Poldark’s Aidan Turner: ‘I learned to be sensitive and really listen to the horse’

  • BBC’s Poldark returned to our screens earlier this month and so H&H’s Julie Harding quizzed actor Aidan Turner about getting up to speed with his riding for the Sunday night drama

    What was your first experience of riding?

    I was about 10 and on a school trip to Naas in Ireland; a really horsey place. We were only there a day or two, and it was in New Zealand in 2011, while working on The Hobbit, that I started riding a lot more.

    What did riding on The Hobbit consist of?

    I did a lot of bareback riding, and cantered for the first time, too. It was tricky because the horses were wearing hairy suits and would drop and roll, so you had to learn to jump out of the way and develop quick reflexes.

    What did Mark Atkinson teach you prior to filming on Poldark?

    Two weeks before shooting began, I spent a week at Mark’s base, riding all day and every day, initially in a school so I could get comfortable trotting and cantering in “period style”. As shooting was imminent, I had to get good quickly. It was intense, but Mark is a really encouraging teacher. He’s also calm and doesn’t freak you out if something happens. In the early days, the smallest thing can rattle you.

    What stuck in your mind from those 
early lessons?

    I teamed up with Seamus early on and something that mattered was to be light on the reins. When we get nervous we have a tendency to pull and clamp down and not be aware of our hands, so I learned to be sensitive and really listen to the horse.

    How did you choose Seamus?

    I tried Jonny Wilkinson first. Although I liked him, Seamus is the experienced movie star who has done a lot of gigs which involve jumping through fire and pretending to get shot. The fact that he’s used to explosions made him a safe horse to have on set. We also had a rapport and he was the right size — the director didn’t want Ross to look too small on a bigger horse. Plus, I have to vault on and that’s easier on Seamus.

    What are your most memorable riding 
scenes on Poldark?

    For series four, we filmed Ross and Demelza racing off to Tregothnan because Hugh Armitage had been taken ill. That was a lot of fun. Eleanor is riding side-saddle and if you look closely, you can see me trying to race her, but I can’t quite overtake and she takes charge. Eleanor can really fly on a horse. Sometimes we have to ride on the cliff tops, which can be terrifying, but early on Mark said to me: “Seamus doesn’t want to die, either.” It’s true — he doesn’t want to get too close to the edge, so all you hope is that you don’t have a fluky slip or an accident, but the chances of that are minute.

    You might also be interested in:

    Read the full feature about the horses that feature in Poldark in this week’s issue of Horse & Hound magazine (14 June 2018)

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