Spielberg's War Horse and my fourteen year old self

Me with Aroma the stunt horse. Whose smile is bigger?

Me with Sam Dent and Aroma the stunt horse. Whose smile is bigger?

So last week the lovely Daily Telegraph contacted me to ask: would I be interested in going to meet the stunt horses from Spielberg’s new War Horse film?

I managed a whole nanosecond before gulping “YES” and doing a celebratory air-punching dance around the living room. It’s not just that I’ve been watching the Spielberg War Horse trailer pretty much on a loop since I found it (it makes me cry from about seven seconds in, every time). It’s that my fourteen year old self – the city girl who loved horses so much she once persuaded her mother to fill her bedroom with straw – would have viewed life very differently if she’d known the kinds of things she would get to do in a a few years’ time. And in the name of work, too.

The piece went into the newspaper today – and gives you some of the factual stuff about training horses for film work. I particularly enjoyed finding out how they dye horses with Japanese women’s hair dye and give them little toupee markings. But unlike most assignments, the day left me wearing a goofy smile like a teenager who has just met their teen idol. Walking around the stables of R and S Dent, with its tiny two day old foals and impossibly huge 18hh Shire horses was, frankly, magical.

Watching the stunt horses lie down on command, the Spanish horses, with their great cresty necks, and their impossibly balanced gaits; the bare-headed European trainers working the horses, their wind dried faces set into lines of concentration – it felt a little like being on a set in itself. I could have stayed there forever, stroking the noses of the horses in their stalls. I found myself growing secretly envious of eighteen year old Sam who took me round, as she told me of organising 150 horses for a beach charge for the Russell Crowe film Robin Hood, or showed me Rusty, the angelic horse who carried him. What a job! She said her friends often got exasperated at her lack of a social life – but what a life she gets in return; long hours in the filming bubble, as she calls it, the chance to work with some of the world’s greatest directors, a world where life is different every day. And those horses.

I think I’ve been very lucky. I do the job I dreamt of; my home and family exceed what I ever hoped for. But last Friday I envied Sam Dent her job. Well, my fourteen year old self certainly did.

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