Who Groomed the War Horses?

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Taking care of horses is a lot of work, whether in war or peace. Here you see some grooms in the British military during World War I. It was their job to make sure that the harness was cleaned and oiled and the horses cared for. Sometimes, the task was superhuman, when the horses were affected with mange or lameness. Image courtesy of Nick Stone.

The millions of war horses that were part of World War I required a lot of grooming. In fact, proper grooming care turned out to be critical to the success of the British military.

Perhaps artillery horses at the front couldn’t be properly cleaned and groomed all the time but all horsemen know that a horse in a dirty muddy harness is more likely to get sores than a horse in a clean and oiled harness. That meant a lot of oil and saddle soap. There was no synthetic harness like we have to today, and probably no hoses to clean the horses. The grooms probably were as wet as the horses.

One of the biggest problems that the British military faced was that it was losing more horses to disease and exposure than to enemy fire. Horses tied in a picket line at night allowed for the easy spread of the mange mite from horse to horse. Early in the war, the British solution to widespread mange was to clip every horse from head to toe. That would be fine in summer, but it meant that the horses needed blankets when the weather turned cold, or else the mange would come back. Next problem? Those blankets were constantly soaked by rain. You can imagine how the horses suffered.

Halting to refresh the horses in a stream

The grooms had their hands full. The cavalry may have required that each rider care for his own horse, but the artillery horses and mules and the pack animals far outnumbered the cavalry mounts like Joey in War Horse. In those photo, you see a British military unit pausing in a stream, possibly for the benefit of their horses' tendons. (National Library of Scotland archival photo)

But the grooms had to not only struggle to keep the horses dry and the harness clean; they had to make sure that the harness fit properly, or there would be just as many problems with sores. And as the horses lost condition because of poor quality hay–or complete lack of hay–and overuse, their harness may or may not fit properly. It’s said that the most important tool a groom had was a hole punch and that they were in constant use.

And we all know that you will eventually run out of leather; there will be no place left to punch a hole.

Artillery horses also required properly fitting collars. Collars don’t have much range of adjustment. They either fit…or they don’t. Do you remember the scene in War Horse where Frederick stuffs the rag under Joey’s collar?

Grooms today are often the unsung heroes of the horse world, and their World War I counterparts were just as under-appreciated by historians. The photo provided by Nick Stone shows that this group of grooms wasn’t too serious, but there’s also a possibility, from Nick’s notes, that the photo was taken in Cambridgeshire before either the horses or grooms or both were shipped overseas. They probably sobered up pretty quickly if they served at the front.

To learn more: Grooms today have a new home on the web. Visit Liv Gude’s proequinegrooms.com for information about the profession and tips from the pros on how to care for your horse.

Photo of grooms courtesy of Nick Stone.
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Be brave! Entrench yourself in WAR HORSE NEWS on the web: 1) Bookmark WarHorseBlog.com; 2) Grab the RSS feed; 3) Follow @WarHorseNews on Twitter; 4) “Like” the War Horse News page on Facebook; 5) Circle War Horse News on Google +. Leave your questions and comments here on the blog and we’ll try to help you! WAR HORSE NEWS is written for moviegoers, horse lovers and history buffs by horse-specialist journalist Fran Jurga and hosted by Equisearch.com.

Working with Horses: War Horse Cast Shares Horse Encounters of the Embarrassing Kind

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warhorsenews GOLD logo SMALLDon’t you wonder if actors’ memories of filming movies just get all jumbled together? All those long hours on the set, rehearsing and re-shooting and going through makeup and costuming can be exhausting.

But one thing is for sure: the actors from War Horse will never forget their co-stars in the film: the horses! In this video, Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson, Benedict Cumberblatch and Tom Hiddleston share some fun memories of the horses they worked with during the filming of War Horse.

Their memories of high horse humor moments will no doubt improve every time they’re retold!

One key piece of information from Emily Watson is the role of the dedicated poop scooper on the set. I wonder if he or she is listed in the credits!

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Be brave! Entrench yourself in WAR HORSE NEWS on the web: 1) Bookmark WarHorseBlog.com; 2) Grab the RSS feed; 3) Follow @WarHorseNews on Twitter; 4) “Like” the War Horse News page on Facebook; 5) Circle War Horse News on Google +. Leave your questions and comments here on the blog and we’ll try to help you! WAR HORSE NEWS is written for moviegoers, horse lovers and history buffs by horse-specialist journalist Fran Jurga and hosted by Equisearch.com.

War Horse: Joey Hoofs It on the Red Carpet at the Royal London Premiere

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It took 14 different horses to play the part of Joey in War Horse. Producer and director Steven Spielberg made sure that at least one of them was front and center at the London premiere of the film on 8 January 2012. In this brief video, you see Spielberg, along with lead actor Jeremy Irvine (Albert) enjoy a brief reunion with Sultan, the “Joey” who galloped through the trenches in the film.

The reunion of the two stars and their director took place on the red carpet outside the Odeon Theatre in London’s Leicester Square–the same red carpet where all the stars could be found. But Joey got there first–and attracted the biggest crowd! The crowd respectively stayed quiet for Joey, but the paparazzi shouts broke out when Jeremy Irvine stepped onto the carpet, as you can hear on the clip.

warhorsenews GOLD logo SMALLAmong Joey’s admirers on the red carpet: the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, known to Americans as Prince William and Kate.

The Duke and Duchess greeted members of the cast and Spielberg before watching the film. Six hundred serving and ex-serving military personnel and their families were invited to the Premiere. The proceeds of the evening will benefit British military charities, which the Foundation of Prince William and Prince Harry helps to support. The servicemen and women were invited from The Duke of Cambridge’s regiments, including RAF Search and Rescue, Household Cavalry, Irish Guards, Royal Air Force Coningsby, Scotland Royal Naval Command and Submarines Royal Naval Command.

Sultan was escorted by Tom Cox of Devils Horsemen stunt riders. Dan Naprous of Devils Horsemen, the assistant horse master of the film, was in charge of Sultan’s trip to London, and kindly gave War Horse News a brief interview after the event.

The first thing I asked him was if he’d need a shovel on the red carpet, and he assure me that his horse was very well-trained–and that he’d been very lucky that the evening was uneventful.

“It was a lot of pressure with all the cameras,” Dan admitted. Tom Cox had led Joey on the carpet with Dan following behind and ready to jump into action (something he does very well, professionally) if there were any mishaps.

Dan said that “backstage” in London, Sultan had enjoyed another reunion, with equine makeup artist Ali Bannister from the War Horse crew. (See yesterday’s post for more about Ali.)

Did you notice that only was Tom, the handler, dressed in an authentic World War I uniform, but Joey was wearing period military tack, including a horseshoe pouch (packed with two spare horseshoes an 12 nails), buckled onto the saddle.

“The whole thing was extremely well planned out,” Daniels told me about the evening’s schedule. “And it went without a hitch.”

Still, I could tell that he was relieved to be able to report that news to me.

Sultan is an Andalusian, a breed that Daniel uses a lot for special training for films. His family offers about 60 trained stunt and seasoned carriage horses for period films, commercials, public appearances, television–and every other sort of public event. Sultan is planning another reunion, with War Horse actor Tom Huddleston (Captain Nicholls), in the upcoming film Henry V; this special horse then plans to co-star with Russell Crowe in the film version of Les Miserables.

Is there a union for movie star horses? Sultan has earned his card!

A report about the people at the premiere will be posted on Monday–but the horses had to come first!

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Be brave! Entrench yourself in WAR HORSE NEWS on the web: 1) Bookmark WarHorseBlog.com; 2) Grab the RSS feed; 3) Follow @WarHorseNews on Twitter; 4) “Like” the War Horse News page on Facebook; 5) Circle War Horse News on Google +. Leave your questions and comments here on the blog and we’ll try to help you! WAR HORSE NEWS is written for moviegoers, horse lovers and history buffs by horse-specialist journalist Fran Jurga and hosted by Equisearch.com.

Why You Need to See War Horse This Week: First-week Stats Help Future Horse Movies

The Horsey Set‘s Rhonda Lane is back as the raconteur-du-jour here on War Horse News. Today Rhonda admonishes all you wait-and-see types to get-thee-to-the-cinema because War Horse‘s first-week stats and gross box office income can effect studios’ sentiments toward producing more horse-related films! Over to you, Rhonda!

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For people who want to see more horses in the movies, the opening week of War Horse, directed by Hollywood visionary Steven Spielberg, is an excellent opportunity.

War Horse News small gold logo badgeThanks to War Horse and Mr. Spielberg, horses are in the mass media spotlight right now. Maybe they’re not actually on the red carpet, but they are in the forefront of cultural consciousness–for once–at some time other than Kentucky Derby week.

This is our chance to show that good movies about horses will draw crowds and make money.

Mr. Spielberg met us halfway by making an excellent movie. So, I think we horse people should look at our calendars to pick out an afternoon or evening this weekend to grab our tissues and go see War Horse during its first full weekend at the box office.

(Or, in the case of many, go see it again. And bring some friends.)

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Can Joey help War Horse leap the box office barricades and gallop off with impressive stats?

The “Bean Counters” who determine our choices for entertainment want to see who’s thirsting to see a movie, according to the blog post “Who Comes on Opening Night?”by marketing guru Seth Godin.

Maybe you’ve noticed, after watching the obligatory weekly Sunday night newsbreaks, that the movie that has the biggest opening of the weekend is mentioned in the financial news report, along with the amount of money made. The “Powers That Be” in entertainment make their decisions about what we’ll see in the future in large part based on the numbers they see during those few days after a movie opens.

We’ve all remarked at one time or another about how we wanted to see a movie but that it left theaters before we had a chance to go. The old rules of “I’ll wait to go see it” don’t apply anymore, not if we want to see more of a particular kind of entertainment.

So, if we want to see more horses in the movies, we need to make time to go see “War Horse” and as soon as we can. How about this weekend?

A PS from War Horse News: Rhonda Lane is, as usual, so right! NASDAQ’s film income forecast today validated everything she said and had this comment about War Horse’s predicted box office: Heading into its first full weekend, Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” also should be one of the biggest benefactors of a lack of new releases. Backed by some steady critical buzz, “War Horse” is expected to be a major contender at the upcoming Academy Awards, though a lot of that will depend on how it does commercially over the next couple of weekends. “War Horse” might be too heavy for some audiences this weekend, but an intake in the $10 to $12 million range still seems likely.

Rhonda Lane, The Horsey Set

Playbill.com listed War Horse as #7 last week, which is pretty wonderful, considering it only had one day’s income to report. The site also tells us: The highest-grossing film of the (Christmas) weekend was “Mission: Impossible,” which earned $29,500,000. Others in the top 10 include “Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows,” “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked,” “The Adventures of Tintin, “We Bought a Zoo,” “New Year’s Eve,” “The Darkest Hour” and “The Muppets.”

War Horse took in $7,515,402 at the box office on Christmas Day, according to boxofficemojo.com.

Rhonda Lane writes one of my favorite blogs, The Horsey Set. She is a native of Kentucky who now lives and writes in Connecticut. She’s currently working on a mystery novel. Follow Rhonda on Twitter (I do!): @RhondaLane

Be brave! Entrench yourself in WAR HORSE NEWS on the web: 1) Bookmark WarHorseBlog.com; 2) Grab the RSS feed; 3) Follow @WarHorseNews on Twitter; 4) “Like” the War Horse News page on Facebook; 5) Circle War Horse News on Google +. Leave your questions and comments here on the blog and we’ll try to help you! WAR HORSE NEWS is written for moviegoers, horse lovers and history buffs by horse-specialist journalist Fran Jurga and hosted by Equisearch.com.

War Horse Is in the Theaters: Roll the Reviews

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Enjoy these dueling reviews a la classic Siskel + Ebert style from some University of Southern California (USC) School of Cinematic Arts student film reviewers. They offer some food for thought! Each student film critic covers valid points, whether pro or con, in the film. Will the public identify with this horse and attach to him emotionally–or is the average person just too far removed from the horse as a sentient being?
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But the big question is hard to frame. In a movie that is an epic, and has so many moods and tempos, it is often a matter of what “sticks” with people. For me, it was the cavalry section early in the war, and the French farm scenes. The opening section set in the English countryside seemed like another movie in itself–it had a beginning, a conflict (the plowing scene) and a resolution, and then a second conflict opened another chapter, or (if you like) another movie. War Horse could easily have started right there.

Oscar for "An American in Paris" on display at the TCM Classic Film Festival at the Mann's Chinese 6

Many people complained that the movie was too long, and I think they have a point but for me it could have gone on and on. I was captivated by the lyric storytelling. The actors flitted by; I wanted to reach out to some of them and beg them to stay in the movie. But along came another one who intrigued me.

When the lights come on in the theater and we file out into the fresh air, bits of War Horse cling to us like burrs. There are scenes stuck to me here and here and here–and different scenes stuck to you, in different places, I’m sure. Do you want to capture them like fragile butterflies or brush them off like cobwebs?

It’s the same after every movie, but we often leave theaters and never think of that movie consciously again. I doubt that will be the case with War Horse.

Do you have a War Horse hangover? is there War Horse residue stuck to you? What will you do with your thoughts about War Horse? Was it just a movie? Or did it awaken something or some place in you that you hope to explore?

Be brave! Entrench yourself in War Horse News on the web: 1) Bookmark WarHorseBlog.com; 2) Grab the RSS feed; 3) Follow @WarHorseNews on Twitter; 4) “Like” the War Horse News page on Facebook; 5) Circle War Horse News on Google +. Leave your questions and comments here on the blog and we’ll try to help you!