupting a herd that her father, Rob (Tim McGraw), is trying to corral. He manages to lasso and control the feisty mustang just in time to keep her from running off a cliff.

The shot of Katy successfully lassoing Flicka but struggling to hold on to the rope was actually filmed with both Lohman and a stunt girl on the horse; the other end of the rope was pulled by an off-camera wrangler and the actress/stand-in fell off on cue. Pick-up riders were in place nearby and the stunt double used a safe, breakaway-type lasso on Flicka. The shot of the horse rearing up while lassoed was filmed with an off-screen trainer holding the end of the rope.

To obtain the necessary close-up shot, Lohman did a short, 50-foot saddle drag while the horse pulled her at a walk/slow trot. Then Lohman's stand-in was pulled by a stunt horse headed for an off-screen trainer holding a grain bucket. The stuntwoman let go when the horse started heading down a slope.

When the sequence continues, Flicka's erratic behavior gets the other horses running as well. Wranglers used fire extinguishers behind the cameras to produce a sound that would get the approximately 30 horses moving quickly. These devices did not create panic in the animals; it only made them move away from the noise. The rope around Flicka's neck was secured in such a way that it would not tighten if she were to step on it during the run. All pick-up riders rode alongside the herd during filming and gathered up the horses after each take.

The filmmakers used computer-generated imagery (CGI) in postproduction to create the cliff from which Flicka appears in danger of plummeting; there was no real cliff — only a four-foot slope that had a length of white tape along the edge to provide a visual marker for Flicka. The horses were rested between each take and only cantered approximately 100 yards.

Taming Flicka

The McLaughlins confine Flicka to a large, round pen on the ranch while Katy tries to tame her. Using verbal and visual cues, an off-screen wrangler directed Flicka's seemingly volatile rears, head shakes and pawing as Lohman interacted with the mustang. During one of her nocturnal visits to the pen, Katy manages to mount and ride the horse in circles in her stall, and then gets brave enough to take her out of the pen. This proves too much for Flicka, who bucks and throws Katy and runs off.

This sequence required multiple takes with both Lohman and a stunt rider. The actress rode Flicka bareback in the round pen, first at a trot and then slowed to a walk in order to unlock the gate and lead the horse out to a dirt road. For safety, two unseen wranglers were in the pen cuing the horse to move in a tight circle. For the subsequent take, the stunt double rode Flicka in circles a few times, opened the gate, and then cantered up the dirt road alongside the pasture fence. The experienced stuntwoman performed the fall after wranglers and the American Humane Safety Rep confirmed that the horse's lead rope was secured in place at Flicka's neck and unable to touch the ground. For the insert shot, Lohman flopped down in the dirt as if bucked off by Flicka. This footage was edited in with the stuntwoman's work.

For a shot of Flicka clipping Katy's shoulder with her hoof, filmmakers used a fake, puppet hoof and hit it against a stuntwoman. Bareback riding shots of Yankee and Flicka were accomplished with both Lohman and the stuntwoman.

Rodeo Events

Several sequences in the film take place at a rodeo, which features traditional contests such as barrel racing, saddle bronc riding and a "wild horse" race. Due to the extreme nature of these events, wranglers simulated much of the intense action in multiple cuts that were later edited together. Basic safety precautions included having several pick-up riders as well as wranglers on the ground in the enclosed arena to direct and control the horses; ensuring that the grounds were free of debris and footing hazards; having a veterinarian on set at all times during filming; and switching out the horses often to prevent fatigue.

Both the actress playing Miranda (Kaylee DeFer) and an experienced stuntwoman rode during the barrel racing event, which was conducted in limited takes at a much slower pace than a real rodeo would be, due to the smaller arena size. These horses were well-conditioned, privately owned barrel racers, and the riders performed at a lope while they simulated starting and finishing the event. Wranglers raked over the ground between the barrels after each run, and four pick-up riders were also in the shot to help out as needed. To avoid possible stress on the animals, the crowd pantomimed their cheers in this scene.

During the saddle bronc riding event, trainer Rex Peterson cued the horse to rear up and instructed the stuntman to mount the animal on its hind end — this would naturally produce a small buck from the horse. When the horse kicked up its rear, the actor simply jumped off. One shot of a rider being bucked off his horse actually involved a stunt table; the actor leaped off the table and onto a pile of stunt pads below camera frame. Action in this event, as in others, was shot in many highly controlled cuts.

The exhibition closes with a wild horse race, also known as team bronc riding. Here, three-person teams must saddle and ride a bronc horse that is wearing a halter and regulation-length, 13-foot lead rope held by a cowboy as it exits the starting chute. A total of 10 professional bronc rodeo horses and expert wild horse race contestants were flown in from Wyoming, Montana and Colorado for this scene. Only eight of the horses were ultimately used — four in each take. American Humane allowed only one take per horse, for a total of two takes, in keeping with these animals' accustomed singular performance in a traditional rodeo event. Safety Reps monitoring the action requested that a veterinarian examine the horses before and after each take. The numbers on the horses' hindquarters were painted with water-based, natural pigment tempera.

To cap off this sequence, Katy sneaks into the arena, grabs Flicka by the halter and mounts her, then rides the mustang outside the gates and away from the rodeo. Both Lohman and a stunt double performed this action, which was also filmed in several cuts. While a stunt girl appeared in wide-angle shots that show Katy entering the corral with the nine horses, Lohman worked in closer shots with just three horses doing point A-to-B action in the background. The stunt double rode bareback through the parking lot and was slowed by a mounted wrangler waiting at the end mark. Two pick-up riders also appear in the shot as a safety provision, and production assistants cleared all extras out of the horse's path prior to each take.

Mountain Lion Attack

At the end of the film, Flicka rears and Katy falls off just before a mountain lion jumps down from a tree and onto Flicka's back, knocking the horse to the ground. Katy scares the lion away, but Flicka lies immobile, badly injured and scratched.

All action in the attack sequence was filmed in plate shots, which means the horse and the lion were never on set at the same time. Production created a 15-foot, graduated platform and scaffolding set that allowed the trainer to walk the mountain lion up to a wooden platform under the tree branch, where a holding crate was located. On action, trainers released the cat from the crate, and it walked five to seven feet onto the tree branch and toward a trainer standing on the scaffolding next to the branch. Using a bait stick, trainers cued the cat to turn around and jump approximately five feet onto the platform below the branch. In the final edit of the film, this mini leap was transformed into a much higher jump.

For the next element in this shot, trainers attached a stuffed-prop mountain lion to Flicka's back via a strap secured around the horse's front legs, with the "stuffy's" paws wrapped around Flicka's neck. On action, wranglers cued the horse to fall on her side on an area of prepared earth softened with peat moss. Trainers enhanced the illusion of a struggle on the ground by telling the horse to get up as they tugged on a cable attached to the lead rope.

In a subsequent take, trainers had the horse lie on the ground as unseen crew maneuvered the stuffed mountain lion against Flicka's neck. Parts of the attack were also taken from footage filmed against a blue screen, with the real mountain lion playing and biting at a favorite toy wrapped in blue fabric. Additionally, trainers positioned chunks of meat in the mane of an animatronic prop horse and directed the cougar to eat it, producing the illusion of the cat chewing on Flicka's neck.

Non-toxic makeup created Flicka's bloody neck scratches, and special-effects rain was used in the background, not on the horse. Trainers hand-wetted Flicka to match the scene, and lightning effects were added in later. These multiple images, painstakingly filmed in bits and pieces, came together to form the seamless attack sequence audiences appreciate on the big screen.

Open Range

Beauty shots of the large herd of 50 horses running free on the open range were accomplished with a cadre of pick-up riders, who surrounded the horses and got them galloping at a quick pace over the grassland a quarter-mile toward their home. Filmed on a ranch in Wyoming, these local horses lived together and were filmed in their natural, enclosed pasture. According to the Safety Rep, wranglers and pick-up riders did not push the pace of the horses; the animals merely found their own pace, with some acting as leaders and others falling toward the back of their tight group. Horses were rested a minimum of 45 minutes between each take. The helicopter filming this action complied with American Humane's Guidelines and maintained a safe distance of more than 50 feet above the animal action.