In 2011, Steven Spielberg directed a film called War Horse, starring Jeremy Irvine, Emily Watson and David Thewlis. The film is based on a novel by the same name, written by British author Michael Morpurgo. The movie follows the fortunes of a horse named Joey and his special relationship with a boy named Albert, who grows up and finds him again at the end of World War I.
During World War I, both Joey and Albert serve in the British army. By this time, cavalry units were being phased out and replaced by tanks, trench warfare, barbed wire and machine guns. For this reason, horses in battle were at greater risk than in previous generations. Star Jeremy Irvine noted, “It’s the weapons of the old world — our men on horses — meeting the absolute destruction of these tools of mass slaughter. There was this line of machine guns and there’s this wall of lead coming out of these guns. There were real explosions at my feet, bodies flying through the air, stunt men getting shot at. It was terrifying.” The film manages to convey the great depth of feeling that horses have as well as the horrors of war for both human and equine.
War Horse Trailer
Humane Treatment of Horses during Filming
During filming, fourteen horses of different ages were used as the main horse character Joey. Representatives of the American Humane Association were on set at all times to ensure the health and safety of all animals involved, and the Society awarded the film an “outstanding” rating for the care that was taken of all the animals during the production. Despite scenes in which horses appear to be in distress, none of the equine actors suffered. At one point, an animatronic horse was used.
American Humane Association: War Horse – behind the scenes with Steven Spielberg
Horses Helped by the Film
The Brooke Trust,an organization supported by author Michael Morpurgo, has gained prominence and support since the release of the movie. The organization was founded in Egypt by Dorothy “Dodo” Brooke 80 years ago. She was appalled by the conditions of former war horses in the streets of Cairo after World War I. These horses had been sold by departing British, American and Australian troops. The horses were not being treated well, so Brooke collected money from the public to buy them and rehabilitate them. She set up a veterinary hospital for them and rescued 5,000 former war horses. Dorothy Brooke passed away in 1955 and family members have continued to be involved in the charity. In the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the foundation helped horses, donkeys and mules who were hurt in the violence. The organization has expanded beyond the Egyptian borders and helps equine animals working all over the developing world. In the last year, the Brooke Trust has helped 900,000 animals.