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Lord of the Rings’ ‘Shadowfax’ Has Died

One of the two horses who played Gandalf’s stunning gray mount in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy passed away on April 6 after a swift and acute battle with an unknown intestinal illness.

Blanco, a thoroughbred cross gelding owned by Cynthia Royal, was humanely euthanized when it was clear his condition was not improving. Despite top veterinary care and full diagnostic tests, they were unable to determine the exact source of his illness, and therefore treatments were limited. As his condition deteriorated, Cynthia made the difficult decision to end his suffering. Ever the performer, Blanco willingly agreed to Cynthia’s signal to lie down, and veterinarians released him from his illness.

Blanco and his owner and trainer, Cynthia Royal

Blanco and his owner and trainer, Cynthia Royal

The stunning gelding was used for the movie’s running and stunt scenes, and ultimately completed the series after his close-up counterpart, Domero, was injured on the set. Ian Mckellen referred to Blanco as the horse “capable of a heart-stopping entrance,” and performed one of the most famed equine cinematography scenes of all time when he galloped through Minas Tirith and into the courtyard of the White Tree.

Shadowfax is a horse’s dream role, as horse actors go. Gandalf says of his steed, “Shadowfax will have no harness. You do not ride Shadowfax; he is willing to carry you — or not.” He is the Lord of all horses in Middle-earth, capable of understanding human speech, and loyal only to Gandalf and the Kings of Rohan. Because of the critical point made about Shadowfax wearing no equipment, both equines had to be trained to perform all their stunts from leg cues and signals by the trainers off-screen (though Ian Mckellen and his riding double did use a minimalist rigging of surreptitious stirrups for some scenes). Blanco also had roles in numerous commercials, the 2013 documentary “Horse Medicine”, and a regular role on the TV series “Hercules”.

Blanco on the set of Lord of the Rings portraying Shadowfax, and Ian Mckellen as Gandalf

Blanco on the set of Lord of the Rings portraying Shadowfax, and Ian Mckellen as Gandalf

In Tolkien’s iconic trilogy, Gandalf and Shadowfax prepare to board a boat from the Grey Havens to the immortal West, Middle-earth’s gentle passage into the afterlife, and Gandalf shares his vision of death. “The journey doesn’t end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then then you see it. White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

A horse’s paradise, and there we send our finest Horse Nation Salute to Blanco.

Author’s note:  A fund has been established on GoFundMe to help Cynthia pay for Blanco’s final and extensive medical bills. If you are interested in contributing, please visit Blanco’s Funding Page.

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