I was known as the tester child amongst the family and close friends (trainers on the ranch). Whenever an animal was up for a movie or TV show and there was a child actor involved, my dad would always say yes to the production, even before knowing which animal would work best with the child actor. That is where I was always brought in.
I was about 4 or 5 years old when a call from the studio came in about doing a “pilot” show and they needed a child who could ride a zebra. Of course my dad took the production, before any child had ever ridden ‘Folsom’ our Grant’s zebra. He could be ridden, but on his terms of course. Folsom had a mind all of his own and animals, like humans, pick and choose whom they like and don’t like. When my Dad came to me and told me he needed to see me ride Folsom, the first thing I said was, “Are you crazy?” as I had seen Folsom throw grown men who he didn’t like. And although Folsom and I always got along well, it was with my feet firmly on terra firma at all times.
My Dad said, “Tana, you have been riding since you could sit up, you can do this.” “Dad, I know I can ride, it doesn’t mean Folsom wants me to ride him.” “Tana, don’t let me down honey, I need to see if Folsom will be ok with a kid on his back, I will be right next you in case he try’s to bolt and Frank will be holding the reins.” “What is in it for me?” My Dad took a deep breath, as I had learned to negotiate at too young an age. “I will be extremely proud of you,” he said. I laughed, “Dad that worked when I was a little girl. How about I get to choose the next movie we all go to?” “Ok, kid, that sounds fair to me.”
The next day we were at the ranch (Africa U.S.A.) and I was watching Folsom come out and a couple of the guys with him. My Dad called out for me and asked me to join them. I yelled back, as he was a ways away, “I want to see one of the guys get up on him first, to see what kind of a mood he is in!” My dad dropped his head, as he was not use to anyone questioning him or not jumping to his every whim. He called out to Dick (a trainer) and asked him to get up on Folsom. Dick walked over to Folsom and jumped on, sure enough it took Folsom all of 2 seconds to decide he didn’t like Dick and he took off. Poor Dick was being bounced from side to side for about 20 yards before he could jump off.
I was rolling with laughter watching, till my Dad walked over and said your turn! I straightened right up and said, “Did you see that? He is not in a good mood, and you want me to get up there? Are you crazy?” “Tana, trust me, have I ever let you get hurt? I love you honey, please.” I looked up at him with my hands on my little hips and said “NO!” I walked off to the nearest fence, climbed up and refused to move.
My Dad took a deep breath, walked over and for the next 15 minutes stood there looking up at me and pulled out all the stops to talk me down. I finally came down and walked over to Folsom, I approached him from his head so he could see me, then I slowly walked to his side and put my little hands on his belly and slowly walked towards his head while talking gently to him the whole way. I was explaining how I had to ride him and I would so appreciate it if he would allow this and not try to run off with me.
When I got to his head he lowered it and I kissed his nose. I looked at my dad and said, “Okay, lets do this.” My dad slowly lifted me and gently put me on Folsom’s back, he didn’t let go till he saw I had the reins firmly in my hand and that Frank had a good hold on Folsom’s head collar. He looked at me and asked, “Are you ready?” I nodded back and said, “You so owe me,” and one by one each person released and it was just Folsom and me. I kept talking to him and gave him a gentle nudge with my feet and he started to walk. I set out and then turned him so we were going in big circles then I reversed the circle, he was a perfect gentleman with me. I jumped off and gave him a hug around his neck and walked him back over to Frank who had a grin on his face. I looked up at my Dad and said, “There you go!” He cracked up and bent down and gave me a hug and then said, “See you listened and all was fine. Good job kid.”
When the producers came out to see the animals they wanted to hire for the production they asked to see Folsom and me, I rode him around for them and to my huge disappointment they not only hired the animals, but they wanted me to be the little girl in the pilot! I hated acting and now to my poor Dad’s apprehension he knew negotiations were about to begin all over again with me! The TV show pilot was for the hugely successful TV series ‘Daktari.’
The child star was Erin Moran