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Clint Eastwood started playing cowboys, symbolizing Western masculinity, in the 1960s, and the whole time he’s been allergic to horses

E.L. Hamilton
 (Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)
(Photo by Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images)

Picture Clint Eastwood in his iconic roles throughout his long career, from his star-making turn in A Fistful of Dollars (1964) to the Academy Award-winning Unforgiven (1992), from High Plains Drifter (1973) to Pale Rider (1985). You likely conjure his chiseled face, scruffy beard, and flat-brimmed hat, and you probably imagine his hands holding reins. Because he was almost always atop a horse.

Only one problem: Clint Eastwood is allergic to horses.

Clinton Eastwood, Jr. was born May 31, 1930, in San Francisco, California. Though his family moved often when he was young, he was raised in relative privilege. His home had a pool, and from an early age, he was athletic, a swimmer interested in healthy eating. As a young man, he worked as a lifeguard, a forest fighter, and golf caddy. He was drafted into the Army during the Korean War, though he didn’t see action, serving instead as a lifeguard at Fort Ord in Northern California.

While stationed at Fort Ord, Eastwood met a young movie assistant who’d later help him land his first audition in Hollywood. A few minor movie roles followed, but Eastwood finally got a breakthrough when he landed the part of Rowdy Yates on the hit CBS Western series Rawhide, which ran for eight seasons, and set the stage for his future career. During the Rawhide years, Clint cashed in by performing with other cast members at rodeos for as much as $15,000 a time.

Publicity photo for Rawhide, 1961

Publicity photo for Rawhide, 1961

In 1963, after the show went off the air, his Rawhide co-star Eric Fleming suggested Eastwood for the spaghetti Western A Fistful of Dollars, to be directed by the then little known Sergio Leone. The film, which introduced a more desolate and unforgiving terrain than traditional Westerns, made a star of Eastwood. He reprised his character, The Man With No Name, in the classic followups, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The role became uber-Eastwood: gravely voiced, mysterious, not necessarily law-abiding but principled in his own way, a man of few words, though they were memorable and oft-repeated, and who, yes, almost always rode a horse. Ah-choo!

As with allergies to cats and dogs, allergic reactions to horse are usually triggered by the animal’s dander, or flecks of skin and hair. Horse urine, saliva, and sweat can also trigger a reaction. Highly allergic people can have a reaction to clothing or equipment that has come in contact with a horse. Symptoms include red, watery eyes, sneezing, a runny nose, hives, and rashes. Antihistamines can help relieve symptoms.

Other celebrities allergic to horses include Rachel McAdams, Kate Middleton, Sandra Bullock, Ellen Pompeo, and Gordon Ramsay.

At a film shoot for The Eiger Sanction (1975) Photo: Beat Albrecht -CC BY-SA 4.0

At a film shoot for The Eiger Sanction (1975) Photo: Beat Albrecht -CC BY-SA 4.0

As it happens, Clint Eastwood is allergic to cats and dogs too. He likely suffered sneezing and sniffling in1978’s Every Which Way But Loose opposite his co-star—an orangutan.

The Fistful trilogy was savaged by critics; some called Eastwood’s acting “wooden,” though a few conceded his coolness. Even so, the movies were box-office successes and established Eastwood as a major star, which has hardly dimmed in his nearly 60-year career.

As the Man with No Name in A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

As the Man with No Name in A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

Eastwood has appeared in 50 films over the years. A trained pianist, he has scored several of his own films, including Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, and Gran Torino. He has four Oscars—Best Picture and Best Director for Unforgiven; and Best Picture and Best Director for Million Dollar Baby. In the late 1980s, he served a two-year term as mayor of the wealthy boho town of Carmel-by-the Sea, California.

As he approaches 90, Eastwood practices meditation has never smoked, eats healthfully, and continues to work: He directed Tom Hanks in the box-office hit Sully in 2016 and recently released a biographical thriller, The 15:17 to Paris, about an attempted terrorist train attack.

Eastwood at the 2010 New York Film Festival Photo:Raffi Asdourian – Flickr CC BY 2.0

Eastwood at the 2010 New York Film Festival Photo:Raffi Asdourian – Flickr CC BY 2.0

Eastwood’s most recent cinematic efforts haven’t included horses. But if he were to return to riding, Horse Nation has a suggestion. Bashkir Curlies, a breed of horse known for its curly hair, are hypoallergenic. “Most people who are allergic to horses can handle them without suffering any allergic reaction,” Horse Nation reports. “Research indicates that a protein is missing from the hair of Curlies that may be what causes allergic reactions in allergy sufferers.”

Related story from us: Eli Wallach almost got killed three times during the filming of Sergio Leone’s “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”

Even better news, according to the International Curly Horse Organization (yes, there is such a thing): Curlies are hard-working, easily trained horses well suited for western work. Perfect for Eastwood!