Lorne Greene as Ben Cartwright on Buck in a scene from TV’s “Bonanza” Source: (Photo by: Fred Sabine/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
TV’s Bonanza was one of the longest running television series of all time, spanning 14 years and 431 episodes from 1959 to 1973. The series centered on ranch owner, Ben Cartwright, played by actor Lorne Greene, and his three adult sons. One of the hallmarks of the series was the moral dilemmas that were presented and how Greene’s patriarchal character helped to resolve them. But when the series ended in 1973, Greene was faced with his own moral dilemma…what would become of Buck, his horse on the series. In true Cartwright form, Greene came up with a solution that led to a happily ever after for the horse that had become Greene’s co-star for so many years.
Lorne Greene. Source: (canadaswalkoffame.com)
Lorne Greene Selected His Own Horse
Prior to the start of filming Bonanza, the four actors that were to play the Cartwright men, Greene, Pernell Roberts, Dan Blocker, and Michael Landon, all went to Fat Jones Stables to pick out the horses they would ride on the show. Greene chose a beautiful thoroughbred buckskin horse named Buck. Buck proved to be a great actor…he was a quick learner, agile, athletic, and he looked great on camera.
Greene with Buck. Source: (insp.com)
Greene was not an Experienced Rider
Lorne Greene later recalled that, on that visit to Fat Jones Stables, someone asked him if he knew how to ride. Greene had been on a horse a few times in the past so he answered with an affirmative. Before he knew it, he was astride a 12-year old buckskin named Dunny and the horse was running at full speed through a field. Greene said the ride was exhilarating until he noticed that they were heading straight for a fence. Greene recalled, “I pulled the reins to the left and Dunny made a right turn.” He was nearly thrown from the horse. Although Dunny was occasionally used on the set of Bonanza, Greene chose mostly to ride the much gentler Buck.
Buck even became an action figure! Source: (amazon.com)
As Ben Cartwright, Greene Spent a Lot of Time in the Saddle
Many of the scenes in Bonanza called for Greene and the other actors to be on horseback. Throughout the 14 year run of the television show, Greene logged many hours on the back of Buck. Greene admitted that he was not a natural horseman and that he was never completely comfortable on the back of a horse, but he grew to trust Buck. And Buck got his own group of fans.
Greene Was Passionate About Environmental Causes
Outside of his entertainment career, Lorne Greene was passionate about environmental causes and lent his energies to some preservation programs. He had a reputation for being generous and kind but was not known to be a devoted animal lover. In fact, it was common knowledge on the set of Bonanza that Greene wasn’t particularly fond of horses. That’s what makes Greene’s concern over the fate of his TV horse, Buck, so remarkable.
When Bonanza Ended, Greene Bought Buck
When Bonanza finally came to an end in 1973, and the actors and crew prepared to go their separate ways, Greene asked about Buck’s future. He was concerned that the animal would be sent to the proverbial glue factory. So Greene bought Buck from the television studio and donated the animal to a therapeutic horseback riding facility. There, Buck lived out the remainder of his life helping physically disabled and mentally challenged children learn trust, coordination, and movement. When Buck died in 1992, he was 45 years old, which is a particularly long life for a horse. Buck’s calm and gentle nature made a lasting impact on Lorne Greene, a non-horse lover, as well as on all the children he worked with at the therapeutic riding center…a perfect demonstration of the bond between humans and horses.