Researching Historical Fiction

Brisco County and His Horse Comet

While we’re on the subject of horses, I have to confess to a deep affection for “The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.,” a short-lived (one season) TV series from the early 1990s. It is a strange and charming combination of western, comedy, action and sci-fi starring Bruce Campbell.

Bruce Campbell as Brisco County Jr. with one of the horses that played his faithful sidekick Comet in "The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr."
Bruce Campbell with one of the horses that played his faithful sidekick Comet in “The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.”

His horse Comet was a character in his own right: independent yet always there to help Brisco out of a jam and smarter than most of the humans, judging by Brisco’s on-screen conversations with him.

The DVD collection comes with a disc of extras, and one chapter is about horses. In it, Campbell explains that there were actually four or five horses for the one “hero” horse. I figured there had to be more than one Comet, but I didn’t realize how much TV horses specialize.

One horse had all the colorings associated with Comet, but Campbell went on to say that you’d never use a “trick” horse for a scene involving a lot of dialogue because the horse would be on alert, looking for its cue, asking, “What’s my trick? Should I do it now? Should I do it now?”

Copper was the horse for those scenes. He would just stand there no matter what was going on around him, so Campbell called him Lead Belly.

Then there was Ace, the horse that reared whenever that was called for — and in a TV western, it was often called for. But rearing is all Ace did on camera.

Before the show started filming, Campbell was sent off to train with a horse wrangler out west. Riding was a dying skill among actors, he said:

If you made a TV show in the ’60s, like ‘Bonanza,’ all your guest stars would know how to ride. Well, we’re in 1994, nobody knows how to ride. Took me a month to learn how to ride. You get these guest stars from New York City playing bad guys — these guys couldn’t ride a horse to save their life.

The writers often worked that awkwardness into the script, and Christian Clemenson, who played Socrates Poole in the show, admitted to never being comfortable around horses. But he went with it because it fit his character as a nervous, city-dwelling lawyer.

Julius Carry, who played a rival bounty hunter and eventually Brisco’s friend and partner Lord Bowler, said he’d been riding since he was little more than a toddler. He and Campbell spent 12 hours on horseback filming chase scenes for the final episode, and Carry didn’t want to go home that day:

We were playing cowboys and Indians with real toys. It was great.

Except Brisco and Bowler were on the run from the U.S. cavalry.

Head writer Carlton Cuse told his writers to keep things “just under ‘over the top.’” The result is sometimes silly, but it’s good clean fun.

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