In any movie involving animals there’s someone behind the scenes working to manage them. In the upcoming DreamWorks Pictures film War Horse, that would be Bobby Lovgren, the horse trainer. Lovgren was born in South Africa into an equestrian family surrounded by horses. His love and proximity of horses helped him develop the confidence and skills to become an accomplished rider and trainer.
Before moving to Los Angeles, Lovgren was the stable manager at Brentwood Park Stables, the largest jumping and eventing stable in South Africa. In LA, he was taught to handle and train horses for films by established horse trainers like Corky Randall and his father Glenn Randall Sr. Among Lovgren’s many credits as a horse trainer are “The Mask of Zorro,” “Seabiscuit,” “The Legend of Zorro,” “Racing Stripes” (as zebra trainer too), “The Voyage of the Unicorn,” “Running Free,” “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” and “Unstoppable.”
Most recently, Lovgren was the horse trainer on Walt Disney Pictures “John Carter,” releasing in March 2012, and director Tarsem Singh’s “Mirror Mirror”, also scheduled to be released in 2012.
Q:What was your job on “War Horse”?
A: My official titles were the Horse Master and the Head Trainer. Over in England they call them horse masters. Here in the U.S, you’re either an animal coordinator or head wrangler. They’re all basically one in the same thing, but then we had several horse trainers from different countries on this, and I was the Head Trainer as well.
Q: Did all the horses come from Europe?
A: No. We did bring one horse from the U.S., my horse, Finder. We flew him over. Then a lot of the other horses came from throughout Europe, from England and Spain. Some of the horses that played Topthorn, which is our hero Joey’s friend, came from Hungary. So, they came from quite a dispersed area.
Q:Did only Finder play Joey, the hero horse?
A: Oh, no. “War Horse” is a story of this horse’s life from a baby foal all the way through his adult life. So, we have a foal, a yearling, a teenager, basically an adolescent, and then the adult. So, there were so many different horses playing Joey. Quite honestly there is, in my mind, no one “hero horse.” They were all heroes, because they had such unique parts to play in all of the different sequences. And all of it was very difficult.
Q: How many horses did you have to personally train on “War Horse”?
A: I did a few. I actually came onto the film a little later, so a lot of the horses already had a start and basics on. One thing, luckily for me, was that two of the trainers on the film had been my assistants on other movies, so, a lot of the basics and their methods of training the horses was the way I would do it. What I was able to do was go there and just fine-tune it. Because what you don’t want to do is change. Changing a trainer or people on a horse is difficult for them, because each person does something in a different way, and it’s basically changing your dance partner who you’ve been dancing with. Even though the other person might be able to dance, they don’t have the same rhythm, and that’s the way it is working with the specialty horse.
Q: What were some of the challenges you faced on the set of “War Horse”?
A: We had so much going on, and you just had the feeling working on “War Horse” that this is something great. It had a totally different feel. But I would say the biggest challenge to me was the work that we did with the foals, because they are like working with a little child. It’s actually very challenging. We had to do a lot with the foal and the mare working at liberty together. So, it’s working multiples of horses together that make things challenging, but luckily I had Finder do some of the scenes and to play the mare, the mother for the foal. You cannot use the real mother in the film with the foal, because if you want the foal to leave the mother, he will never leave his real mom.
Q:Did scenes that took place during the war present any particular problems with the horses?
A: We did a lot of preparation with special effects—doing the smoke tests, getting the horses used to the noises, knowing where our perimeters were. There was a lot of noise, so if noise would affect the horses we would add it in later. There were a lot of bombs going off and a lot of dust in the air. We learned as we went along which horses didn’t care about it and which ones did.
Q:Did you work closely with American Humane Association on “War Horse” to keep the horses safe?
A:Yes, American Humane Association was there every single day. We also had a veterinarian on set every single day with us, but we never had a problem.
Q:Are horse trainers on set like you becoming a rare breed?
A:Practically nonexistent. People don’t understand animals anymore. They don’t work with horses as much as they did in the past when a lot of westerns were made. They don’t know how to work with a director either.
Q:What have you learned from your horse work in films?
A: I found out that training horses is the least thing that you need to know as a horse person working in the film business. You can be the best horse trainer in the world, but if you’re not good at communicating or you don’t understand how the film business works, you will never be able to achieve the shot.I have learned to think less like a horse trainer and more like a filmmaker, understanding how film works and I have also changed in that I have become much more creative. It is so nice when the director asks me what I think or asks, “What can we do here?” That’s what Steven [Spielberg] was so very, very good about.
DreamWorks Pictures’ “War Horse,” director Steven Spielberg’s epic adventure, is a tale of loyalty, hope and tenacity set in the beautiful countryside of rural England and Europe during the First World War. “War Horse” begins with bond between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert, who tames and trains him. When they are forcefully parted, the film follows the extraordinary journey of the horse as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets—British cavalry, German soldiers, and a French farmer and his granddaughter—before the story reaches its emotional climax in the heart of No Man’s Land. “War Horse” will be released in theaters on December 25, 2011. “Like” WAR HORSE on Facebook.