Texas the Musical: History, Showmanship and Horsemanship

horse and rider carry the Texas flag

Every summer since 1966, the musical Texas has delighted audiences with music, history, and spectacle. The idea for the show first started in 1961, when Margaret Pease Harper and her husband were looking for a way to increase tourism to the Palo Duro Canyon, increase summer jobs, and educate people on the history of the area. They enlisted the help of playwright Paul Eliot Green, and an iconic piece of Texas heritage was born.

The show takes place in a 1,600 seat amphitheater with the canyon as the backdrop to the action. The show is staged so that the grand finale takes place as the sun sets. During this finale, horses and riders gallop past the stage carrying the six flags of Texas while the cast sings and the audience cheers. Amanda Pilley, horse trainer for Texas says “That moment is so beautiful, and the crowds are so amazing that it’s hard not to cry.”

Amanda, an accomplished trainer who spends the year teaching riding lessons and competing in Equestrian events, has been in charge of training the Texas horses for the past 3 years. No small task, the show leases new horses from the public every season to be trained for the show.  She trains them not just to handle a crowd, but waving flags, guns, cannons, and more over the course of 3-4 months.  “These horses come into it in every kind of state,” Amanda says “overweight, underweight, and fairly green in terms of riding. By the end of it, they come out a four-wheeler. You can literally take them anywhere.”

The first aspect of this daunting task, is hiring a good crew. Amanda picks wranglers with riding experience and a training background. Most often, they are students who take on the 6 days a week schedule for the entire summer. The crew gets one week to get the horses going before two weeks of show rehearsal in the canyon.  Amanda starts them in the arena for the first four or five outings, building obstacle courses, and taking them on trail rides close together in a herd.

The first day at the theatre, she and the wranglers lead them around and let them look at everything and explore the space. They pull them apart from the herd and get them separately going through some of the rough blocking. Then, they bring in the props. “The crew of the show are so good to us,” Amanda says, gratefully, “They will stay with us as long as it takes, and fix the lighting so that it works for the horses when it’s dark. They are as patient with the animals as we are.”

The first prop they introduce are the large flags carried in the finale. They spend the day getting the horses desensitized to the waving and snapping banners, then the next day introduce the next prop. They build slowly each day adding in another new loud sound or distracting visual. Amanda explains “This process works so well with them that by the time we get to the fireworks, our last big scary thing, they pretty much can handle it. Like I said, they are a four-wheeler by that point.” They then move into the 70-performance season of one of the longest running musicals in history.

So, what keeps these horses going during their busy training schedule? “Alfa-Pro is great,” Amanda says, “These horses are basically coming from the pasture in all different kinds of body condition, and we’re throwing them into training and performances. The great thing about Alfa-Pro is that it maintains their energy and their fitness really well. It puts weight on very gradually if they are underweight, and doesn’t drop weight suddenly if they are overweight. They have great energy, but they aren’t hot. It’s a great, sustainable feed, and you can take horses off it or back on it with no transition because it’s so easily digestible.”

Hi-Pro Feeds is proud to be a part of, not just Texas history, but an incredible training program led by an accomplished young woman. For more information on Texas, click here.  If you’d like to know more about Amanda Pilley, hire her to teach riding lessons, or check out her training facility, contact her at: 214-566-5869, or AAustin Texas Sporthorses.