Kevin Bode - Stuntman, Trainer, Clinician
by Marilyn E. Short


No one likes to fall off their horse, and most of us have done it a time or two. But to fall off a galloping horse intentionally…that’s 110% crazy! Although it’s safer than saddlebronc or bull riding – all of which Kevin Bode of Plano, Texas has done…numerous times! An all-around horseman, Bode has taken quite a few hard knocks, numerous jobs, spent many hours in (and out of) the saddle, and many years to attain his level of experience. Bode is a Stuntman, Trainer, and Clinician and has successfully combined those skills into BrandHeart Horses.

The 40-year-old Bode has been riding horses for over 30 years and his basic foundation for handling horses came from his Grandfather and Uncle who were Missouri ranchers. Under the guidance of his grandfather, Bode started his first colt at 9 years of age. From there he continued to learn from the likes of Tom Dorrance, Bill Dorrance, and Ray Hunt. He “officially” started training horses for money when he was 13 years old, breaking colts for the locals.

“I knew from the very beginning that I would spend my entire life working with horses,” said Bode, “they are the most magnificent creatures.”

Bode was born in Chicago and raised on his grandparent’s farm in southern Missouri until High School. No rodeo or horse shows for Bode during high school. He was a wrestler and Golden Gloves boxer – and quite good too! He was a junior regional champion wrestler at 149.5 lbs. in High School and also wrestled in Olympic freestyle. He was a two-time all-Chicago area Golden Gloves champion boxer at Welterweight which is approximately 149-152 lbs.

Bode regrets that he didn’t complete his last year of high school. “That’s a decision that I have always regretted,” said Bode. “Every young boy and girl should stay to the end of high school and graduate with their class. I subsequently earned my Diploma through the G.E.D. program and went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree from Southeast Missouri State University.”

When he turned 18, he joined the U.S. Coast Guard. In 1982, while stationed in Coos Bay, Oregon, Bode entered his first P.R.C.A. Rodeo in Redmond, Oregon. He was hooked, Bode spent the next 13 years on the Professional Rodeo circuit.

What does a member of the P.R.C.A. do when they retire? He becomes a stuntman! Or at least that was the case for Bode. “I consider my 13 years in Professional Rodeo as a great training ground for work in the film business as a professional stuntman,” said Bode, “I certainly know how to come off a horse willingly or otherwise!”

Bode may be retired from the P.R.C.A. Circuit, but retirement is hard work! “I believe my background with wrestling, boxing, and weight training have been very beneficial for stunt work,” said Bode. “I have to stay in top physical condition so I work out at home in my private gym with free weights, on an all-around machine, and heavy bag. Plus I do 3 miles of field running every other day, not to mention riding five to seven horses daily!”

His training and talent have paid off - Bode has been a stunt double and performed stunts for feature films, commercials, and television shows such as “Walker, Texas Ranger”, “8 Seconds”, “The Rough Riders”, “Pure Country”, “Dallas Reunion (War of the Ewings)” and many more. Bode has been a stunt double for Chuck Norris, Steve Kanaly (Dallas’ Ray Krebbs), Sam Elliott, Tom Berenger, and also for the 1988 World Champion All-Around Cowboy, Dave Appleton.

“The first stunt I ever did with livestock was for the Miller Brewing Company,” said Bode. “It was doubling for Dave Appleton and consisted of my getting hung-up to the bull. Dave didn’t want to do it himself…I wonder why?”

Not only does Bode perform the stunts, he trains stunt horses and has been influenced by some of the greats such as Glenn Randall, Sr. who was the trainer of famous horses such as the Lone Ranger’s Silver, and Roy Rogers’ Trigger. Randall also trained the Chariot horses in the movie “Ben Hur”, beginning the training in Italy eleven months before filming began. Each horse had to be taught individually, then in pairs, then three until there were the four horses to pull the chariot. There were 9 chariot teams, 72 horses were trained, but only 36 where in the film. Horses have understudies just as people and the Lippizan team that leaped the chariot over several crashed vehicles were trained weeks ahead and practiced as dancers do - leaping higher than required for the scene. Other trainers such as Gerard Natrous, Daniel Natrous and Yakima Canutt are also high on Bode’s list of influential trainers.

Bode uses the American Quarter Horse and Paints when training his stunt horses, although he’s worked with Andalusians and American Standardbreds too. He’s pretty proud of his own Quarter Horses, Sparkling Pops, (aka Dancer) and Bodes Bay Star. The stunts these horses perform start with the most common, the saddle fall and the bow, along with the transfer, i.e., rider off the horse onto a car, truck, train, or another horse.

“Training for these stunts can take from 30 days to a year,” said Bode. “That’s why stunt horse trainers such as myself are always keeping new cast members coming into the string. There are exceptions though, the trainer who got the Clydesdales ready for the Budweiser commercial where they are playing football had about six weeks to get those big boys ready.”

     

The saddle fall is relatively easy to train the horse to perform; you start with a pretty solid horse that doesn’t spook at much. In a round pen with the horse moving at a walk the trainer simply slides out of the saddle into the soft sand footing. When the horse consistently demonstrates that it doesn’t bother him, the trainer will speed up to a trot – making sure to continue in the same direction as in the walk. Repeat the slide off at the trot until the horse has demonstrated that he’s not bothered. The next step is the lope, the trainer just adds a little tuck and roll (away from the horse’s feet for obvious reasons) after he slides out of the saddle.

Bode never knows when he will be called for stunt or double work, or when he’ll get a call to use his horses. His stunt horses have to be continually trained and in peak condition at all times. Currently Bode has several horses in training waiting for Ron Howard’s “The Alamo” to begin filming up near Dripping Springs.

Most of the time Bode uses his own horses for film and television work, although sometimes he is provided with horses from the wranglers on that project.

“When I have to use other horses brought by the wranglers, there is usually very little prep time with the horses,” said Bode. “I have to trust the wranglers that they’ve brought the right kind of horses and trust the stunt coordinators on each project. I have tons of respect for the horse wranglers, they really know horses, much more than the average horse trainer understands. Finally, I have to trust my own ability to just jump onto a strange horse and go lay it out there to get the shot. Which I do – but safety first, of course!

 

Truly passionate about horses and their proper care and training, Bode feels that sometimes people of lesser experience and knowledge about horses are sometimes put off by his insistence that there is a right way and a wrong way with horses.

His basic philosophy for horse training is to make the right thing easy to do and the wrong thing hard to do. “Use common sense and gentleness when training the horse,” said Bode, “treat him with love and respect, but don’t baby him. Always remember that this animal is not a dog, this animal can kill you if put in the wrong situation.”

Bode enjoys working with problem horses. “Ninety-nine times out of a hundred it’s the owner not the horse that needs fixing,” said Bode. Just one example of this was a client that brought Bode a horse that would not stand still when she was trying to mount. Bode watched her as she mounted and found that every time she went to get into the saddle she was so fearful of the horse that she grabbed a handful of rein and would actually cue her horse to back up. Once Bode showed her that the problem was in the way she mounted the horse and not with the horse itself, the mounting problem disappeared.

“I have several horses in training right now,” said Bode, “that are owned by some wonderful new friends of mine. These horses are decent horses, but all of them have some dysfunctional problem caused by lack of knowledge by the owners such as using the right bit, knowing how to properly back and turn the horse in a rollback, or to simply know when to change the horse’s gait by simple leg cues.”

When he’s not working on location or training his own horses for stunt work, Bode conducts clinics in basic colt starting, problem solving or simply demonstrates horse stunts and how to ensure safety for him and his horse as entertainment for corporate functions, symposiums, and expos.

Bode’s favorite horses include the fabulously trained Trigger and the spectacular cutting horse, Smart Little Lena. Bode doesn’t limit his training to stunts, he has trained horses for simple pleasure riding, cutting, reining, reined cow horses, roping, barrels and pole bending. Some of the accomplishments of the horses he’s trained include 1985 and 1986 Reserve World Champion Reined Cow Horse A.J.Q.H.A., the 1994 A.J.R.A. World Champion Barrel Horse, and the 1994 A.J.R.A. World Champion Pole-Bending horse.

Another favorite horse of Bode’s is his own beautiful bay Tobiano stallion, Rascals Three Bar Leo. His sire was Rascal Dun It, APHA World Champion Junior Reining Horse and NRHA money earner. His dam was Catty Sue Zan, a great Reining and Cutting background. Bode is currently training Rascals Three Bar Leo for the NRHA Futurity and the 2003 World Show.

Bode and his wife, Marilyn Brown also own their own production company, BrandHeart Film Productions, Inc. They are currently working on a full-length feature film, “Leaving the Land,” a contemporary story with a western backdrop on a Montana ranch – a heartfelt story about a father and son relationship. Plans are also under way for a movie about Jim Gober, a 22-year-old sheriff in 1887 Tascosa, Potter County, Texas.

Bode never slows down, he gives 110% all of the time. His goals for the next five years (as if he didn’t have enough to do) are to train an N.R.H.A. Futurity Champion, earn the “World’s Greatest Horseman” title, continue to work in the film industry as a stuntman with his horses, and to produce good westerns like they use to in the good old days!

Should you wish to contact Kevin Bode at BrandHeart Horses, you may call 972-312-0629 or fax 972-312-0621.

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