How Hollywood Movie "Ladyhawke" Promoted the Friesian in the U.S.A.

Sun, 11/07/2021 - 01:43
Rutger Hauer on set in Italy for Ladyhawke

A small bit of Friesian history in the U.S.A. --- Ladyhawke is a 1985 medieval fantasy film featuring a warrior named Etienne Navarre (Rutger Hauer), who rides a horse named Goliath. The story is about a young thief (Matthew Broderick) who unwillingly gets involved with the warrior and his lady (Michelle Pfeiffer).

At a time when there were fewer than 100 Friesians in the USA, the horse that played Goliath was a 19-year-old Friesian stallion named Othello.

Circus Horse Othello

Othello was a circus performer for Manuela Beeloo, his owner. His sire was Ritske 202 Preferent and his dam was Paulowna, Ster (v. Gerke 220). He was retired from public performance at age 28 at the 1994 KFPS Stallion Keuring. 

Othello not only held his own, starring opposite Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer, he ignited massive interest in the breed and is often credited for helping the Friesian become as popular as it is today in North America.

LadyHawke Made the Friesian Popular in the USA

In 1983 the first meeting to organize the Friesian Horse Association in the U.S. was held in Visalia, California with F. Leyendekker, F. DeBoer, D. Dunnink, J. Botma, J. Mellott, R. Humason as attendees.

Ladyhawke was filmed in 1983 and released in 1985. Director and Producer, Richard Donner, had attempted and failed to get the film financed for several years in other countries. Eventually Warner Bros and Fox in the USA signed on. Originally, Kurt Russell was cast as the male lead alongside Michelle Pfeiffer. The role of the thief was first offered to Sean Penn and then Dustin Hoffman before Donner decided to go with Matthew Broderick. Eventually, Russell pulled out during rehearsals, and Rutger Hauer was chosen to replace him.

Horse Lovers' Movie

Ladyhawke movie poster
Ladyhawke was filmed in Italy which contributed to its high production costs. It was sadly a box-office disappointment, grossing around $18.4 million against a $20 million budget and ranking 48th for the year at the North American box office. Ladyhawke was nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Sound and Best Sound Effects Editing) but won neither.

Ultimately, Ladyhawke went on to inspire a modest cult following, even if it remains largely obscure to non-devotees of fantasy cinema today. Still, for many horse lovers, the film inspired the desire to own a magical fantasy horse such as the one played by Othello in the film.

For this inspiration, Ladyhawke most certainly provoked an unmistakable spark of interest in the Friesian Horse in North America.

In 1988 the Spring Breed Classic USET Benefit Show at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center included participants Fred DeBoer and Family, with their Friesian horses; John Koster and Family, with their Friesian horses; and Grand Marshall, Rutger Hauer, movie star from the Netherlands.  Fred DeBoer presented Rutger Hauer with a Friesian horse for what he had done to promote the breed in the movie Ladyhawke(c).

Read more about the History of the Friesian horse here. 

-- Text by Fenway Foundation for Friesian Horses, edited by Eurodressage