The image is indelible: a fresh-faced moppet tumbling as she scampers jubilantly down a grassy hill in the opening sequence of Little House on the Prairie. And it nearly wound up in the trash. "They wanted to reshoot it," recalls Rachel Bush, who, with her identical twin, Robin, took turns playing Carrie Ingalls in the hit TV series from 1974 to 1983. "Robin actually fell because she had her shoes on the wrong feet. But [Little House creator] Michael Landon ended up loving it. It was a natural accident, and it became so treasured."

These days the far more agile Robin, now 30, is still courting fame—as a professional rodeo rider. "I always wanted to make a living around horses," says the West Coast's top-ranked barrel racer, who also trains and consigns horses at her ranch in Little Rock, Calif. Rachel, a homemaker and horse trainer, lives an hour and a half's drive away in suburban Simi Valley. (During their years on the show, Robin and Rachel went by the stage names Sidney and Lindsay Greenbush, respectively, and were credited jointly as Lindsay Sidney Greenbush.)

"They are completely unneurotic ex-child actors," notes Matthew Laborteaux, 34, who played Albert on Little House and is now a voice-over actor. "They did some good work, but I never got the sense they were passionate about acting."

That's a function, perhaps, of their youth—the girls started on Little House at the age of 3—and a tenuous relationship with the often brusque Landon, who produced, directed and wrote for the show. "Michael ranted a lot," recalls Robin. "People wouldn't dare step out of bounds." The sisters included. "What disappoints me now," says Rachel, "is that I see the kids on Cosby, the Olsen twins on Full House—they were taught under fun circumstances. Michael never made it fun for us. I was always petrified I was going to make a mistake."

Despite the novelty of visits to the neighboring sets of Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley on the Paramount lot and a White House visit at the behest of Amy Carter, "the girls weren't happy the first few years," admits their father, Billy, 64, a retired actor, who toted the twins to their first audition when they were 2½ years old. "They were just children, and everyone expected them to act like grown-ups."

Stress was not reserved only for the budding stars. After the girls won the part of the third Ingalls daughter, the Bushes left their Malibu ranch for a condo closer to the Los Angeles studio. Their mother, Carole, now 62, a former model (she and Billy divorced in 1991), was expected to coach whichever twin was on-camera while also caring for the sidelined daughter and son (and sometimes cast extra) Clay, now 33, an actor.

Naturally, after 10 seasons of mirroring one another, the sisters, then 12, were eager to explore their individuality once Little House wrapped in 1983. "We couldn't wait to dress and do our hair differently," says Rachel. Although they continued to act in small roles for a few years (even shooting the requisite Doublemint Gum ad), they ultimately bowed out of showbiz. "I decided to take a break," says Rachel, "and be a kid for a while."

That meant making friends at their junior high school, a feat made difficult during the Little House years "since we were always coming and going," says Rachel. At 13, they began taking formal riding lessons. "Rachel excelled more than I did," concedes Robin. "I didn't have a classical style. I could jump and ride, but it wasn't pretty to watch." So while her sister cantered gracefully through horse shows, Robin discovered the grittier sport of barrel racing, in which the rider races a specially trained steed through a complicated obstacle course.

The twins' paths diverged in other ways as well. After graduating from Santa Monica High School in 1988, Robin earned an associate's degree in animal science from Pierce College in Woodland Hills, Calif., and got her pro-rodeo permit. While traveling the circuit, she met Rocky Foster, now 37, a film and TV horse trainer and veterinarian. "I wasn't looking to date anyone," says Robin, who was still healing from a failed first marriage to machinist Charles Caraccilo, whom she divorced in 1998. But romance "just evolved." She and Foster celebrated their first anniversary in April. Robin currently is training to qualify for the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in December.

Meanwhile, needing to "prove to myself that I could make it on my own," Rachel moved in 1993 to Taos, N.Mex., where she bought a modest home with her Little House earnings. While working at a local ski resort, she became involved with a construction worker, the father of her daughter Katelynn, now 5. "When I got pregnant," says Rachel, "I knew he probably wouldn't be there. I was fully committed to being a single parent before she was born." (Neither she nor Katelynn have contact with the father.)

During the next few years, mother and daughter moved several times before settling in Simi Valley in 1999. There, Rachel met Frank Dornan, now 36, a wrought-iron-fence business owner and divorced father of two, Shaylene, 14, and Dan, 10. "We're total carbon copies of each other," Rachel says of Dornan, now her fiancé (no wedding date has been set). "But we have just enough not in common to make it interesting."

Although both are grateful that their child-star status afforded them a chance to do things "normal kids wouldn't have as an option," says Rachel, neither she nor her sister are remotely wistful for their showbiz lives. "I've thought about it," says Rachel of reviving her acting career. "But I don't really want to, though it would be fun to do something with Robin again." As for Robin, she harbors no regrets about her Little House days either. Still, she says, "I do wonder what it would have been like to not be famous."

Ting Yu
N.F. Mendoza in Little Rock and Simi Valley

  • Contributors:
  • N.F. Mendoza.