Viewers of ITV’s Vanity Fair are being reassured that the welfare of the horses on set is of the highest concern after an outcry about a scene showing a horse being shot.
The period drama series showed a horse lying on the ground and being dispatched with a gun at the beginning of Sunday’s (23 September) episode.
Daniel Naprous of The Devil’s Horsemen, which supplies the horses for numerous top TV and movie productions including Vanity Fair, told H&H: “We do this for a living so our biggest interest is the welfare of the horses.
“Before filming starts we sit down in meetings and the production team explains what they want to achieve and we explain how we will do it by using a horse that’s comfortable in the situation. We go through a process of making sure the horse is as comfortable as possible and make sure he isn’t stressed in any way.”
While filming this shocking scene, the horse was asked to lie down on a “soft bed” made from six inches of peat.
“The first thing the horses do is get used to a film set around them so nothing is particularly uncharacteristic to them and they are relaxed in their environment. The horse in the scene has done this routine many times in his career, basically he is just lying down. There’s smoke from the gun and then he lies back down again. The man shooting the gun is one of his trainers and the man who is next to him when he ‘dies’ [on screen] is also a trainer.
“When we lay the horse down, the stirrups are made out of leather so they’re soft on the side he is laying on. We use special falling saddles which have low cantles at the front and back and no points that stick out. All the props attached are made out of rubber or leather.”
Daniel added that viewers can be reassured that sound effects are added later in post-production.
“People should understand the noise of the horse is put on afterwards; the horses don’t make any nose when they lie down, they’re happy. The smoke is there, but the bang [from the gun] doesn’t exist.”
When the horses of The Devil’s Horsemen aren’t filming, they’re based at home at Wychwood Stud in Buckinghamshire.
“We usually get our horses at four years old when we start training them gently and we’ll keep them until they retire – we have 100 horses at home. Once they finish working and between filming they spend their time in 150 acres where they can roam and be free. They’ll come in for any filming work that we need, and then go back outside and be happy horses again,” said Daniel.
“We need to emphasise, this was a horrific scene to watch but not horrific for the horse taking part.
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“People need to appreciate that life was like that back in the day and you have to congratulate the production team that they have managed to show how terrible it was, and secondly viewers need to understand that the horse was never under any stress.
“It may look horrific because it’s a strong image, but behind the scenes the horse is comfortable and everyone is doing their job – it’s movie magic.”
H&H has approached ITV for comment and is awaiting a response.
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