The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: Training on a Grand Scale By Stephanie Stephens
Much to the delight of devoted and seemingly insatiable fans, The Lord of the Rings
trilogy is now two-thirds complete-on screen, anyway-with the latest release of The Two Towers
. The movie is the middle chapter of director Peter Jackson's comprehensive adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy epic of hobbits, humans, wizards, dwarfs and elves battling evil forces in mythical Middle-Earth. The final installment, The Return of the King
, hits theaters late next year. The Two Towers
picks up where the first film, The Fellowship of the Ring
, left off, with the fellowship, chosen to destroy a ring of ultimate evil, going forth on separate adventures. The cast includes Elijah Wood, Sir Ian McKellen, Viggo Mortensen and Liv Tyler. The film grossed $26 million on its opening day alone, December 18.
Shooting the films in New Zealand took 18 months, with editing of all footage completed in three distinct segments. Horses play a major role in all three films. Most notable is probably the white horse identified as Shadowfax, the grand steed of wizard Gandalf, a magical creature who is partner to Gandalf, rather than a servant. Other stars include Aragorn's (Mortensen) horses Brego and Hasufel, the Hobbit's faithful pony Bill, elf princess Arwen's (Tyler) horse, the multitudes of war steeds of the Riders of Rohan, plus numerous very dark equines that are ridden by the evil Ringwraiths. Approximately 70 horses were trained at a North Island stable in Te Horo, where Texas native Dan Reynolds was in charge. His father was an animal trainer; Reynolds started riding when he was two, and performed in rodeos doing trick roping and riding. In the 1940's as a youngster, he did films with the likes of Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and Robert Mitchum. He's trained horses for movies including Dances With Wolves, Out of Africa, Ghost and the Darkness and Tall Tales
. The Two Towers
' stupendous battle representations required more than 200 horses, later transformed by computer via digital remastering, into thousands. Reynolds says most tricks (for him, anyway!) were "pretty simple," such as prodding a horse to enter a cave and then gallop away. One of the unique things about the battle and chase scenes in these movies was that unlike many films which film horses at a slow speed and then speed up the film to create the proper "gallop", these intricately choreographed rides were done at top speed and filmed in real time. Scenes were blocked and choreographed carefully, and practiced over and over, starting at the walk, moving to the trot and canter, until the movements were second nature and could easily be performed at full speed.
Optical illusions of the equine kind include using small or big ponies and horses to dwarf or exaggerate hobbits and wizards: think of it as a human to animal size ratio. Clydesdales, at 17 hands, depict battle steeds as well as Gandalf's cart horse: the latter animal also has a double, a little Welsh pony, who pulls an identical cart for scale shots. Frodo mounts up on a regular-sized horse, not a pony, to make him appear even smaller on screen. In addition, there was one horse who wasn't a horse. The Fellowship's steadfast pony Bill was, in one scene, played by two actors in a pony costume, as the cliff top film site was deemed too unsafe for "Rastus" the chestnut Quarter horse/Shetland pony mix who played Bill. The "panto-pony" as he was called, was brought too life by two experienced performers whose creation was nearly seamless.
When asked by a local New Zealand reporter about his training techniques, Reynolds was quick to respond that any methods using force or harm were verboten by him.
Several horse-savvy New Zealanders spent a year-and-a-half working on the film, some riding as doubles for the major stars. Te Horo three-day-event rider and trainer Jane Abbott was one, chosen to ride Florian, whose film name was Asfaloth; he was one of Tyler's on-screen mounts. The actress told reporters that although she likes looking at horses, she and they aren't a great match in a riding scenario.
Florian, a Spanish-bred stallion, was given to a thrilled Abbott at the movie's completion by an "anonymous" friend who apparently purchased him at a special auction. In addition to riding him, Abbott now stands the stallion for breeding; his good movement and temperament are key selling points, say local horse experts.
Though Tyler may not have felt completely comfortable on horseback, co-stars Viggo Mortensen (Aragorn) and Orlando Bloom (Legolas) certainly did. In fact, on days off, they could often be found riding their four-legged co-stars around the New Zealand countryside. Aragorn's bay horse, known in character as Brego, was the faithful mount who finds him and brings him back to his companions after a battle with the evil orcs. Brego was played by a former FEI dressage horse, a warmblood stallion called Uraeus, and at the end of filming, Mortensen purchased his main film mount to keep as a friend and to continue to pursue his new passion for riding.
Another Spanish horse, the 16 year old Andalusian stallion Domero was the primary horse to play the famous Shadowfax, though for the galloping scenes he was replaced by a more Thoroughbred-y sort called Blanco. Domero was trained to work "at liberty" responding to off camera cues from Reynolds in order to produce his performance as an otherworldly steed of great character and intelligence.
McKellen, who plays Gandalf had ridden in films prior to the Rings trilogy, but he did not feel completely comfortable riding "Shadowfax" who in the books and films "spurns saddle and bridle" at any great speed sans tack. For those scenes, such as the triumphant charge in to Helms Deep, McKellen claimed to be "happy" to be replaced by riding double Basil Clapham.
Abbott told New Zealand media that most of the "regular" horses had to be made from the ground up into equine actors, since they were horses considered "rejects" by many, and horses were obtained without a big expenditure. These equines had to be desensitized, going about their business in the midst of scary smoke machines, boisterous crowds, huge machinery, clanking swords and a plethora of distractions that would frighten any otherwise sensible horse. Horses seemed to be calmer if they were introduced to new experiences in groups, rather than solo, Abbott reported.
New Zealand press were abuzz during production because of reports that some horses experienced cruelty at the hands of filmmakers. True, three horses did die of natural causes during filming (one of colic), but visitors to the set reported that the horses appeared very well taken care of. Horsecity.com | Keeping the Horse World Connected All sorts of horses were used for the LOTR movies, but yes Shadowfax is an Andalusian.