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American Humane is About Keeping Movie Horses Safe
The American Humane Association has been around for a long time with the sole purpose of the safe use of animals in filmed media. Among those “animals” are horses and you can rest assured that there are AHA representatives on every set checking out the setup, vetting the horses, having input into the day’s work and keeping a close eye on how the horses are doing. Some of the most recent movies that AHA has worked with include Dreamer, Seabiscuit, Hildalgo, Black Beauty and Flicka.
“We are on the major portion of horse films and we’ve been doing this for 70 years,” explained Karen Rosa, Director of the Film & Television Unit, who has been involved with AHA for 14 years. "Besides our mission of protecting all animals on set, one of American Humane's important roles is to be the credible, objective witness on animal action in film"
AHA starts very early on when working with a film, beginning with looking over the script and getting a sense of the storyline. They like stories that show a human-animal bonding. “American Humane has done a lot about the bonding of humans and horses,” she explained.
The organization goes beyond the movie set and reaches out in various ways. “We have essay contests about human-animal bonds. We give grants to rescue organizations to help them in their effort to rehabilitate animals that are victims of abuse or neglect. The appreciation of the animal and its spirit is very important to American Humane.”
On the set they are constantly with one eye on the horse and the other on the surroundings. “When horses are running we always check the path of the horse to make sure there are no rocks or holes and above we look for overhanging branches that could endanger the horse.”
THE WELFARE OF THE HORSE IS PARAMOUNT
Yet it is more than just the movie set that they observe. They are also concerned with the “care of the animals, that they have proper housing, water, shade and that the number of takes is limited. It is all about the welfare of the horse and controlling the working environment.”
Rosa went on to explain that there are guidelines for everything including rearing scenes, falls and laying down. “We discuss in safety meetings what a plan is in heavy action and what the safety plan is. We do not allow any kind of anesthesia or sedation. Horses must be trained.”
For each new day the horses are checked. “Everyday we check the condition of the horses, also after every take and at the end of the day. If a horse seems stressed or fatigued we recommend it be given a rest.”
Rosa’s associate Jone Bouman, head of Communications for the Film & Television Unit for the American Humane Association, added, “We act as the voice of the horse. When we know there is a difficult animal action we look for the safest possible solutions,”
The people on the set are called the Animal Safety Representatives and when the animals are working, so are they. Even when the animals are resting they are constantly being monitored. Rosa admits that accidents have happened but those same accidents could have happened out in someone’s paddock or barn or at an event.
“The animal reps are experienced people that bring years and years of horse expertise to the table. They’ve seen a lot of filming and they are problem solvers. They know the guidelines and the animals. They help the filmmakers do the film in the safest possible way,” explains Rosa who added, “Yes we want them to make the film but our primary purpose is that the animals are treated safely.”
What most viewers don’t realize is that most of the action that might be considered “dangerous” is not really done by live horses. Even they have “stunt” or “fake” horses that dupe them when necessary.
AHA helps the filmmaker achieve their goal for the viewer. “The perception is what the filmmaker is trying to achieve but the reality is safety for the horses,” adds Rosa.
“Perception and reality are very important to us,” adds Bouman who notes that a lot can be done with costumes, props, and special effects. One example she used is in the film Flicka, which AHA representatives carefully monitored, where it appears that a mountain lion has jumped on the back of Flicka. “The mountain lion and the horse never made contact,” noted Rosa. “That is a predator-prey situation that we would never allow.”
“A lot of it is all about prep; get us the script early, plan ahead, break everything down and the filmmaker can figure out how to piece it together. It is a wonderful tapestry of movie magic.”
For more information about the American Humane Association visit their web site at www.americanhumane.org.
Photo Caption: On the set of Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story. ©Photo Courtesy of the American Humane Association