Professional barrel racer Tonia Forsberg is well known for her stunt work and animal training abilities. Photo courtesy Tonia Forsberg.

Although she did some acting parts when married to stuntman Billy Burton, Brackenbury mostly did stunts.

“I did all kinds of stuff in the beginning and not a lot of horse stuff,” Brackenbury said. “I doubled a lot of people.”

One of her favorite films to work was the Jane Fonda and James Caan film “Comes A Horseman,” in which she doubled Fonda.

“All I did was rope and chase cattle,” Brackenbury said with a laugh. “It was a ball. There’s one scene where the cattle are stampeding, and we’re running to turn them, and there’s a profile shot of me, doubling Jane. It don’t fit Jane’s look. You can see my Indian profile, not Jane Fonda’s.”

Brackenbury says she didn’t rodeo much once she got in the movie business, mostly because she never had another great horse. She did help others in the stunts and barrel racing, like her former stepdaughter Heather Burton Gibson.

Heather Burton Gibson

“She taught me to run barrels,” Gibson said of Brackenbury. “I even got to junior rodeo on her world champion horse, Ugg. That’s where I got my love of barrel racing.”

Gibson had her WPRA card at 13 and rodeoed for about four years before quitting to focus on stunt work.

“My dad didn’t want me to do stunts, but I really wanted to, so he gave in,” Gibson said. “I grew up training with him and my brothers, so I came into it naturally.”

Heather Burton Gibson performing a stunt in "The Phantom."
Heather Burton Gibson followed her father into the business. One of her favorite stunts is from “The Phantom,” where she got to hang from a plane and trick ride all to get one shot. Photo courtesy of Heather Burton Gibson.

Although she enjoyed doing horse work, she focused on all-around stunts.

“A lot of girls got into the business because they could do horse stuff, but I wanted to stay away from it because I didn’t want to be [type-cast],” Gibson said. “I wouldn’t turn horse stunts down, but I did everything—high falls, motorcycles, cars, burns.”

When her stunt career took off, Gibson gave up her personal horses.

“When I moved out at 19, I didn’t even have a horse,” Gibson said. “My dad would let me ride one of his if I wanted to, but back then, we were traveling and I was never home. We were always somewhere else in the world. I quit barrel racing for about 10 to 12 years.”

One of her most memorable stunts that included horse work was in “The Phantom” doubling for Kristy Swanson.

“I climbed out of an airplane and hung from a pontoon,” Gibson said. “We did a bunch of shots of me crawling out of the plane and hanging from the pontoon with a horse running underneath the plane. Obviously, I can’t fall from the plane and land on a horse, so I got to use my trick riding, which I learned from my husband. I did a Hippodrome stand as the plane flew over, and I fell into my seat. We tied the two shots together to make it look like I jumped from a plane onto a horse.”

Although stunt work may seem daredevilish, Gibson says she looks at it like she does barrel racing—simply a competition to be the best.

“I’ve never considered myself an adrenalin junkie,” Gibson said. “I’ve always looked at it competitively. I felt I was good at it and wanted to be the best.”

Gibson, a multiple California Circuit Finals qualifier, says she’s slowed down on stunt work in recent years, and while she’s barrel racing some and has given some lessons, she hasn’t gotten to go much.

“You have the guys who coordinate the stunts, and they have a little nest of people they hire,” Gibson said. “All the guys I worked for are mostly retired now. I still work a bit, but not full time. I’ve even slowed down on barrel racing. Our ranch burned down two years ago, so we’re slowly rebuilding.”

Gibson is still involved in the business through the boarding facility she and her stuntman husband, Dale, operate near Hollywood.

“It’s like our little ranch in the city,” Gibson said with a laugh. “We do a lot of lessons for actors and a lot of productions use our ranch. [Stunt work] has been a really good business for my family. It’s a tough business, but I’ve enjoyed it.”

This article was originally published in the February 2019 issue of Barrel Horse News.

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