While we ran some information about the death of Blanco on the Stable Management Facebook page, we wanted to share this touching story from his owner.
Blanco, the angelic white horse who was the primary equine actor to play Gandalf’s mythical steed Shadowfax in the blockbuster Lord of The Rings movies The Two Towers and The Return of The King, had to be euthanized last week. One of the most beloved animal stars to ever emerge from Hollywood films, the 25 year old Andalusian horse suddenly fell critically ill while at home with owner, horse behavior and positive training expert, Cynthia Royal.
During a lengthy stay in a prominent horse hospital, a battery of tests proved inconclusive, revealing only non-specific issues with several internal organs. While a host of therapies from conventional to alternative were provided, Blanco’s weakened state coupled with a lack of a concrete diagnosis severely limited treatment options.
Cynthia and her family visited him daily in the hospital. “Some days, he was distant – a physical shell devoid of the strong, opinionated partner and friend I’d known so well.” She said, continuing, “Other days, he would rally as soon as he heard my voice from afar. On those days, we’d go on short walks together, with lots of scratches, hugs and a few nibbles of green grass from the hospital’s lawn.”
About a week into his hospital stay, Blanco made some improvement. “One day in particular,” reports Cynthia. “He returned to his old self, particularly alert and joyful to see me, greeting me at the door with a deep, whinny of recognition – like a hug between old friends. After being disconnected from his IV, he snacked on carrots I’d brought from home and we went for a long walk, even doing a little trotting in perfect unison. When back at his stall, I told him if he continued to feel better, I planned to bring him home the following day to continue his rehabilitation there.” But that promise was not meant to be.
“Early the next morning, I received a call from one of several vets overseeing his case, informing me he had taken a turn for the worse overnight and that I needed to come to the hospital right away,” Cynthia said, fighting back the tears. “When I approached Blanco’s stall, he was in an obvious state of shut-down – a ghost of his vibrant self from the previous day. Kneeling down by his side, I asked him if it was his ‘time.’ Without hesitation, he turned his head around and down to me, looked me straight in the eye and at that moment, I knew he was ready.”
“While the decision was made to help Blanco transition, the hospital had a policy of only allowing staff to be present during euthanasia, due to safety concerns,” Cynthia said firmly. “This was something I was simply unwilling to accept, as my duty to Blanco and our extraordinary relationship would not be complete without being able to be present supporting him during this final leg of his journey. Instead of allowing him to be taken away to an isolated room to die with strangers, we were able to persuade the hospital staff to euthanize him in his stall with me by his side – as long as I could persuade him to lay down on his own. Though it took several tries and lots of encouragement due to his severely weakened state, Blanco gave me the gift of laying down for me one last time, in response to my gentle request and we lay together as he died in my arms,” a living testament to the trust and bond Blanco and Cynthia shared.
Noted for his bravery, intelligence and unwillingness to be tamed or ridden by anyone but the wizard Gandalf, Shadowfax was a dream role as far as horses go. Born in Australia and moved to the United States after the LoTR films, actor Sir Ian McKellen who played Gandalf, once referred to Blanco as the horse “capable of a heart-stopping entrance.” Blanco also performed one of the most famed horse-related cinematographic scenes of all time, galloping through Minas Tirith to the courtyard of the White Tree.
As J.R.R. Tolkien writes, “Shadowfax will have no harness. You do not ride Shadowfax; he is willing to carry you–or not.” In true-to-life form, Blanco was known for his uncanny ability to work independently ‘at Liberty,’ able to be ridden without saddle or bridle, and perform precise tricks and movements directed only by subtle hand and voice signals from his human handler–work he loved and willingly participated in. But his favorite activity, according to Cynthia, was going to the beach and playing unencumbered in the surf. “After being turned loose, he’d run fearlessly out into the waves and swim perpendicular to the shore. When he’d come back, he would stand by me, with the waves lapping at his feet as he savored the salty taste of the sea.” Then, teary eyed, she reflected, “One of my most memorable days with him was when we were filming at the beach for our ‘What Dreams Are Made Of’ video, because the enchanting moments caught on film were truly a snapshot of the real joy and connection we shared.”
Arguably on equal par with his leading actor, human counterparts, Cynthia once referred to Blanco in a news interview as ‘The Brad Pitt of horses,’ quite fitting of his long and impressive entertainment career and his droves of faithful, adoring fans. In addition to his role in LoTR, Blanco’s list of credits include a Hercules movie as well as the TV series by the same name, numerous commercials, a horse training video series featuring Royal’s techniques, and live appearances and theatrical performances throughout North America.
Blanco was also the only non-police horse ever granted access to The Mall in Washington D.C.–the location of numerous National monuments and the Smithsonian Museum–for an unprecedented photo and video shoot with Cynthia. In the near future, he can be seen performing with Cynthia and her other liberty horses in an episode of Horse Medicine, a feature documentary series expected out in the coming months.
In Tolkien’s iconic trilogy, Gandalf and Shadowfax prepare to board a boat from the Grey Havens to the immortal West, Middle-earth’s gentle passageway into the afterlife. Cynthia mirrors that thought in a tribute video created in Blanco’s honor, saying to her departed friend, “Your memory will stay strong in my heart until we meet once again to ride as one on the other side.” Farewell valiant Blanco–you will be sorely missed, but forever immortalized on the Silver Screen, you will NEVER be forgotten.
SPECIAL NOTE: Because this tragic event has placed additional hardship on Cynthia, in treatment for on-going, serious health challenges, a ‘Show Your Love for Shadowfax’ fund has been established at http://www.gofundme.com/Shadowfax to help pay for Blanco’s extensive hospital bills.
For more inspiration, visit:
Blanco’s Tribute Video: http://youtu.be/GmicRuZWitM
Blanco’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lord-of-The-Rings-Shadowfax-star-horse-Blanco/115471305137956
Cynthia Royal’s Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cynthia-Royal/137542596273443
Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/DiscoverTheMagic