Horse News

Horse Stars in Spielberg’s New War Movie

Story by Kaleem Atab as it appeared in The National

“We Ponder the Timeless Appeal of the Equine Film”

Scene from Spielberg's upcoming film "War Horse" - photo by Andrew Cooper

The first images from War Horse have been released in what promised to be a return to form for the ET and Jaws director Steven Spielberg. The First World War drama is based on a children’s book by Michael Morpurgo and was adapted as a hugely successful play by the National Theatre in London in 2007.

The excitement is not so much about Spielberg directing another war epic after his groundbreaking Saving Private Ryan and Schindler’s List, but that the man who created the most famous shark in the world is making a film revolving around a horse, the animal that has featured in more good films than any other non-human creature.

War Horse tells the poignant story of Joey, a horse who is tamed and trained by a young man called Albert (Jeremy Irvine). The onset of war sees master and horse separated and the story follows the remarkable journey of the horse and the people he encounters, including British and German soldiers and a French farmer and his granddaughter.

In the 1982 Australian classic The Man From Snowy River starring Kirk Douglas in the dual role of feuding twin brothers, the value of a horse is stated succinctly: “A man without a horse is like a man with only one leg.” Like War Horse, the film is about a boy who decided to tame wild horses, but here it has disastrous consequences when his father dies in a stampede.

The list of classic films in which horses play a central role is long. The late Elizabeth Taylor became world famous though her appearance in National Velvet, the story of a jaded former jockey who helps a young girl prepare to ride a wild horse in the Grand National, the gruelling English steeplechase.

Another equestrian film highlight was Seabiscuit, which starred Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges in the fact-based tale of an undersized horse who lifted the spirits of America during the Depression era through his feats on the racetrack.

Similarly, last year saw the release of Secretariat, about the stallion that in 1973 won the American Triple Crown. As with the other racehorse films, the human drama that revolves around the animals is just as important as what happens to the animals themselves. Here it’s the tale of how a determined woman, Penny Chenery Tweedy, turned family tragedy – the death of her father after a long illness – into an era-defining story of triumph. The power of horses and their emotional impact on humans was displayed in real life in 1973 when Secretariat appeared on the cover of Time and other major publications.

The Black Stallion is one of the best examples of why horses fascinate so much, and especially of their ability to resonate with the young. Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, it’s set at the end of the Second World War, when a 10-year-old boy, Alec, and his father are travelling on a ship off the north coast of Africa. On the deck is a handsome black Arabian horse Alec takes a fondness to before a violent storm results in the ship being wrecked. The only survivors are the boy and the horse and they form a remarkable bond on a deserted island.

Then of course there are all those Westerns. It’s hard to think of a cooler image from any movie than Clint Eastwood riding into town on a horse. Even when the actor admitted that he had developed an allergy to the animals for short time he carried on filming on them.

Horses even played a major part in the development of cinema. The photographer Eadweard Muybridge proved a horse could “fly” when he photographed galloping horses and showed that at one point when they run all four hooves are off the ground. Seeking a way to share this groundbreaking discovery, Muybridge invented the zoopraxiscope, a method of projecting animated versions of his photographs as short moving images. The influence can even be seen in the time-warping action of The Matrix.

It’s no wonder, really, that whether they are being ridden in Westerns, racing to glory or saving lives during wars, horses continue to play a major role in cinema.

34 replies »

  1. Whenever people mention The Man From Snowy River, I cringe. Horses died during the filming of that movie and had I known that before I went to see it I would not have given them my money.
    Some horse movies perpetuate cruelty to horses, such as movies that feature horse racing, and I refuse to go see those.

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    • Further research indicates that it can’t be substantiated if any horses died or were hurt during the filming of The Man From Snowy River. However any filming outside the USA isn’t monitored by AHA.
      I did find where horses died during the filming of My Friend Flicka.
      http://www.care2.com/c2c/share/detail/198338
      I don’t enjoy movies where horses are engaged in dangerous activities. The chariot racing scene in Ben Hur comes to mind as well as that horrible race in The Man From Snowy River.

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      • Just be aware that AHA isn’t all it seems to be, it isn’t necessarily working to protect animals.

        Why would I point that out? Because AHA sent their Vice President Tim Amlaw to be a speaker at the Summit of the Horse, that bloody slaughter fest put on by Slaughterhouse Sue and Dasterdly Dave. You can read the list showing his name and of all the rest of Summit speakers here: http://whohateshorses.wordpress.com/2010/12/16/boycott-the-speakers-for-the-horse-slaughter-summit/

        Amlaw’s affiliation is only shown as “American Humane” but if you go to the AHA website and search for him there, you will see he is indeed part of AHA. Seems pretty unlikely that he or AHA are for the humane treatment of animals if they are also supporting the return of horse slaughter to America as was the expressed intended outcome of that icky conference of horse haters.

        For all reading, please look very carefully at who you are dealing with, who you choose to support, because sometimes, in cases like this one and many others, the enemies of horses lurk in places that sound like they are perfect horse loving organizations. This is a trick to hoodwink people into taking their propaganda at face value. The cattlemen do a lot of this, naming groups with names that sound benignly benevolent to equines when, as we well know, the cattlemen’s groups would really like to expand their horizons and press on with a new revenue source, horse slaughter.

        It’s “buyer beware!” and “advocate, be alert!” because when you are dealing with greedy misfits that would torture and brutally slaughter horses, a little lying to the public doesn’t mean a thing to them.

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  2. Until slaughter is never again a threat to any horse, wild or tame, there can be no enjoyment for this advocate/activist of just another way to capitalize on the flesh of one of the world’s most spiritual, precious and trusting beings. And how does one sit through a showing of Secretariat knowing he died an excruciating death as the result of laminitis but worse the last time he saw his beloved groom and his loving owner was shortly after he won the Triple Crown only to be spirited away by a syndicate who had bought the rights to his breeding career. No doubt this greatly distressed him as he never passed on his joy de voie. And his legacy of greatness was stained for that, I often wonder what his sons and daughters would have been if he had set free. The point is, we compartmentize how we feel for the horse and how we make the horse deal with reality. I believe the voice of Black Beauty, spoken through a young woman (not claiming any special condition to do so) who allowed her spiritual connection to rise to the level of consciousness and thence to voice – the very journey we are on today. I see in my horses’ eyes, wonder and trust. The same as any horse. There is a term for ignoring reality in the spirit of “seeing the good” to appease the need for positive – just can’t think of it right now. I wonder how it would effect the business of slaughter, if we strung up the War Horse by his hind leg and slit his throat to drain his blood, at the end of the movie like a prologue … as so many unfortunate of his compatriots end? My advice and purpose of my note is to encourage everyone to boycott any commercial enterprise feeding off of our love for horses until such time as the horses are safe. I know – boo hiss no fun.

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  3. I posted this article about the movie “War Horse” because it appears that it is a story of love, commitment and hope…a bond between horse and human which is something I strongly cling to as it is the center of my life.

    Anytime we can get the message of the horse out to the public I view it to be a good thing as the more we can keep the positive equine message in the forefront the better our chances of defeating those who wish to capitalize off from the very flesh of our magnificent companions.

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    • Hi RT , I have read almost all of your book it is awesome, andI know you have had experiences with your own horses, i am reading another book called Learning their Language, by Mart Williams, it shows you how to do what you have already expierenced , it shows you have to cultivate it…………….

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  4. Although, we know the devasting reality of how so many horses lives end. We certainly can not deny how important it is let others experience the spiritual, peaceful love that a horse is capable. The true intelligence, beauty and strength of a horse can be enjoyed in cinema as well.

    I think it is so easy to forget that so many people in the world will never have the opportunity to be up close to a horse. If it takes the cinema so they can experience the giving nature of a horse, I think every film and movie ticket is worth the money.

    If the cinema provokes the love of the horse in even some of the movie ticket holders than it can only help our cause to save the wild ones and stop the slaughter of these intelligence creatures.

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  5. True Horse lovers and advocates probably don’t knowlingly patronize ANY industry that misuses or abuses Horses. We look back at our favorite childhood movies and cringe. We try to make others understand. It’s a slow, steady path forward.

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    • Although I have only owned one horse in my life, one a race horse the other a tennesse walker, She was 6 years old ands never been broken or haltered; I did acomplish haltering her, never rode her though she was a determined Spirit who I could not break…. We spent many awesome hours together in a huge pasture,,,,,,,,, The owner would not sell her… he also couldnot break her, or halter her….the first time i haltered her i did not get it tight enough and she lost it somewhere, the second time i knew just where to clip it………… My love for them has stemmed back to childhood, I have always been with them whenever possible………………… I would save my lunch money just to ride for 1 hour on Saturday !!!! Horses have always been to me the ultimate beauty ……The later of the two even saved my life ………for that and many things i am indebted to them,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,, They have taught me, pride , trust and unconditional love, they gave to me their huge Spirit and courage……if i have any good things I am I owe to her…………. We not only played together , we learned together things that could never be learned in a book……………….In the pasture she was in which was huge she shared with 5 other walkers who were broken, there was a revine with a small lake at the bottom, when i would come to see her, i would whistle for her i would hear 6 thundering walkers come running up that revine, the sound was awesome, I will never forget it…………………I was always a little skepticle that when they got to the top they would all run me over but they didnt , they would always stop short of it…………..

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  6. The more people who can be romanticized into loving horses the better for the cause of more humane treatment of horses…this is good, isn’t it?
    I cringed when I watched the old trilogy “My Friend Flick”, etc as an adult. Yet these movies were favorites in my naive youth. “We do the best we can with what we know, and, hopefully, when we know better, we do better” -ukwn. How else to help educate those who have no direct contact or experience with horses? Walt Disney once observed, “I’d rather entertain and hope the audience learns something, than teach and hope to educate.” Neither movie “Sea Biscuit”, or “Secretariat”, told the story from the horse’s perspective, and thus failed to have the same impact as Ann Sewell’s novel “Black Beauty.” An infrequently mentioned movie that deals with the question of horses as war veterans is “In Pursuit of Honor”, demonstrates, within the movie, the power inherit in good story telling to raise public awareness and consciousness – I’ve read “War Horse” and I have hope that this movie, especially give Steven Speilberg’s talent, will do the same

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  7. All I can say is that it was through books and movies and tv shows featuring horses that I learned to love them. They are what fueled my passion for the horses my family no longer had and made me bug my parents into riding lessons, then a job at a stable…the books and movies sustained me when I could no longer be with horses on a regular basis…but they did ignite a lifelong love of the horse, a respect for all horses. their nature and spirit. Yes, I know the films made back then probably hurt horses, and breaking techniques shown were awful…but I did not know that until I got older and understood…and I never followed their path…inspired by the love shown instead, I have always treated them with kindness, respect and patience. Black Beauty, My Friend Flicka, Misty…even Roy Rogers and The Lone Ranger…Marguerite Henry’s books…Misty, Brighty, King of the Wind…all gave me the idea that horses and people could have a very special bond. If Steven Spielberg’s film can inspire that in anyone…it is a good thing and gives us more advocates for the horse.

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  8. I would love to have War Horse followed by a showing of Saving America’s Horses. Even if Katia’s film could just follow it around to some of the major cities. I’m certain that many will fall in love with the romanticized version of life of Horse. An excellent time to educate them on the grotesque reality. Perhaps then people would raise their voices together for Horse.

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  9. FYI – The American Humane Association has a tv/film unit, which rates animal treatment during filming. Many U.S. films today, in using animals, permit the AHA monitoring unit, which are present during all filming, and adhere to their strict guidelines, regarding animal welfare in films. Below I have posted the link to this. Prior to going to any movie, one can look it up. It is fascinating, as the review will describe, in detail, how the filming was done, how the animal was treated, etc. I always use this. The older movies were horrible – there were actual filming in which horses were thrown off cliffs….(dear God). But most are different now. Some, such as The Horse Whisperer, used animatronic animals for horrific scenes. I believe the movie, Seabiscuit, had something like 7 horses, playing the main role (trained trick horse, etc., ), to achieve desired actions safely. Also, outstanding, and acceptable rated films will have the “No animals harmed” in after credits.

    http://www.americanhumanefilmtv.org/reviews/

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  10. @Morgan,
    Excellent idea…..Perhaps a letter, signed by many, and emailed to the producers, requesting an, even somewhat brief, synopsis, for increased awareness? First, one would have to make sure that this film is being monitored, and in accordance, AHA.

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    • Please see my reply above to Patience regarding the questionable position of AHA on humane treatment. They may not be what they seem!

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  11. I see it is difficult to accept that a hard stand must be taken. So many willing to compromise – it must be my age for I seen enough of the suffering and betrayal. How deeply have you looked into the eyes of a once wild horse or their offspring? How closely do you let your own horse trust you? Is there a reservation inside of yourself that it may come a time you must allow the lead to slip from your hands as you turn away?

    Boycott the message that all is well. Boycott it loud and clear and I promise this will be a better messenger of the beauty of our horses to those who do not know yet.

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  12. WHAT YOU CAN DO

    Right now before Congress votes on another continuing budget resolution on or before April 8, write (faxes are best) or call your U.S. representative and senators found here or call the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask to speak to your U.S. representative and senators. Urge them not to increase the BLM’s budget this year or de-fund the roundups except in the cases of true, verifiable emergencies, at least until the National Academy of Sciences has completed its study of the wild horses and burros program, and we can determine appropriate management for these animals, identify public lands where wild horses and burros could be returned to roam free, obtain an accurate census and set appropriate AMLs to ensure the herds are self-sustaining and genetically viable, and managed at the minimal feasible level.

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  13. wow, this turned into another dramatic blog.
    Sometimes we can step away and just enjoy horses. So….onto my original comment.

    One of my favorite books as a kid I use to check out from the local library was about movie horses. I don’t remember the name or the author, but it talked about the early years in the movie industry with all the cruel treaments, but also about how the industry developed the controls. It had chapters on famous movie horses from Rudolph Valentino’s horse to Tom Mix, and all the stunt horses in between that actually enjoyed their jobs and were well trained.

    Death is a part of life. All to often it happens cruelly – we should weep for the violent deaths of those who drowned in Japan recently as well as horse, pigs, cattle, sheep and fowl that are slaughtered. It really is only a precious few of us priviledged that get to enjoy a happy life. This weekend I was at a festival in Norman OK and someone in the booth next to me found one of those huge moths, decided they wanted to keep it so they skewered it on a piece of copper wire. I found the poor thing fluttering on the ground behind the booth. Do moths have a conciounse? Who knows, but the idea of that poor thing still alive with a huge wire impaled all the way through it was not good and I ragged on them about it. Kill it fast and all the way. No torture. Things get killed. Horses are prey (food in the ecosystem). Those that die should die as painlessly as possible. Secretariat wasn’t the only horse to die from lamanitis, People die. It’s a sad fact. I wish it weren’t so. I can only hope when I die it is as painlessly as possible. And that is what we can only hope for in this world for all creatures. (ok, so I did end up ranting too)

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    • BTW, I saw a preview for the play War Horse and the puppets used in it. It looked awesome, so I am going to see this movie when it comes out. “In Pursuit of Honor” is one of my favorite movies.

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  14. ROUND-UP ALERT:

    http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/6931/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=6215
    Comments Needed to Oppose Two Dangerous Summer Mustang Roundups in Oregon
    BLM to Remove 310 Horses from Three Finger and Jackies Butte Herd Management Areas
    Please submit your comments by April 6, 2011

    Please take the easy action below to oppose these unnecessary and inhumane roundups planned for Oregon.
    Please personalize and submit your comments today.
    Special note: It’s so important to continue commenting on these BLM proposals! Please be assured that your emails matter!

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  15. AMERICAN WILD HORSE PRESERVATION CAMPAIGN
    ROUND-UP ALERT:

    http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/6931/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=6215

    Comments Needed to Oppose Two Dangerous Summer Mustang Roundups in Oregon
    BLM to Remove 310 Horses from Three Finger and Jackies Butte Herd Management Areas
    Please submit your comments by April 6, 2011

    Please take the easy action below to oppose these unnecessary and inhumane roundups planned for Oregon. Please personalize and submit your comments today.
    Special note: It’s so important to continue commenting on these BLM proposals! Please be assured that your emails matter!

    Like

  16. ACTION ALERT:

    http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/6931/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=6215
    Comments Needed to Oppose Two Dangerous Summer Mustang Roundups in Oregon
    BLM to Remove 310 Horses from Three Finger and Jackies Butte Herd Management Areas
    Please submit your comments by April 6, 2011

    Please take the easy action below to oppose these unnecessary and inhumane roundups planned for Oregon. Please personalize and submit your comments today.
    Special note: It’s so important to continue commenting on these BLM proposals! Please be assured that your emails matter!

    Like

  17. THERE! I “wrastled it to ground”
    Comments Needed to Oppose Two Dangerous Summer Mustang Roundups in Oregon
    BLM to Remove 310 Horses from Three Finger and Jackies Butte Herd Management Areas
    Please submit your comments by April 6, 2011

    Please take the easy action below to oppose these unnecessary and inhumane roundups planned for Oregon. Please personalize and submit your comments today.
    Special note: It’s so important to continue commenting on these BLM proposals! Please be assured that your emails matter!

    Like

  18. Comments Needed to Oppose Two Dangerous Summer Mustang Roundups in Oregon
    BLM to Remove 310 Horses from Three Finger and Jackies Butte Herd Management Areas
    Please submit your comments by April 6, 2011

    Please take the easy action below to oppose these unnecessary and inhumane roundups planned for Oregon. Please personalize and submit your comments today.
    Special note: It’s so important to continue commenting on these BLM proposals! Please be assured that your emails matter!

    Like

  19. Any exposure to the horse be it in films or written form is a good thing in my opinion. My love of horses first came from Marguerite Henry’s Misty and the Album of Horses illustrated by Wesley Dennis. Sure horses then were sent to the “glue factory” and ended up in a can of Alpo. I didn’t know that then–I knew I just loved the beautiful animal the horse. As I became older I became aware of animal abuse and worked toward making others aware while working with children. There was recently a book written (don’t recall the title) about getting children back outside into the environment. I wonder how many children have never touched a horse as well as ever seen one for real? There has to be a place for “all” advocates–not just in protests and boycotts but in educating and bringing the love of the horse to all.

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  20. I can’t wait to go see this!! 🙂 The book was really good, &, I DO trust that modern-day film-making ensures that NO animals are injured in the making of these movies. Fact being: several horses played the role of Secretariat, animals need more frequent breaks than humans. They’re kind of like toddlers as far as attention span is concerned. The same can be said about all the “Lassie” films, MANY collies played that one role. Each animal is vet checked, &, well rested. These newer films are educational, & take aim straight at our hearts & our emotions. Which CAN be a good thing to gain more animal advocates, & to make more people aware. We can only pray for all those animals who may have died as a result of being cast in older or foreign films, but we also have their memories forever in our hearts! We need to teach humanity to have more compassion & empathy for ALL living creatures, ALWAYS!!

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  21. Laws to protect horses (and animals) in films have been passed since the days of Ben Hur. Regarding Secretariat not passing on his “joy,” this was not because he was mistreated – far from it. He was actually treated very well. He just failed to pass on his greatness, it happens. And laminitis is the scourge of ALL horses, not just race horses, and doesn’t necessarily follow mistreatment or poor care. Research is ongoing to find a cure for this terrible disease.
    I, too, hope that the horses used in this film were treated well. The use of computers has helped in filming battle scenes as well as models and fancy photography. This is a far cry from the days when they actually used trip wires – horrific.

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