If Joey Had Been a US Cavalry Horse, He’d Probably Have Called Nebraska Home

Fort Robinson Stable

Are we in the Bluegrass? No, this is western Nebraska and these are some of the old stables of the US Quartermaster Corps' Remount Depot. At its height, the fort housed 11,000 horses. Today it's a state park. Zaxy photo.

In War Horse, you see the British Cavalry come to Albert’s village and offer the local farmers cold, hard cash for their horses. The war had just broken out and Great Britain needed trained horses–and they needed them quickly. Historians tell us that they acquired 165,000 horses in the first 12 days of the war.

But they would need a million horses. There weren’t enough Joeys hidden away in enough little villages of England. The British military sent horse buyers around the world, but especially to the United States and Canada, where they would buy 618,000 horses and mules, and load them onto ships bound for Liverpool. Once in England, they’d be trained and shipped to France or to the combat zones of the Middle East.

warhorsenews GOLD logo SMALLAt the end of World War I, the United States military took a long hard look at its own horse inventory. Would it be caught short in the event of another war? Maybe it was the economy or maybe it was the combustible engine, but the price of horses was down and so was the supply.

The government’s glance fell on a historic army base in western Nebraska and the US Cavalry took it from there. It would transform the hilly countryside of Crawford, Nebraska into the biggest horse producing zone in America. At one point, it held more horses in its pastures than some states have today.

Fort Robinson was the equivalent of The Bluegrass–for war horses, not racehorses.

For insight to Fort Robinson and the war horses who lived there, I turned to Nebraska journalist Algis Laukatis, who writes for the Journal Star in Lincoln, Nebraska. Algis has written a great article about Fort Robinson, and I’ll share a few lines from it here.

Joey and the Horses Trained at Fort Robinson in Western Nebraska Have Little in Common” is Algis’s conclusion.

In 1919, World War I was over, and Fort Robinson was close to being abandoned. The historic outpost no longer was used as a troop station, and its buildings were in disrepair.

Fort Robinson, the site of the 1879 Cheyenne Outbreak and the death of famed Sioux Chief Crazy Horse, had seen better days.

And then something saved it.

The War Department established a Quartermaster Corps remount depot at Fort Robinson. It was one of four such horse-training facilities in the country. The others were in Oklahoma, Montana and Virginia.

“The climate, terrain and pastures, all of those things desirable in a Remount Depot, were available at Fort Robinson, in a more generous way than (at) either of the two other depots,” Thomas R. Buecker wrote in his book, Fort Robinson and the American Century 1900-1948.

Even with the advent of tank warfare in World War I, the military still saw a need for cavalry units, which often led the battle charge.

In the Army’s view, good animals had become scarce, Buecker noted, because the horse market was slumping and ranchers had stopped breeding riding horses.

“With increasing mechanization, both the Army and the United States Department of Agriculture feared the American riding horse was in danger of disappearing,” Buecker wrote. “By implementing a breeding program, the Army hoped ranchers would turn anew to the production of better horses.”

Between 1920 and 1931, the Fort Robinson remount depot issued 9,758 horses and mules, Buecker wrote.

Most of the animals went to military posts in the central and western United States, but they also were shipped to the Philippines, the Canal Zone in Panama, Hawaii and Alaska.

By 1943, a herd of 12,000 horses roamed Fort Robinson

Eventually, Fort Robinson became the country’s largest remount station.

Brown and black horses with a minimum of white markings were preferred by the military. Grays, pintos and light-colored animals were rejected because they could be too easily seen by the enemy. The average price paid for a horse was $165.

Horses that made the grade were well taken care of during their stay at Fort Robinson.

“They have a life of pampered pets, properly fed, properly sheltered in the cleanest of clean stables,” Buecker wrote.

The officers and enlisted men didn’t have it bad either.

Because of its informal atmosphere and variety of outdoor activities, Fort Robinson became known as “The Country Club of the Army” during its years as a remount depot and beyond.

After a visit, a newspaper reporter wrote: “The longing to leave the recreational cabins, creeks bright with fat trout and outdoor games isn’t simply overpowering.”

Buecker noted that some of the officers who came from affluent families brought their own horses for the Fort Robinson polo team. They played against other military posts and civilian teams in Denver, Colorado Springs and Hot Springs, S.D.

The stables in which the horses were kept and the training area still are visible today. The fort is now a state park.

Algis’s story ends there but of course I had to start digging for more information. I found out that Fort Robinson suffered greatly when the Cavalry was dismounted during World War II. Cavalrymen turned in their beloved horses, which were warehoused at Fort Robinson until they could be sold at auction. The price seemed to drop with each successive auction.

But at one point, there were about 12,000 surplus government horses on the Fort.

During World War II, Fort Robinson shipped some horses east and some horses west. They were to be used by the Coast Guard.for the unique purpose of patrolling the nation’s beaches to watch for landing craft or submarines.

But it wasn’t the horseflesh that made Fort Robinson famous in World War II. It was the mules. In 1943, the fort purchased 10,000 mules; they ended up in Burma, China, and even Italy. They carried supplies and weapons and ammunition through jungles and over mountain ranges, and served the country–and Fort Robinson–outstandingly well. They became legends–but that’s another story. “War Mule” has such a nice ring to it!

Thanks to Algis and the Journal Star for their help. Photos via Nebraskahistory.org, where much more about Fort Robinson can be learned.


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 Farrier: Brendan Murray Speaks to Samantha Clark About How He Helped Joey Keep His Shoes On

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Napoleon once said that an army moves on its stomach. But the cavalry moves on its hooves, and it took an army of farriers–called “shoeing smiths” by the British military–to keep the horses moving in World War I.

But what about a film crew? And what about the production of Steven Spielberg’s film War Horse in England in 2010?

War Horse News gold logo (small)DreamWorks Pictures learned the importance of a farrier too, especially when Roger, a plow-horse lookalike for Joey, kept stepping on (and thereby pulling off) his shoes in the furrow.

“Cut!” “Get the farrier up here!” “Where’s the farrier?”

And not only did the farrier have to keep putting shoes back on in the midst of many shoots that were mired in mud: director Spielberg put location farrier Brendan Murray to work in the forge in the shoeing scene. They turned the camera on him and his apprentice for the crucial background action in the scene where Joey meets Topthorn while the two are waiting to be shod.

You’ll hear all about it in this interview with Great Britain’s international eventing team farrier Brendan Murray, a seasoned veteran of both shoeing and riding for film productions!

Brendan was interviewed by Lexington, Kentucky’s freelance equestrian media pro Samantha L. Clark of eventingnation.com and many other audio, video and web projects for the horse world. This is Samantha’s first “guest blog” under the banner War Horse News and it’s appropriate that it arrived as a media file, instead of a text document or an image file

Brendan Murray

British eventing team farrier Brendan Murray "kitted out" for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. (Photo links to Brendan's Zimbio page)

About Brendan Murray
Brendan has been associated as eventing team farrier with the British Equestrian Federation and Team GBR for many years. He has served at five Olympic Games, three World Equestrian Games, and many European championships. He was flag bearer for Great Britain and led his country into the arena in the opening ceremonies of the 2010 WEG in Kentucky, as chosen by the athletes.

Brendan is retired as a farrier in the British military’s esteemed King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery; among his duties was serving as brakeman for the gun carriage loaded with the casket of Princess Diana at her funeral in 1997. Among Brendan’s film on-screen credits are Gladiator, Robin Hood and 2012′s Snow White and the Huntsman.

You might enjoy a video interview by Samantha Clark with Brendan at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky.

Samantha Clark, 2010 Radio Show host

Samantha Clark

About Samantha Clark: Who is she? Then: eventer, NPR news anchor, and (most recently) co-host of the 2010 Radio Show about the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Now: armed with social media, camera, video and a smart phone, she knows no bounds.

Samantha says of herself: “I’m thrilled to have my blog on EventingNation.com as an excuse to pursue an incurable curiosity about anything to do with horses (especially eventing), satisfy my wanderlust and aid in my determination to cling to my English roots. I’m often accompanied by two small children–sometimes helpful, sometimes a hindrance–and almost always by a beautiful, black Labrador who is perfect company!”

Samantha’s blog is a must-read on the web and she is equally a must-follow on Twitter: @samanthalclark for great horse tweets from Kentucky and the eventing world.

More about Samantha Clark


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: A Book, A Play, A Movie…and A Painting: Hang Captain Nicholls’ Portrait of Joey on Your Wall

“In the old school they use now for the village hall, below the clock that has stood always at one minute past ten, hangs a small dusty painting of a horse. He stands, a splendid red bay with a remarkable white cross emblazoned on his forehead and with four perfectly matched white socks…”

So begins the unforgettable children’s book, War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. And what about that painting, can we go see it? Can we buy a print of it?

warhorsenews GOLD logo SMALLUntil late in 2011, the answer to both questions was a regretful “no”. But all that has changed now, thanks to horse portrait artist Ali Bannister and a twinkle in author Michael Morpurgo’s eye.

Ali, who served as Steven Spielberg’s equine artistic adviser during the filming of War Horse, is not only setting the author’s story straight with the beautiful and long overdue painting of Joey but also in offering prints for sale.

Visit Ali’s special site for the prints and other War Horse related art: warhorseart.com/.

Read more about the painting that Captain Nicholls (played by Tom Hiddleston in the film) would surely have painted from the sketches he’d done if his cavalry unit hadn’t been ordered to ship to France and charge a German supply camp.

The video in this post was as seen on the British Broadcasting Corporation’s “The One Show” in January 2012.

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!


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.

How Did Joey Jump Into the Trench? Behind the Scenes of War Horse with the American Humane Association Film Unit

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Well, how did he?

Hang on, War Horse News readers, you’re about to go behind the scenes for the play-by-play!

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War Horse News has some exciting behind-the-scenes information for you about War Horse. We have some scene descriptions from the American Humane Association’s monitors. These descriptions stem from the involvement and presence of Barbara Carr, the American Humane Association Certified Animal Safety Representative™, on the set. Barbara worked hand in hand with Spielberg scenebuilders and the animal handlers and trainers to see that the horses were never in danger of being harmed.

This rating is not a rubber stamp. The American Humane Association spent 1,100 hours over a four-month period overseeing the production.

Throughout the project, the production complied with AHA’s rigorous guidelines to ensure the safety of the animals, and War Horse ultimately earned American Humane Association’s highest certification rating, Monitored: Outstanding – “No Animals Were Harmed.”®

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Learn more about the No Animals Were Harmed rating–and hear Steven Spielberg comment on working with the AHA on the set of War Horse.

If you’re like me, you assumed that DreamWorks must have brought in one of William Fox-Pitt‘s three-day-event horses to jump the trenches in the No Man’s Land scene of the movie. DreamWorks has used this footage extensively in the trailers, so I don’t think I’m giving away any of the plot!

But no, that wasn’t the British Eventing team doing a warmup for this summer’s Olympics in London. It was stunt horses, doing their job, and film editors doing theirs.

But how did they get that shot where Joey is galloping madly over and through the trenches; at one point, he misses his jump and tumbles down into the trench. Or seems to. We all held our breath as he scrambled to his feet and used his front hooves to pull himself up and out over the side of the trench.

War Horse News Joey No Mans Land

A lone horse gallops through No Man's Land in the climactic scene of Steven Spielberg's War Horse. © DreamWorks Picture image, all rights reserved.

Here’s what the American Humane Association had to say about that scene:

No Animals Were Harmed American Humane Association “For the scene where the horse jumps into the trench, this involved separate shots of two different horses: one ran from point A to point B across the flat part of the ‘trench’ set, and right when that horse ran past the camera mark, the second horse was cued to run from the widest part of the bottom of the trench up a custom-built, wide ‘stairs-like’ ramp and over the other side of the trench; finally, one of the horses was cued to lay down in the trench bottom and then get right back up.

This was all edited together to look like one motion.”