Hoofprints in the Sand – a review

I’ve just read a great book for horse lovers and here’s my review:

Hoofprints in the Sand is a great read for horse lovers – and those who don’t think of themselves as horse lovers will still find plenty to intrigue and fascinate. It’s clearly based on a lot of hard research but the result is very readable.

Hoofprints in the Sand was the first ever book to compare and contrast the USA East Coast herds of feral horses and ponies – but it is so much more.hoofprints

For example, did you perhaps read the book Misty of Chincoteague or see the film “Misty” about the wild ponies of Assateague, an island off the coast of Virginia, USA? If so you’ll remember the famous annual round-up and swimming of the horses across to the mainland. Hoofprints in the Sand has plenty of facts about these ponies and those on other “barrier” islands, together with explanations of their likely heritage and why horses and ponies were bred on islands. You’ll also find out too how wild horses behave – and why.

The book includes some fascinating snippets of information including (in random order):
• Grass contains silica (basically sand) – and so wears horses’ teeth.
• Horses were the most abundant large animals a million years or so ago, after bison and mammoths
• Horses shipped by the Spanish after their discovery of the “new world” had only a 50% chance of surviving the trip

The book authoritatively corrects a number of misapprehensions about mustangs, their origins and behavior.

There are some accounts of key horse-breeders over the centuries and about specific horses and herds.

Finally, there’s a chapter on where you can actually visit to see the East Coast horses discussed in the book, there are some useful tips for campers on how to avoid inadvertently endangering these beautiful horses and ponies – oh yes, and there’s a bibliography in case you’d like to read more.

There’s a whole chapter of wild horses – of many continents in Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film:

to find more films, more horses in films, check out:

to find more films, more horses in films, check out:

London Film Festival: a few thoughts of 7 films to catch – or not…

Some quick thoughts from the train back from London:

The first three I saw were:

The Salvation: a Danish Western with – amazingly – Eric Cantona (and yes, lots of horses). Great homage to both the conventional Western and the Spaghetti Western

Rosewater: directed by the Daily Show’s John Stewart. A film about a journalist incarcerated and interrogated in Iran with the very, very watchable Gael Garcia Bernal and the Danish guy from The Bridge. I really, really recommend this film. Excellent. Grim subject but very uplifting turnaround.

The Keeping Room: an American civil war film (The Keeping Room) with three amazingly brave, strong women (has a few horses in it) . The good guys (weren’t we taught that the war was about ending slavery) were definitely not good guys in this as they burn the South and attack the women. Still, it is a film.

My next three, the next day were:

Stereo – A German thriller. This was too violent for me and I wasn’t too keen on the hallucination and psych babble elements. Still it carries you on.

Betibu: An Argentine detective film. Now this one was quite stylish, reasonably good but a complex plot and more talking than action. (Confession: I did doze off momentarily…)

I can quite whenever I want:  a very funny Italian spoof on Breaking Bad it had a pretty good go at all 5 series in under 2 hours. All in the context of what the financial crisis has done for graduate unemployment in Italy. The nightclub scenes are especially funny.

Now to the last film I caught:

Jauja: set in Argentina in the 19th century but starring Viggo Mortensen and actually more in Danish than in Spanish. Spoiler alert: for the first 40 or so minutes, Viggo gets on and off his horse a lot. He drinks water from various pools. His horse drinks water. Now as you may know, I write about horses in films. So I’m a big fan of horses in film (his horse was a nice bay with a hogged mane) but even so, I did wish for a bit more action…. After the film, Viggo himself gave a Q and A session and just happened to mention that the script for this 108 minute film was only 19 pages…..

to find more films, more horses in films, check out:

to find more films, more horses in films, check out the book above

Lone Ranger: ten top (and real) horse stunts

Spoiler Alert: this may contain a few spoilers so… you might want to watch the film first.

The Lone Ranger film has now reached TV (at least here in the UK) so I’m re-issuing this (original, similar post in December 2013).  Also the DVD is out). This film has some tremendous horse stunts – some of which were filmed for real (a refreshing break from the  CGI). Yet the American Humane Association has given it the all-clear, issuing its famous “No animals were harmed” in the making of this film. So how did they do it?

The American Humane Association often posts film reviews which give some of the answers to this question. (They’ve got a great website). So this is what I found out:

For a start, as a matter of course, the horses used included specially trained “falling horses” and “lay down horses” that fell on cue and when they did that, their landing area was specially prepared to be soft.

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Here’s how ten of the best horse stunts were filmed:

  1. In the scene where the Lone Ranger’s horse, Silver, picks up a bottle with his mouth and appears to drink beer out of it, horse trainers placed a rubber beer bottle into the horse’s mouth and then pulled gently on his rein to make it look as if he’s drinking it.
  2. The dead horse lying on top of a Texas Ranger was fake.
  3. In the scene where the Indians ride round the barn, shooting their guns in the air, the area was cordoned off by production with fencing. Only quarter load blanks were used (these are very light). After the action, wranglers came in to calm the horses down.
  4. Where Silver jumps from high up out of a burning barn and runs off in the distance, production achieved this image by capturing the horse jumping from a small height with different camera angles. The film crew used wands, each of which was on fire, at seven points to make it looks as if the fire was surrounding the barn. They placed a smoke pot in front of a strong wind machine. The horse actually jumped from a small platform onto mats and soft footing.
  5. OK, this one did use a tiny bit of CGI: In the scene where Silver licks off the scorpions from Tonto and Lone Ranger’s faces, two fake heads were placed in the sand, and covered with treats. The horse bent down to eat the treats from the fake heads – the scorpions were added into the film later by CGI.
  6. In the same scene, the Lone Ranger and Tonto are buried up to their necks and Silver pulls Tonto out of the ground by having him bite onto the reins while Silver backs up, pulling him out. This scene was accomplished by having the two actors buried in a special box with their heads sticking out. Trainers had the horse bend his head down, whereupon the actor bites onto the rein. The horse then backed up, so it looks like he’s pulling the actor out of the ground.
  7. In a scene where a stable explodes and the horses escape from the explosion, trainers built fence posts outside the corral to keep them in place as they run from the stable. The crew placed mortars under the ground which set off small explosions of dust – but the mortars were never near the horses. The explosions in fact took place after the horses were cleared from the set.
  8. In the scene where the Lone Ranger rides Silver across the rooftops, the crew had constructed a set made to look like the flat roofs of town buildings. There was a ramp for the horse at each end. A stuntman rode the horse from point A to point B, jumping over small barriers along the way.
  9. In one of the most exciting scenes, where the Lone Ranger rides his horse on the train jumping from car to car, the production crew had built a set that looked like the top of a train. The trainer rode the horse up a ramp to the set, and rode on the set, jumping on a blue screen placed between the two carriages. The horse was never actually galloping on a moving train.
  10. In the scene where the man pushes the woman off the train and she lands on the horse facing the Lone Ranger, riding face to face, the production team filmed the actors facing each other on the horse riding at a relatively slow pace, then the film was speeded up.

Like horses in film? Try “Lights! Camera! Gallop! The story of the horse in Film”. Lots of photos too.

Ebook on the Horse in Film - under £7 from http://tinyurl.com/lightscameragallop http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lights-Camera-Gallop-story-horse-ebook/dp/B0092SU57Y/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1400246580&sr=8-2&keywords=lights+camera+gallop

Truly wild horses! Przewalski’s horses

Ever wondered what a wild horse would look like? Or how it would behave? One descended from a complete line of wild, undomesticated horses? I’ve been fortunate enough see those in Woburn Safari Park (about 50 miles north of London, UK) and even more fortunate to be able to interview an animal keeper at Woburn Safari Park who knows them well.

The other horses or ponies you think of today as wild are actually descended from escaped or released domesticated horses. This includes the mustangs of America, the brumbies of Australia, the “wild” horses of Namibia and so on.  Free-roaming ponies such as those in the UK’s New Forest or on Dartmoor are all owned and protected in various ways. New Forest ponies for example are regularly rounded up, given a health check and even have their tails cut to indicate what where their owners are from.

Przewalski’s horses, though, are the last surviving subspecies of wild horse. They’re the real thing. The first person to write about them scientifically was a 19th century Russian explorer named – yes, you guessed it – Przewalski. These horses used to roam the steppe (treeless grasslands) along the Mongolian border with China. Gradually though because of hunting and the disappearance of their habitat with the spread of humans across the steppes their numbers dwindled. They became very nearly extinct. Still, some Przewalski’s horses were kept safe and bred in captivity – but not domesticated. Today there are about 1,500 of them, mostly in zoos though some have been re-introduced back into Mongolia and China.

Compared with the usual, domesticated, horse Przewalski’s horses have a shorter, more muscular body and they’re smaller (about 12 to 14 hands high). They have a pale belly and beige to reddish-brown coat. They have a striking dark mane that sticks up. Here’s a picture of the ones in Woburn.

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Animal keeper Tom Robson’s job includes looking after Woburn’s Przewalski’s horses – when he’s not tending to the giraffes, rhinos and zebras. He told me they’ve got six Przewalski’s horses: two mares and four geldings. They are part of the international breeding programme to keep the breed alive. They stick together as a small herd, with one more dominant male.

The care of these horses is similar to that of rugged native UK breeds – in Woburn they’re kept on grass with a hard-standing area (which helps keep their hooves sound) with supplemental hay, chaff and pasture nuts provided when necessary and they have access to shelters. Like American mustangs, they’re very sensitive about their hooves. Like most herbivores, their main preoccupation is eating but Tom has seen them playing the occasional chasing game. A snippet from Woburn that tickled me is that the keepers give the horses’ hoof trimmings to the wolves – who just love to roll on them.

So, overall, Przewalski’s horses are similar in many ways to domestic and free-roaming horses but they certainly look a bit different. While I was in Woburn Safari Park, I heard a Dad confidently telling his small son that they were “donkeys with small ears”.  What do you think?

To read about wild horses in film, check out Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film

http://tinyurl.com/lightscameragallop

http://www.lesleylodge.co.uk

London Film Festival and behind the scenes film snippets – and camels.

London’s 57 film festival draws to a close (20th October) after showcasing and premiering a huge variety of films: 235 feature films and 134 short films from 57 different countries – over just 12 days. Wow!

I’ve still got the day job so with 21 London venues I was only ever going to be able to catch a fraction of them. Ten films in fact. Choosing what to see is not easy because there are generally few independent reviews around; many of the films are being shown there for the first time. Still, I’ve been doing this for a number of years and my choosing process starts mostly with picking the ones not to watch – those films chosen for the opening and closing gala nights are generally very expensive, almost impossible to get tickets for – and likely to come out on general release in the UK anyway. Then I focus in on thrillers and on films with really new concepts. Some years it’s essentially a bit of a lucky dip.

And of course I keep an eye out for films with horses in them. Back in 2007 I struck very lucky on this with Horse Thieves. Two horse-thieving brothers living in Eastern Europe in 1856 get caught up with two other brothers who are Cossacks. There is thievery, murder, revenge – and a lot of horse action.

Didn’t find many horses in my selection this year but there was one amazing film with camels in it: Tracks. Tracks is set in the Australian outback and tells the true story of Robyn Davidson’s solo trek: an unbelievable 2,700 kilometres on foot with four camels and a black dog in 1977. The landscape is stunningly beautiful and the camels are star actors. Tracks stars Mia Wasikowska and for much of the film she is the only human on screen. She’s fantastic, going through the emotions of loneliness, fear, nostalgia and determination, often while facing the camera and controlling the four camels.

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Tracks directed by John Curran, starring Mia Wasikowska (and 4 camels)

One of the great things about the London Film Festival is that you often get the director, the producer or one or two of the stars for a Q and A session afterwards. In this case, director John Curran talked a lot about how it was to direct the four camels. He said the lead camel was great – he growls a lot, in a deep-throated but sort of benign, almost warbling, way and the key thing was that he seemed to know when he was being filmed. John said he would do the growling as soon as the camera was on him, never needing a re-take of a scene.  The black dog, on the other hand, easily got restless and in fact had to be played by several dogs in turn.

There’s a part in the film where the baby camel gets sore feet from the sheer heat of the sand. Apparently, this happened unexpectedly for real during the filming. Throughout filming, John Curran said, the camera team mostly kept a long way off, using zoom lenses. Mia simply fashioned some clothes into shoes, wrapped them around the baby camel’s feet and off they all went again.

If you get the chance – and even if camels aren’t really your thing, I definitely recommend you grab the chance to see Tracks when it reaches your cinema.

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