Wild Horses

Back in February 2014 I wrote about the Przewalski’s horses in Woburn Safari Park (Bedfordshire, UK). Last weekend, I went back to visit them again.

(picture by Tom Campey after the ancient Lasceaux cave paintings) 

Przewalski’s (see note below) horses are the last surviving subspecies of wild horse. They’re the real thing. These horses used to roam the steppe or treeless grasslands along the Mongolian border with China. Because of hunting and the disappearance of their habitat as humans spread out across the steppes, these wild horses very nearly became extinct.

Some Przewalski’s horses were kept safe and bred in captivity – but not domesticated. Today there are still only about 1,500, mostly in zoos though a few have been re-introduced back into Mongolia. Woburn has a small herd of five.

20161002_122417

Other horses sometimes described as wild are actually descended from escaped or released domesticated horses, eg mustangs in America, brumbies in Australia. They’ve generally got a hint of their Arab or Spanish ancestors’ graceful looks.

The appearance of a Przewalski horse, by contrast, is fine-tuned for survival. This one has his summer coat.

20161002_122554

So you’ll see that, compared with the domesticated horse, a Przewalski horse has a shorter, more muscular body. His plain colouring is designed to camouflage him and his mane sticks up. His shape is more like that of a Zebra (they’ve also got Zebras at Woburn) and like Zebras Przewalskis determinedly resist taming and have to be sedated for any hoof trimming etc.

20161002_115903

Apart from the ears, they also resemble the Somali Wild Ass a little:

20161002_104744

There’s a chapter on wild horses in film, check out Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film find out more here

Ten Horsey Christmas Presents

Here are my suggestions * for what to give the Horsey person in your life – and all of these can be ordered from the comfort of your own armchair:

  1. At number one, it has to be the lovely hardback, “Coffee Table” style, beautifully illustrated Hollywood Hoofbeats: Trails Blazed Across the Silver Screen by Petrine Day Mitchum (yes, she’s the daughter of screen legend Robert Mitchum – and an expert on horses and films in her own right) and Audrey Pavia. £22

hollywood hoofbeats

  1. If £22 is a bit pricey, Lights Camera Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film (by Lesley Lodge) is £11.95 in paperback and is also illustrated. (Or only £1.99 in the Kindle version)

coversmall

  1. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. This is the book that inspired the film and the play. £3.49 in paperback (and there’s a deal where for only £10 you can get two other paperbacks with it) or – because this book is a keeper – £7.99 in hardback
  1. A Good Horse is Never a Bad Colour by Mark Rashid. Paperback. This book is packed with advice and hints for getting the best from your horse but each piece of advice is conveyed through a fascinating story. £12.99 in paperback, £16.99 in hardback.

A good horse is

  1. A Standard Journey by Jackie Parry. An amazing story about how Jackie and Noel rescued five horses, sold everything they had and trekked along part of Australia’s majestic Bicentennial National Trail. £12.99 in paperback.

jackie p

  1. A game perhaps? Horse-Opoly is a bit like Monopoly but with horses! The board features different breeds of horses and each property deed teaches players a little about that breed of horse. Players can choose to be a bail of hay, saddle, horseshoe, horse trailer, bag of oats, or a boot. For 2 to 6 players. £19.76
  1. How about a bag? There’s the Ladies Horse Canvas Satchel Messenger Saddle Shoulder School Cross Body Bag. £7.99 and available in different colours.

bag

  1. Practical Horse Whispering (Threshold picture guides). A paperback guide to bonding with your horse. £5.95

 9. A stocking filler perhaps? The Coloring Book of Horses Stress Reducing Art Therapy offers two sorts of colouring-in. For Adults or younger. By Lesley Lodge with drawings by two artists: Antonio Reche Martinez and Tom Campey. £5.50

coloring amazon cover

  1. The ultimate stocking filler idea for girls: Easy to use, High Quality Nail Art For Every Occasion! Horse. These are tiny horse stickers to add on to fingernails. A snip at £1.99 (Amazon helpfully tells us this works out at £79.60 per kilo!)

nails

* Disclosure – ok, two of the above books are written by me….

Want to reduce your stress – but how? colouring-in? horses?

(c) Tom Campey After the Lasceaux cave paintings

(c) Tom Campey After the Lasceaux cave paintings

People have been colouring-in for thousands of years. I’m betting it was soothing after a difficult day hunting with a stone axe – or even an iron – axe.

Colouring-in can reduce your stress and calm anxiety – it’s like the reciting of chants or mantras but more fun. Your brain works just enough to slow the turmoil of stress or anxiety but not so much that your concentration is drained.
And being around horses has long been recognized as therapeutic for many kinds of stresses.

So I’ve got together with two artists to make …. The Coloring Book of Horses. Stress Reducing Art Therapy.

By Lesley Lodge

Drawings By

Antonio Reche-Martinez and Tom Campey

Paperback on Amazon

This book offers two sorts of colouring-in:

· The first section has patterns and landscapes for your detailed colouring – any colour you like.

· In the second section, you can colour in real or imagined horse colour combinations and markings. There are over fifty colours and colour combinations for real horses – there’s a list of the main real colours towards the end of this book.

But, hey, this book also has some unicorns, mythical flying horses and sea-horses. You can use any colours you like.

Most of all, this book is aimed at having fun! After all, as the old saying goes, a good horse is never a bad colour.

The Coloring Book of Horses Stress Reducing Art Therapy

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:

Horses – and mules – in World War 1

Have you seen War Horse? Very moving. For more facts about horses – and mules – in the First World War  “The Equine Army” episode in the BBC series “World War 1 at Home” is great.

Just how many horses and mules were involved? The answer might amaze you: nearly a million by the end of the war.

army-horses-mules_lastcav_02_700

In fact, the army had gone a long way towards mechanization by the outbreak of the war – it was a matter of the sheer scale of the supplies and light artillery which needed to be hauled about Europe that led to the use of so many horses. There were some 25,000 horses in the army to begin with in 1914 but by the end of the first year of the war there were half a million. How did the army manage this? Because there simply weren’t enough horses, even on farms, in Britain, they started importing wild mustangs from the USA and then mules. At one point, some one thousand horses and mules a week. They then had to tame them very quickly – generally using the old, Western methods of “breaking in” by roping and riding the horse to point of exhaustion. That wasn’t what the trainers wanted to do – it was a matter of the urgency of war.

Mules, according to “The Equine Army” programme, were a bit of a puzzle to the army at first. Treating them as horses didn’t work – mules of course are very independently minded. Some say stubborn. And there are some great clips that illustrate this: there’s one of a number of soldiers in a tug of war (and not winning) with one mule. And another of some soldiers trying to shoe a mule: the mule is tied up, it’s boxed in by wooden bars, its leg is tied to a post by a rope – and still it’s kicking out wildly while the farrier approaches with the hot shoe. Unlike a horse, a mule, as you can clearly see in this clip, can kick in all directions, not just backwards. Fortunately, the army eventually got used to mules, finding them more robust in the wartime environment of mud, cold, mud, bad weather, mud and heavy loads. Both horses and mules certainly played a big part in winning the war, but at a great cost.

War Horse, the movie, book or play, had some heart breaking moments but it does have [spoiler alert] a happy ending. Not so for the 484,000 horses and mules which died or were killed. And not so for the 900,000 or so which were unable to return to Britain.

Try catch up TV or hope for a DVD release to see World War 1 at Home: The Equine Army.

To read about your favourite film or TV horse, check out Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film.

coversmall

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

Marketing tip for Indie / self-published authors

Have you, like me, been voraciously reading all the advice for self-published authors on how to actually sell your books? My problem is that my books (about horses and film) present a bit of a cross-genre quandary and so are a bit more difficult to market. I’ve been pursuing all the advice about building up social media (shame I didn’t start before publishing…) and so on and I’ve advertised in the horse media and in the film media. I even took out an ad in the UK Sunday paper The Observer but that was definitely not a good return for the cost in my case despite its millions of readers.

A lot of the advice around is along the lines of “go with giveaways”. Amazon’s Kindle Select programme allows you to do just that with the ebook version of your book and you can do it with paperbacks through Goodreads. I’ve done both but got very little back in terms of reviews (though they can lift your book up a little in the ratings and you can make useful connections on Goodreads).   

Anyhow, the latest thing I’ve tried is Story Cartel – and so far, it’s looking good. Story Cartel offers readers free books in return for an honest review.  Story Cartel comment that they are “a home to any kind of book you could imagine, from nail-biting thrillers to tender romance novels, serious literary fiction to self-help non-fiction”. It does cost ($30 – or under £18 at current exchange rate).

It’s important to point out that Story Cartel isn’t about buying reviews. It isn’t about manipulating people into giving your book five-star reviews. But remember, even low star reviews can help your ratings on amazon (and if all your reviews are 5 star, conspiracy theorists might think they’re all written by your relatives…).

Anyway, I’m part-way though the 3 weeks my book is on free offer for and so far I have garnered more reviews than I did with Goodreads and for half the cost. So right now, if you too need more reviews, I’m recommending giving Story Cartel a go. (Watch this space to see if it gets better by the end of my 3 weeks).

You can check out my book on Story Cartel – and find out more about the what Story Cartel has to offer both readers and writers here: http://storycartel.com/books/horse-and-pony-colours-which-one-would-you-choose

Image

 

Run for Glory – stunning film about a stunning racehorse

If you like horses, racing or classical music – or all three – do check out Run for Glory – Ode to a horse.

It’s a fictional account of a race horse from foaling to a tremendous win.  Director Ahmed Jamalat was inspired by fabulous Derby winner (1994) Erhaab. Erhaab’s win is said by the experts to have been a particularly exhilarating win. I missed that one – are there any readers out there who saw it and can confirm this (or otherwise)?

The film shows a mix of ups and downs in the life of the horse and his owners. I think the film’s particular success comes through his use of music to enhance the audience’s emotions. It’s set to two movements of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 ‘Choral’ from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Herbert von Karajan).

Image

Image

Publicity pictures copyright Melville Arts

Be warned though. The film runs for only 35 minutes and it’s certainly not a Disney style film. And at £15 (at the time of writing) the DVD is not cheap. If it’s your sort of film it’s definitely worth it though. If in doubt, as ever you can check out the trailer on YouTube. Better still, the film has its own website at:  http://lifeofahorse.com/

(for more horses in more films, check out Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film (Kindle or paperback)

 Image

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.

lone ranger

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

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.

Image

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.

coversmall