May 24, 2000
Cruelty Whispers Hurt
Moments after rearing on a crack-of-the-whip command for The
Lord of the Rings animal trainer Dan Reynolds at a Te Horo stables yesterday, Gandalf's
horse Shadowfax nuzzled his boss affectionately.
In an unprecedented move, after rumours of cruelty, Peter
Jackson's normally closed film production crew opened up its horse training to The
Dominion for inspection.
The training team has been accused of a variety of cruelties
-- from peroxiding a horse to change its colour and then putting it down when it was hurt
to using block tackles to knock horses to their knees.
The accusations have been anonymous, but they have hurt even
though inspections by the International League for the Protection of Horses and the
Agriculture Ministry have found no cause for alarm.
Every report is posted on the Internet and is judged by the
One horse was alleged to have broken its back in a trick,
another to have had to be put down after falling from a wharf, and another shot for a hide
to cover a riding "contraption" for star actress Liv Tyler.
Wrangler Dave Johnson said the rumours, some apparently blown
up from real but innocuous incidents, were bewildering and had upset trainers and other
The "germs of truth" behind the rumours were easily
traced, he and horse coordinator Stephen Old said.
Because of a dearth of white horses, the training team had
briefly flirted with the idea of changing a horse's colour. The human hair dye -- not
peroxide -- dabbed harmlessly and ineffectively on a horse had been bought from a beauty
A horse -- one of the ringwraiths -- had slipped on a small
jetty. It was, however, now back in action.
"It was given a few days off. We gave it some
antibiotics just in case the water was dirty. It's fine," Mr Reynolds said.
Tyler's "contraption", a barrel with springs for
close-up motion shots, had been covered with a bought hide.
Mr Reynolds said there had been two deaths, both from natural
causes: one from colic and a twisted bowel, one after a heart attack.
Irishman Ray Lenaghan, The Lord of the Rings vet, said all
the horses were well treated and in good condition. "For 70-odd horses there haven't
been a lot of injuries.
"We've had a couple of sprained tendons, puffy joints .
. . it's nothing like as strenuous as for racehorses.
"If horses could talk, they'd be pretty happy about what
they've got here."