Two horses have died so far in the during principal photography of the remake of "Flicka."
Think that's just a terrible coincidence? Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case.
The day of the second death, Monday April 25th, my friend Arjuna Aattore, an actor, was working on "Flicka". He and a couple of his friends witnessed what he called, "a spectacle reminiscent of the Roman Coliseum." While that may be a bit of an exaggeration, the kind of brutality he witnessed is shocking and painful for anyone who respects animals.
When he arrived on the set of "Flicka" he was introduced to a group of young men who called themselves "professional stuntmen/rodeo wranglers." They told the cast and crew that they were working with wild horses. The scene they were working on involved lassoing a couple of horses inside a nearby arena. The arena set was located at the Hansen Equestrian Center in Lake View Terrace, CA.
What happened next is sickening. Aattore said that the wranglers were having problems with the horses. The wranglers started punching and hitting the horses in the face, but soon tended to single out one problem horse. He said he watched the wranglers choking the horses with lassos, and dragging them to the ground by hanging from the horses necks while in a headlock type of position.
Even more troubling is that many people in the crowd at the arena were cheering the wranglers on. Although they were being led by an Assistant Director, the thought of cheering at this kind of abuse is eerie. Ever see that classic short film "The Lottery"? This story has a few parallels.
Aattore said the horses were very spooked and scared of the wranglers. When the horses managed to break away from the wranglers, they would alternate between running into a huddle and trying to find a way to escape the arena altogether.
Aattore mentioned that he witnessed one last thing before he left. The wranglers had put several horses back into their stalls. As he walked out he saw them punching the horses again, this time in the mouth.
Aattore confronted a Production Assistant about the abuse and the P.A. said there was a American Humane Association representative on set and that they were following the rules. Aattore asked to see the representative but his friends pulled him away. He later revealed that his friends were sick to their stomachs and that they had to leave the set immediately. Since they were riding together, the group left and forfeited their day's pay.
Arjuna noted that he felt the scene was "under the radar" so to speak. That although the AHA was present that things weren't quite kosher. There was a limited cast and crew present. Another odd note was that the extras had a 5:30 a.m. call time that day. Sunrise wasn't until around 6:05 a.m.
Later that day, his agent informed him that the horse had tripped and broken his neck while running, spooked by the wranglers chasing him on horseback. The film was shut down for the rest of the day.
Roland Vincent, an attorney who worked on the film as an extra to in order to monitor the film that day, mentioned in reports that the horse tripped on it's lead rope. If they were shooting at the time, why did the horse have a loose lead rope hanging? Likewise, if they were rehearsing, it would be irresponsible to let the horse's lead rope hang loose.
It seems to be true that the AHA (American Humane Association) was on set. The AHA's history of protecting animals on sets may be honorable, but lately they seem to be the movie industry equivalent of a neighborhood watch. They didn't even report the death to the city's Animal Services department.
The issue here is abuse, but the question is why did the wranglers feel they needed to punch and strangle these horses to get them to behave? It's very unlikely that the horses used that day were wild. This would require so much work of a wrangler, they'd have to be really "green" to even consider bringing a wild horse on a movie set.
The wranglers alleged abuse of the horses coupled with the horse's response indicates that these horses were either a) untrained/poorly trained b) constantly abused c) rodeo horses.
None of the above possibilities should be considered an excuse for the wrangler's actions. My grandfather raises Trakehner stallions and my Uncle is a professional stunt coordinator. I've learned a lot about horses over the years. Film and TV horses are generally very well trained, agile animals that respond to a variety of queues given by their stuntmen riders. If a horse is untrained, it shouldn't be used on a film. If a horse is trained, but in a different discipline, say rodeo, for example, it shouldn't be used in a film where it will be required to do complicated stunt work.
These are simple rules. But the nature of the film industry is that there are always newbies at the bottom looking for a job and telling people that they are more capable than they actually are. This is most dangerous when it comes to professional stunt work involving animals.
It is not unusual for a wrangler, trainer, or rider, for that matter to slap a horse (in the hind area) to get a horse to pick up his gait. And stunt coordinators engage in all kinds of tricks to train their horses. Train is the key word here. Trained horses are usually ready to work and they know how to fall without hurting themselves. Untrained, young, tired or sick horses shouldn't be put to work. That's just common sense.
On the same hand, untrained, young, tired or sick wranglers/stuntmen shouldn't be put to work. That's just common sense.
Fox has made few comments on the deaths and there is no evidence to show that the wranglers have been fired. Thankfully several other animal advocacy organizations have mounted investigations into the deaths.