Dale Rickards dies at 88; horse wrangler for movies and TV shows
By By Valerie J. Nelson
Jan 12, 2010 | 6:21 PM
Dale Rickards, a self-styled cowboy who wrangled horses for Hollywood and turned his Malibu ranch into a faux western town for location photography, has died. He was 88. FOR THE RECORD: : An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Dale Rickards' son Gary will carry on the family's movie-prop business. His son Ron will run it.
Rickards, who was a retired mounted officer for the LAPD, died of emphysema Dec. 29 at his home in the hills above Malibu, said his son Ron.
After Rickards bought 11 acres off Mulholland Highway in the Santa Monica Mountains in 1957, he built a home. By the early 1980s, he had opened a business there selling and renting western props such as steers' heads, wagon wheels and horse troughs.
The largest prop was the ranch itself, populated with buildings that can stand in for such western haunts as a saloon or general store. About a dozen projects a year, mainly commercials, are photographed at the ranch, his family said. It also is often used as a backdrop for still photographs that appear in magazines and catalogs.
His fleet of antique vehicles included western and circus wagons and a horse-drawn hearse that he sold to Disneyland in the 1990s to place outside the Haunted Mansion.
From 1946 to 1973, Rickards was a Los Angeles Police Department officer who worked the horse detail at Hansen Dam on weekends.
"Looking for crimes between the ears of a horse is quite an experience," Rickards later recalled. "My most exciting and trying crimes happened when I was working as a mounted cop."
One time Rickards caught a man who had been living in a small room in the dam, an arrest that ended a string of burglaries, Rickards told The Times in 1962.
He left the force to wrangle for the TV show "Little House on the Prairie," where he rode horses and drove wagons. He also developed his movie-prop business, Rent from Rickards, which his son Ron will continue to run.
Rickards' gear appeared in the 2001 "Planet of the Apes" film and his fake ore cart rolled through the 1994 movie "City Slickers II." When the band the New Riders of the Purple Sage filmed at his ranch, his mule Minnie Poo wandered onto the set and became part of the video, Rickards once said.
On a set, he often engaged in blind driving, which meant lying on the wagon floor and steering the horses while peering through a slot -- while an actor sat on the buckboard "steering" with fake reins.
Dale George Rickards was born June 29, 1921, in Wichita, Kan., the youngest of three brothers.
His father, Ora, and mother, Arra, ran a farm that the young Rickards often slipped away from to sneak into the circus, where he first nurtured a love for animals and merry-go-rounds, his family said.
In 1939, he joined the U.S. Cavalry, the mounted force of the U.S. Army, and competed on a horse-jumping team.
When his regiment was called into active service in 1940, it became an artillery unit and he fought in Europe during World War II.
After the war, he followed a brother to Los Angeles and served in the Army again during the Korean War.
In the early 1970s, the Rickards family ran a small amusement park on land leased at Hansen Dam. It featured a stagecoach and circus wagon rides, ponies for rides and a 24-horse merry-go-round.
Prices for the rides were set by the City Council and a percentage of his income was paid to the city in exchange for operating the concession. Never much of a moneymaker, the park closed in the early 1980s.
Invariably, Rickards had a cowboy hat on his head and a quip at the ready.
"He used humor to make hard and fast friends throughout his life," said his son Ron. "People responded to him in a way that was contagious."
Rickards is survived by his wife, Carrie Dee, whom he married in 1946; two sons, Gary of Mariposa, Calif., and Ron of Topanga Canyon; a daughter, Mary Dee of Sacramento; five grandchildren; and several great-grandchildren.
A memorial will be held at 11 a.m. Jan. 30 at Paramount Ranch, 2903 Cornell Road, Agoura Hills.
Instead of flowers, the family suggests donations to the American Lung Assn., www.lungusa.org.