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Ten Minutes With: War Horse’s Bobby Lovgren

How do you prepare hundreds of horses for the epic period film “War Horse?”  You call upon Bobby Lovgren, a man with over thirty years devoted to raising, training, racing and caring for horses of all breads and temperaments.  Regardless of the genre, Lovgren has the skills needed to ensure the safety of the cast and crew while guiding the horses through the challenges of their roles.  411 Publishing recently spoke with Lovgren about his work on Steven Spielberg’s WWI drama “War Horse.”


411:  When you are called to work on a movie like this, what do you do first?  Do you read the script or speak with the director?

Bobby Lovgren:  Reading the script is absolutely the very first thing.  Then, as soon as you can, you speak with the director, and also very importantly the first assistant director.  The first assistant director has a lot of the director’s vision put into working terms.  By that you gauge how many horses you need, and realistically you can say right off the bat, yes this is possible, or no this is not possible.


411:  I know with a move the magnitude of “War Horse” there were a lot of different trainers.  Is your next step scoping out how many trainers will be needed?

BL:  Like anything, Marjorie, it is always such a huge team effort, and on “War Horse” we had a lot of different trainers from a lot of different countries.  Coordinating it, making sure that all of the work is there, and that everyone is really on the same page, is really important.  That is what made it work very well.


411:  Your title for the movie is horse master.  What is the difference between a horse trainer and a horse master?

BL:  In Europe, England, and even some of the other countries, you have a horse master.  The horse master here in the US would be an animal coordinator, or head wrangler.  Basically the horse master is the person who coordinators all of the work.  I would be responsible for the animal’s welfare, making sure we have all of the correct animals, and that all of the trainers are doing their work.  Realistically the whole horse department would fall under that responsibility.  I was also the head trainer on “War Horse” as well.  I would have individual trainers training different behaviors on the horses, from giving riders lessons, working with the horses doing cavalry charges, the plowing sequences, a whole lot of different things.


411:  I noticed some of the trainers were people you worked with on other projects.  For the many positions that you had to fill, what were the qualifications that you were looking for when you were hiring people?

BL:  First and foremost, I go and look at what a person’s background is.  I really check people’s credits and then see how they deal with their animals, and just see what kind of horseman, or what their animal skills, are like.  The most important thing to me, honestly, is that people can get along.  You try not to have any conflicting personalities, because working on a movie for long hours can be stressful.  When things are going right is very easy, but you want to make sure that people can get along when it’s under difficult circumstances.  A lot of stuff on this film is more about communication than it is anything else, so that it is obviously very important.


411:  I imagine a lot of different types of horses were used in the war in different parts of the country.  What did you do to ensure that historical accuracy?

BL:  Well, quite honestly, that was all done a lot before I was there.  I came in just a little later than some of the other people.  We used warm bloods and Andalusians.  They are both very old breeds.  They are from Europe; the Andalusians are from Spain, and they would be used in that capacity for many, many years, so in that sense they were really the only choice.


411:  What goes into the training and getting the animals prepared for all of the aspects of war that will be used, along with the camera and the smoke and the confusion?

BL:  You know, the first thing that we will always do is a bit of a contradiction.  We always try to pick our older and more experienced horses.  They are used to crowds, they are used to loud noises, what ever it might be.  Cast and crew come out while we were doing our prep before the film.  (At this time) we learn where each horses comfort zone is; we always do that so we can know where to maintain a safety with the animals on set.  If we are forced to use a horse that is a little nervous around the bombs, we’ll be sure to use that horse a long way away, or that he has company with another horse that he is comfortable with to give him that confidence.  The contradictory part of picking horses: we had a lot of the little young horses for roles that we had to have (younger horses for), so we have to go in and have to do a lot of training and exposing them to a lot of different aspects of the film.  That falls on my experience as a horse person and knowing the film and how to teach them that stuff.


411:  About how much time do you spend on training the horses?

BL:  Typically on any one film it’s around three months.  When you think about all of the work that goes in, and what is involved, your three months goes away very quickly.  It can be really well accomplished when you have a good time.  Not only from my department, it takes the whole film and everyone working well together, and we did have an awesome crew and cast.  The cast had to come out and they had riding lessons and other training, and they were very diligent.  The production was very good about letting the actors come out and ride with us, and I think it really shows in the film at how accomplished they were.


411:  I know when you are fearful around a horse, the horse tends to pick up on that emotion.  What was some of the key advice given to the actors so they could feel comfortable?

BL:  There were some that where uncomfortable like that, but coming and spending time with us, and also, when we do stuff like that, the horses really focus in on the trainer, so that allows the actor to focus in on his job and he can make sure it gets portrayed right.  The trainer makes sure both the actor and the horse are comfortable at the same time.  It just goes into our preparation and spending time with them.


411:  What kind of cues do you give the key horse so that there was that strong sense of bonding with the lead actor?  In know that sometimes there are multiple horses used as well.

BL:  I don’t think there was one main horse because they all played such a large part in it.  There was so much work between teaching our main actor, Jeremy Irvine, and working with our horses, because he had to work with different sizes of the horses to represent different ages.  He was very good about coming and working with us, and we treated him as one of our department, quite honestly, and not as an actor.  He understood what our cues were, he understood his limitations, and we understood his, from the horse point of view.  We really worked at getting that emotional bond, because Steven (Spielberg, the director) really wanted to portray the personality of the horses in the scenes.  So, there was just a lot of work that went into it, time consuming stuff and again, you know, I think it really paid off.

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