Growing up in coastal British Columbia, Jamie Payton happened to meet his fate on a day he was in his parents’ Western store on account of getting sent home from school.
“I was about 12 years old and gentleman came into the store looking for some talents for the movies,” Payton explained. “He was keeping a bunch of horses in our hometown of Maple Ridge. I was telling him that I got kicked out of school and he said to my parents, ‘Why don’t you get him to come with you and work for us in a movie.’”
The gentleman, John Scott, is 82 and he and Payton—now 55 and the owner of Jamie Payton Movie Horses—continue to work together in the movies after that first fated stint in the 1977 film, Harry Tracy, starring Bruce Dern. Scott continued to call on the young talent year after year until, eventually, Payton focused on filming on the coast, while Scott concentrated on projects in the interior Calgary, Alberta, region. The decades-long partnership led to experiences most think only exist, well, in the movies.
“That was when I was really young and Brad Pitt was just starting off,” Payton said of working on the great Western epic, Legends of the Fall. “I worked with John—it was his show—but when it came to BC, I supplied some horses and did some work. It was all in downtown Vancouver, so I knew my way around and it was easy for me to get things set up for John and to work with Brad.”
Not unlike the team roping community, the film industry is close-knit and over the years, Payton often had the opportunity to work with actors and crew on multiple projects.
“Then I worked with Brad on Seven Years in Tibet and I doubled him on a deal there,” said Payton, whose work is that of wrangler, actor, stuntman and stunt double. “We had to fly [four] horses up onto Mount Hood. We helicoptered them up 5,000 feet onto a glacier. It was a pickup shot from Tibet, so it looked like Brad was escaping from the Tibetans. We lived out in the bush with Brad and the crew for three weeks—everybody was out there.”
More recently, Payton’s work can be seen in shows like the Hallmark channel’s When Calls the Heart—now airing its ninth season—and the TV classic Texas Rangers, but when asked about a favorite project, Payton doesn’t hesitate.
“The best and funnest one I worked on was Night at the Museum with Robin Williams. I did [films] one, two and three with Robin and he, every day, would make you laugh. He was just a character.”
Of course, the talent doesn’t only belong to the big-name movie stars. In Payton’s experience, a movie horse for which acting doesn’t come naturally can burn out in as little as two years. The good ones, though, can work 15 years or more.
“My older horses that I have—I’ve got some horses that are 18, 20 years old that I’ve had for 15 years that know that’s what their job is. And they know what ‘Action’ is; they know what ‘Roll’ is. They know when they’re setting cameras, they get used to the silks.
“The good horses are hard to replace,” Payton continued. “They’re like our family, too, but anybody can ride them, and they know their job. I’ll set a mark and have the actor ride up to where they have to do their dialogue, and they ride up there once and that old horse knows where his spot is. They’ll go back to what we call ‘A,’ and they’ll ride to ‘B,’ and they’ll go back there every time and stop. They know their marks. They’re like team roping horses—they learn their job and they know what to do.”
It’s a comparison Payton is qualified to make. When he’s not filming, he’s putting on ropings at his place when the months are warm and roping in Arizona when the temps drop in BC—a privilege he can enjoy thanks to the trustworthy team he’s built over the years that he can rely on to take care of things well in his absence.
“We’re right by the side of the highway and we’ve got 125 acres right there and a big roping arena. We have lots of cattle and we’ve got lots of hookups for people. They’ll come and hang out and rope for the weekend and then go home.”
This February, though, Payton was able to enjoy a great day of roping at the Ariat WSTR Title Fights in Wickenburg.
“I was having a bad day,” he admitted. “I was in the #11 and the #10. I wasn’t doing very good at all, and I missed a couple of steers in the #10. Then, in the #9, a couple of guys came together and were helping me. I was roping with Pat Danehey and Wayne Baize. Me and him have had very good luck together and we went out and roped and were fifth high team coming back. Bobby, his son, just told us to go out there and make a run.
“So, we made a nice 9-second run and the four teams ahead of us all blew out. It just all came together, and we won it. There were 420 teams and it paid almost $22,000 each. It was a pretty exciting moment. Now, the only other thing is I’d like to win Vegas. I want to make the Finale next year. That’s my goal this year. To win that.”