Association Works to Protect Equine Actors

The sole purpose of the American Humane Association (AHA) is the safe use of animals in films. Horses are among those animals, and there are AHA representatives on every set checking out the setup, vetting the horses, providing their input on th

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The sole purpose of the American Humane Association (AHA) is the safe use of animals in films. Horses are among those animals, and there are AHA representatives on every set checking out the setup, vetting the horses, providing their input on the animls’ work, and keeping a close eye on the horses’ condition. Some of the most recent movies that AHA has worked with include Dreamer, Seabiscuit, Hildalgo, Black Beauty and Flicka.

“We are on the major portion of horse films and we’ve been doing this for 70 years,” explained Karen Rosa, director of the Film & Television Unit. She has been involved with AHA for 14 years. “Besides our mission of protecting all animals on set, one of American Humane’s important roles is to be the credible, objective witness on animal action in film”

AHA representatives begin their work in the early stages of a film’s production, starting with looking over the script and getting a sense of the storyline. They like stories that portray human-animal bonding.

On the set, AHA representatives constantly have one eye on the horses and the other on the horses’ surroundings. “When horses are running we always check the path of the horse to make sure there are no rocks or holes and above we look for overhanging branches that could endanger the horse,” said Rosa.

The Welfare of the Horse is Paramount


Caring for horses on the set of the film Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story.

The AHA representatives observe more than just the movie set. They are also concerned with the “care of the animals, that they have proper housing, water, shade and that the number of takes is limited,” said Rosa. “It is all about the welfare of the horse and controlling the working environment.”

Rosa went on to explain that there are guidelines for every type of action, including rearing scenes, falls, and laying down. “We discuss in safety meetings what a plan is in heavy action and what the safety plan is,” she said. “We do not allow any kind of anesthesia or sedation. Horses must be trained.

“Every day, we check the condition of the horses, also after every take and at the end of the day,” she added. “If a horse seems stressed or fatigued, we recommend it be given a rest.”

Rosa’s associate, Jone Bouman, head of Communications for the AHA’s Film & Television Unit, added, “We act as the voice of the horse. When we know there is a difficult animal action we look for the safest possible solutions.”

The AHA representatives on the set are called the Animal Safety Representatives, and they constantly monitor the animals when they are working and while at rest. Rosa admits that accidents have happened, but those same accidents could have happened out in someone’s paddock or barn, or at an event.

“The animal reps are experienced people that bring years and years of horse expertise to the table,” said Rosa. “They’ve seen a lot of filming and they are problem solvers. They know the guidelines and the animals. They help the filmmakers do the film in the safest possible way.”

What most viewers don’t realize is that most of the action that might be considered dangerous is not really done by live horses. The AHA has “stunt” or “fake” horses that stand in for live animals when necessary.

The AHA helps the filmmaker achieve their goal for the viewer. “The perception is what the filmmaker is trying to achieve but the reality is safety for the horses,” said Rosa.

“Perception and reality are very important to us,” added Bouman, who noted that a lot can be done with costumes, props, and special effects. One example she used is in the film Flicka–which AHA representatives carefully monitored–where it appears that a mountain lion has jumped on Flicka’s back.

“The mountain lion and the horse never made contact,” noted Rosa. “That is a predator-prey situation that we would never allow.”

“A lot of it is all about prep,” said Rosa. “Get us the script early, plan ahead, break everything down, and the filmmaker can figure out how to piece it together. It is a wonderful tapestry of movie magic.”

In addition to its work on the movie set, AHA reaches out in various ways to the public to foster awareness of proper treatment of animals. “We have essay contests about human-animal bonds,” said Rosa. “We give grants to rescue organizations to help them in their effort to rehabilitate animals that are victims of abuse or neglect. The appreciation of the animal and its spirit is very important to American Humane.”

For more information about the American Humane Association visit the organization’s web site at

For more information on horse welfare and safety on the set see

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