Twisting in Air


Twisting in Air

The Sensational Rise of a Hollywood Falling Horse

Carol Bradley

224 pages
13 photographs


October 2024


$24.95 Pre-order

About the Book

Twisting in Air chronicles the gritty and glittery era when an extraordinary group of horses made Western movies come alive and explores how one of them, Cocaine, overcame a debilitating injury to become the fastest falling horse of all. Falling horses came into being in the 1940s after movie studios agreed to abide by the Hollywood Production Code’s ban on cruelty to animals and stop using deadly trip wires, tilt chutes, and covered pits to topple unsuspecting horses. Filmmakers still wanted to depict horses falling in battle, however, so they went looking for a new wave of “acting” horses who could tumble to the ground on command.

Cocaine was a thoroughbred–quarter horse mix who doubled many times for John Wayne’s horse Dollar and appeared in a number of Westerns directed by John Ford. Coke was one of only a couple dozen horses who mastered the demanding athleticism required to fall safely at will. Twisting in Air offers an absorbing look at the dark early history of stunt horses in movies and the development of falling horses, the stunt riders who owned, trained, and depended on them, and the behind-the-scenes circumstances in which they performed.

Author Bio

Carol Bradley is a former newspaper reporter and the author of Saving Gracie: How One Dog Escaped the Shadowy World of American Puppy Mills and Last Chain on Billie: How One Extraordinary Elephant Escaped the Big Top. She grew up in Tennessee and now lives in Montana.


“This is a book about Hollywood’s glory days and its stunt men, about the barbaric ways we used to treat movie animals, how that slowly improved, and how one amazing thoroughbred-quarter mix named Cocaine (think Seabiscuit) learned the hard way the art of fast falling. It’ll change how you watch animals who appear on the big screen.”—Larry Tye, New York Times best-selling author of Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend

“From silent film horse actors such as Fritz to latter-day superstars like Cocaine, Twisting in Air celebrates the bravery and athleticism of equine entertainers. More importantly, it shows how the bond between horse and human can help both achieve great things.”—Cynthia Branigan, author of The Last Diving Horse in America

Twisting in Air is by turns a well-researched and damning indictment of Hollywood’s callous disregard for the welfare of horses (and their riders) from the days of the nickelodeons to the present, as well as an endearing account of the relationship of one of the industry’s most famed stunt horsemen, Chuck Roberson with his extraordinary ‘falling horse’ Cocaine. Chock-full of anecdotes from the glory days of the Westerns, including unvarnished glimpses of famed director John Ford (‘he looked like a sack of walnuts in the saddle’), John Wayne, Cecil B. DeMille, and many more, this book will appeal to horse lovers, fans of the genre, and students of the American experience alike. Mount up!”—Les Standiford, author of the New York Times best-selling Last Train to Paradise

“The Western, Hollywood’s earliest and most enduring genre, couldn’t exist without horsepower. . . . If you love horses—and who doesn’t?—you’ll enjoy Bradley’s authoritative and thoroughly entertaining account of the rise and fall and rise again of the men and animals who tamed the West, at least in the movies, and created a legend all their own.”—Glenn Frankel, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author of The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend

“Carol Bradley has written a necessary book about the horses and the stuntmen that made possible the action exploits of the great Western stars, as well as the bonds of shared trust and devotion between rider and mount—and the cruelty imposed by Hollywood’s invariable need for expedience and speed.”—Scott Eyman, New York Times best-selling author of John Wayne: The Life and Legend

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
Chapter One: A Mortifying Gaffe
Chapter Two: The Lure of the West
Chapter Three: First Came Fritz
Chapter Four: Then Came Tony
Chapter Five: Trip Wires and More
Chapter Six: Ratcheting up the Risks
Chapter Seven: Making Headway Against Abuse
Chapter Eight: Learning the Ropes
Chapter Nine: In Search of a Horse
Chapter Ten: A Debilitating Injury
Chapter Eleven: Learning to Fall Again
Chapter Twelve: Tough Riders, Tough Horses
Chapter Thirteen: Doubling for John Wayne
Chapter Fourteen: The Searchers
Chapter Fifteen: Doubling for the Stars
Chapter Sixteen: Aging, and Still Falling
Chapter Seventeen: The Return of Cruelty
Chatpter Eighteen: Out to Pasture
Notes on Sources

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