An Interview with Actor and Equestrian Eric Nelsen

Photo courtesy of Eric Nelson


Eric Nelsen is an Emmy and Tony Award -winning American actor and producer. He’s best known for his role as Ennis in the record breaking television series 1883. The prequel to Yellowstone. On stage, Nelsen portrayed Brett Sampson in the original Broadway production of 13.  He starred in the Good Mother produced by The New Group.  He’s appeared in over 30 television series, including as a series regular in the Hulu revival of All My Children, a recurring role in The Affair on Showtime, The Blacklist Girls, The flowing, NCIS, Blue Bloods, and iCarly. Nelsen also appeared in the Universal Pictures film, A Walk Among the Tombstones opposite Academy Award nominee Liam Neeson. And Through the Rye opposite Academy Award winner Chris Cooper. 

In 2018, Nelsen won a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Digital Daytime Drama Series on Amazon’s web series The Bay. As a producer, Nelsen has won three Daytime Emmys for The Bay and a Tony Award for the Broadway play The Inheritance. He also produced the indie feature Wakefield, starring Bryan Cranston and Jennifer Garner. At age 23, Nelsen became the youngest producer in history to win an Emmy Award.

When I sat down to chat with Eric Nelson, I always knew he was a good actor. He and his wife are lovely people, but I had no idea he is so into horses—farm and all! 

Photo courtesy of Eric Nelson

PRD: How long have you been riding?  

EN: I’ve actually been riding my whole life. Well, let me re-track that. So, I grew up with horses. We had a horse farm. My Dad was a thoroughbred polo horse trainer. My grandfather trained reining horses, and my Mom showed dressage. I think because our parents were so into horses and it was their life. We kids, kind of went in different directions and found our own passions growing up. So, I didn’t ride as much as I wish I would have. But I was surrounded by horses and know the culture.

It wasn’t until the series 1883, that I was sent to cowboy camp. All of us lead actors, Sam Elliot, Tim McGraw, got sent to cowboy camp at Taylor Sheridan ranch in Weatherford, Texas for two weeks to prep for filming. We learned to rope, ride, and shoot guns—everything western and everything cowboy. Everything we were doing on the show we learned it and did it hardcore. 

Of course, the riding part was easier for me, But, I had never cut cattle before the show, and roping was a new experience. It wasn’t until cowboy camp I re-fell in love with the world of horses. And I did it on my own, away from my parents. Which I think I needed to do for myself to appreciate horses and horsemanship in their entirety. They are such majestic animals.  I remember calling my parents, apologizing, and saying; “Man I wish I would have been more into horses like y’all were because these are amazing animals and I’m head over heels in love.” So I fell back in love with cowboy camp, and I haven’t stopped riding since.

I’ve got such a passion for western riding. If I could be on a horse all day, every day, I would be. I wish that was easy for me right now.

Who started you with lessons?

I never started with lessons. Because my parents were such great riders, they pretty much taught me to ride a horse. But my trainers for cutting, which I now show, are Rich and Shelly Mallory. They are very big in the cutting world, and they have been very gracious to me and opened up their ranch to me in Weatherford. They trained me and are still training me. It’s been such a blast!  Both are incredible people and incredible trainers and I’m grateful to be surrounded by them.

Photo courtesy of Eric Nelson

Do you ever show?

Yes, I do. I recently won the celebrity cutting competition which was held at Will Rogers’ Colosseum here in Fort Worth Texas. I won first place—grand champion. I got my belt buckle and my nice big trophy that shows it off. I ended up winning it in front of a crowd of over 5,000 people. That was a thrill! 

There’s no rush, I swear, like the rush you get from cutting cattle on a powerful, incredible, cutting horse. I got the bug and I have been cutting a lot since. I was actually prepping for my next show when a movie came up. So I’m not available to show right now. But as soon as I get back from filming, I plan on showing more to continue my passion for cutting because it’s got my heart—hands down.

Did you do all your stunt riding?

Yes, I did do all my stunt riding in 1883. We had to push cattle across the river on horseback which I got to do all myself. Everything you see my character do on the show was me. It was so much fun. The only stunts I didn’t do was when I got punched off my horse. A stuntman took that punch and fall off the horse because we had to do it over and over. They couldn’t risk me getting hurt. And spoiler alert—when I get shot on the show another actor did the falling off the horse. I did take the shot and the bullet and sold it, but he did the falling off. Every other piece of riding on the show is done by me. I wish I could ride horses on every show I did.

Photo courtesy of Eric Nelson

Can you talk about your upcoming projects?

Right now, I’ve got a number of films coming up. The quickest? I’ll be heading off to Arkansas on Feb 4th to start a new movie. It’s called Shaky Ground. Which stars myself, Eric Roberts, and a dynamite cast. The director’s name is Michael Garcia, a big-time music video director who is breaking into feature films. I get to play a rock star. So I got to learn how to play an electric guitar for the movie. I perform and sing three songs in the film which I’m really looking forward to doing. It’s going to be a lot of fun and I’m excited for the fans to see it.

I’m also prepping for a series we will be doing later this year, based on Will Rogers’ life. We are in the developmental stages of that right now. It’s going to be co-produced by Brian Kelly who’s the lead of Florida Georgia line. We have an all-star team attached to that. There will be more announcements as far as how developments are coming along and what actors are being attached in the coming months. Make sure you keep your eyes out for that. 

It’s going to be the first series of stories told about Will Rogers’ life. Something all my western fans can look forward to. I feel it’s going to be epic. It’s about time his story is told because the man is a dynasty. He’s got a legacy beyond belief. Truly in his time, was a famous human being on the planet, a true renaissance man who covered and did not just western, but anything you can imagine!

Thank you for taking the time to chat with us. I’m looking forward to watching your upcoming films!

Pearl Running Deer was the first Native American who rode on the circuit in the 80’s-2002. Her trainer was Maurice Honig from the French Equestrian team. She would follow Frank Chapot or Bert De Nemethy teachings. In the 2003-13 she was a high fashion model at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in NYC. In between, she worked with film directors, being a girl Friday. Ms. Running Deer teaches, coaches at horse shows, and gives clinics. She has founded a nonprofit Turtle Island Equestrian Inc. Starting a Native American Equestrian Team. Ms. Running Deer also teaches underprivileged children riding.

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