BROOKSVILLE — Tommie Turvey's horses are better trained than the prize pupils in a dog obedience course. They're probably better trained than most children. And his charges appear to love it.
Turvey, the founder of Equine Extremist, a company that features horses performing uncommon statures and stunts, moved his operation from near Chicago to a 40-acre farm just west of Brooksville last year. But he's only recently come home to rest, having spent most of the past year traveling the country.
Since 1999, Turvey's show has entertained millions, according to promotional material.
The show, "Night of Amazing Horses," has played in Perth and Melbourne, Australia; Quebec and Manitoba, Canada; Las Vegas; the Rose Bowl in California; New York; at a world horse exhibition in Pennsylvania; and recently at the Hernando County Fairgrounds, a little-advertised event that attracted some 1,200 spectators.
Turvey, 41, grew up on horseback, maturing into a horse trainer and stuntman. His father, Tommie Turvey Sr., was a professional rodeo rider and ran a rodeo school in California. As a youth, the younger Turvey rode the school's "green" horses — the toughest, most cantankerous mounts.
Turvey's performing career was launched in the 1980s. He appeared with the shows "Medieval Times" and "Arabian Nights," then in films with Universal Studios. He spent two years as a trick rider and chariot driver when Disney Euro opened in Paris, then moved on to the Hanneford Circus when it was looking for someone who could stand on a moving horse.
Turvey moved on to stunt training his mounts — and himself — then created his own performing show, plus a school teaching horsemanship and performance outside Chicago.
Having visited his retired parents in Florida, Turvey remembered the state's ample sunshine, and decided to leave cold and snowy Chicago for the Brooksville farm known as Liberty Horse Ranch, where he is joined by his sister, Karen Turvey, and his French-Canadian wife, Chantal, in his performances and schooling. He has 17 horses, five of which are regular performers. The others are still in training before they will perform for audiences.
Turvey said it is not difficult to train a horse in movements such as lying down, rearing up, standing on top of a pedestal, allowing a dog to jump on its back, and running increasingly smaller circles around a person standing in the ring. The more difficult thing is to get the horses to do their tricks in front of an audience of thousands or with a camera and microphone hanging overhead, he said.
Turvey's horses have appeared in a number of films.
"He's been killed twice — in movies," Turvey says of his horse Pokerjoe, a mild-mannered beige, nearly palomino mount. Nondescript horses, are preferred in most movies, he explained.
But come showtime, color and flamboyance are in high demand. Enter flashing 12-year-old Ace, an American Paint with patchy black and white. Ace can attain a rear-up like that of the Lone Ranger's white stallion, Silver, and holds the pose as long as Turvey desires. Turvey holds a whip, which he explains is merely an extension of his arm in command; it never touches the horse.
Blade, an 11-year-old wild mustang that Turvey rescued from a Western roundup — the horse carries its origin tattoo beneath its chocolate-colored mane — is docile and willing to please. He steps one hoof at a time, gingerly onto a 2-foot-high pedestal, holds the pose and steps off at Turvey's command while Turvey barks a few words to his Australian red heeler dog, Maverick.
Maverick leaps to Blade's back. A couple of times, Maverick doesn't make it and slides down the horse's side to the sand. Then, jumping from the pedestal, he does. Blade turns his head, looks at the dog as if to say, "What's up?"
Maverick is a star himself. If you're a football fan, you may recall a TV commercial in which guys are sitting around a television set watching a game and the host tells the dog to get him a beer. The dog trots to the kitchen, opens the refrigerator, grabs a bottle and carries it back to the living room.
That was Maverick, in full form, trained by Turvey.
While Turvey and entourage are on the road, their itinerary can be found online at equineextremist.net. Turvey hopes to stage another local production during the holidays later this year.
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]