At Home with William Shatner

The actor, musician, singer, author, director, philanthropist, and comedian is also an accomplished reiner. Associate Editor Lauren Feldman caught up with one of the hardest-working men in Hollywood to talk horse.
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The actor, musician, singer, author, director, philanthropist, and comedian is also an accomplished reiner. Associate Editor Lauren Feldman caught up with one of the hardest-working men in Hollywood to talk horse.
photo courtesy NRHA

William Shatner, best known for his roles as the iconic Captain Kirk on Star Trek, veteran police sergeant on T.J. Hooker, host of Rescue 911, and attorney Denny Crane on The Practice and Boston Legal, Canadian-born William Shatner, 82, is a man of many hats. Among them, a cowboy hat. The actor, musician, singer, author, director, philanthropist, and comedian is also an accomplished reiner. Associate Editor Lauren Feldman caught up with one of the hardest-working men in Hollywood to talk horse.

Our readers might be surprised to discover you’re a passionate and longtime horseman. Did you grow up with horses?

I swept out stalls when I was a kid at a rental facility in Montreal, Canada. It was there that I became fascinated with horses, and rode some, but it wasn’t until much later in life that I was actually able to afford them. I had bought some land in central California, and the person who was taking care of the land thought we should put some horses on it—a fine idea that jump-started the dream of horse ownership I’d had when I was younger. The first horse I bought, somewhat inadvertently, was at an auction.

How did you make the leap from auction horse to competitive reining?

The horse I bought at the auction was a Quarter Horse, so I had this Quarter Horse—now what? Originally, the idea of cutting entranced me, so I tried my hand at cutting. I wasn’t thrilled with the way I was treated in the cutting world, so I lurched into reining. I guess you could say I slid into reining.

Reining is a wonderful discipline. Riding a reining horse is such an experience—it’s filled with delicacy and power; it is filled with the experience of being at one with your horse and this tremendous momentum; and it’s filled with challenge because of the pattern, and the joy of achieving the best you can be at that moment, given the exigencies of the footing, the horse, and your physical capability at that time.

What is your most meaningful accomplishment in the arena?

I’m gradually getting higher and higher scores. Now I expect to consistently score higher than 70. Seventy-two might be my personal best. Danny Gerardi is my trainer, and he’s trained my horses to the point where they are far better at it than I am. Every time I ride, my only hope is that I can be as good as the horse.

Singer Lyle Lovett is another notable reiner. Is there any friendly competition between you two?

Lyle is a very serious and dedicated rider and breeder. I haven’t unseated him from his reining throne yet. At my best and at my horses’ best, I think there might be some serious competition between Lyle and myself down the road.

Are there any lessons you’ve learned from riding that you’ve been able to apply to your acting?

Oh, everything…the stillness of a horse; the ability to go from stillness and nothing to everything; the way a good horse will always try; the way a horse returns affection and communicates nonverbally with you; and lessons of humility. Those are lessons for both acting and life.

The best moments you have as an actor are the moments you hit truthfully—you want to achieve truth and authenticity at their core. You look for the same moments when you’re riding a horse. You’re constantly looking for that “aha” moment when all the elements come together and everything feels real and right.

You and your wife, Elizabeth, spearhead the Priceline.com Hollywood Charity Horse Show (www.horseshow.org), which will celebrate its 24th year on April 26. How did you become involved?

Well, it started off as a Saddlebred horse show, and someone was canceling it so I volunteered to take over. Within a couple years, the Saddlebred people were no longer interested in cooperating so I changed it to a Quarter Horse Show. It’s one of the oldest and largest horse shows in the area, and I’ve been fortunate enough to raise millions of dollars over the years for children. I’ll be riding in the competition and handling the auction.

My wife’s charity is Horses for Heroes (www.horsesforheroes.org). It’s a veteran’s organization for riding therapy. We found that children’s ills are often the same as soldiers’—whether those ills be physical or social or emotional—and the horses help in really tremendous ways.

The show is really worth coming to. The party is absolutely sensational and every dollar that we get goes to the children. No money gets taken off the top for administration or anything.