Ever wonder how a horse is chosen for a film role and what preparations need to happen before a horse sets foot in front of the camera? I was able to interview the Les Amis Stunt Team from Scotland to help answer these questions and get some wonderful insight on what goes on behind-the-scenes to prepare horse actors to work in a film production.
Can you tell me about who the Les Amis Stunt Team is, where you are based out of, and what you do with horses?
We are a stunt team based in the borders of Scotland. We specialise in live performance shows such as cossack style trick riding or jousting & themed stunt shows such as wild west or barbarian shows, which we take all over the UK & Ireland. We also perform a lot of equestrian theatre shows, bringing theatre and horses together.
Within our shows we perform many stunts such as rider falls, drags & many trick riding moves, our horses also perform many tricks such as bowing, standing on pedestals & rearing up. Being able to perform trick riding, stunts & horse tricks you have a perfect advantage before going onto a film set.
We have been asked to & have done bits & pieces of small film & T.V jobs with our own horses, but on larger productions we work for larger teams & supply riders & grooms only.
When film makers contact you requesting horses, do they usually know exactly what kind of horses they want for their film or do they ask you for suggestions based off what their film is about?
It can really depend on what the film needs as to if they will ask for a specific horse or type of horse. For example we have recently been involved in a production about a viking princess, so they were obviously looking for a Norwegian Fjord horse as another breed would not have really worked. Which was perfect for us as we have Onion our Norwegian Fjord horse, who has been with us for nearly 10 years.
Generally for smaller productions or back ground work they just need the horse & rider combination who can do the job properly. Although most productions will prefer Friesian & Andalusian horses.
When organising with the production you have to discuss what is required of the horses & riders, make sure you have a place to livery the horses close enough to set & organise enough ground crew to look after & prepare the horses for their days work.
As we are based in Scotland we like to keep things local, so if it is possible we will transport our horses back to our farm or in the past have had the production company come to our 75 acre hill farm or local area to use as the set.
Do you research and make/order historically accurate horse tack for the different time periods the films take place in or do you usually use modern equipment?
A combination of both really, accuracy is a very important part in many film jobs but safety during stunts is paramount. Generally we (Les Amis) make all of our own saddle, bridles, trappings & breastplates. We make our trick riding saddles, historical saddles (such as roman & border riever) & historical side saddles, this way the fit to the horse is best & we can make the saddle exactly how we want/need it.
Other equipment such as harness and general purpose saddle we will purchase. With the exception of roman chariot harness, I am not sure where you would start to look to buy those, but luckily our saddlers whipped them up as easily as anything!
For our live shows we research what era tack we are in need of, so we have a bit of a stock pile when a film jobs comes up.
I am curious about what goes on during a typical day on set with a horse. Do the horses get lunged before filming to get their jitters out and help them to be more calm for the actors riding them? What else needs to be done to prepare the horses for a day on set?
Generally the day will start by feeding the horses & transporting them to location, once there usually the grooming or washing will start. Tack & equipment are often cleaned before heading to location, but if not then it will also need to be cleaned before it goes to set! (even though it is often covered in dirt by the break down department immediately!)
Yes, the horses will be either exercised before an actor rides them or warmed up before going onto set, if they will be expected to work quite hard. More often than not horses are just in the background, so they are just needed to stand & chill out while the actors do their bit.
Do you ever need to help horses get accustomed to props, actors' costumes (such as big frilly hats), or set pieces? Ever have problems of horses shying away or becoming nervous of what they see on set, such as large filming equipment?
With our own horses they all undergo a lot of training & desensitisation to strange & scary objects & with an understanding of training they are all very good at quickly calming down if something has frightened them. It is very good for us to be able to take our horses out to live performances as performing in a main arena with thousands of spectators is a good start to working around the hustle & bustle found on a set. With a combination of young and older/experienced horses the young/inexperienced ones take great confidence from the others.
Personally our horses all live out as one big herd which gives them the ability to trust in their own instincts as well as following their lead horses into worrying situations.
I have seen interviews where actors confess they did not know how to ride a horse before shooting their film, but told their casting director they did to help them get the part. Do you find most of the actors you work with have some horse riding experience or all they all true beginners?
The actors that we have worked with with our own horses have all had a fairly basic knowledge of riding, so a lesson or two is needed before going in front of the camera.
We are more than happy to take the time to help an actor with their riding as it will be of great benefit to the film & also a benefit to the horse he/she will ride.
Which of your horses gets the most requests for film work?
The main horse that has particularly been requested is Onion our Norwegian Fjord horse & this is of course because of his breeding.
I see most of your horses are Friesians and Andalusians, which are two very common breeds used in movies and shows now a days. Why do you think they are so popular in movies and shows today?
Friesians & Andalusians are very ancient breeds, so for historical shows or movies they are a very accurate breed. They are also particularly fancy & amazing to look at, which gives them the wow factor when performing in front of a live audience or a camera. But they are also lovely to train & work with & will really put their all into learning a new trick or movement!
Follow Les Amis Stunt Team on social media.
Special thanks to Les Amis Stunt Team for the wonderful interview! I look forward to seeing you and your horses on the big and small screens!
I am Amy. I love movies, TV, and horses. I grew up with horses and taught kids how to ride during my summer breaks from school. Now I am a country girl living in a city hoping to someday move back into a rural area and own a horse again.