The problem is that horses in movies
have to be in perfect health.
The head horse trainer Bobby Lovgren, who trained horses for the Steven Spielberg film The War Horse, explains that despite advances in digital technology, movies still have to use on-set trickery:
While Lovgren said that many of the injured and dead horses seen in War Horse were generated by "movie magic," that doesn’t mean he didn’t face his share of challenges in recreating horses in the early 1900s. In fact, one of the major difficulties Lovgren and the rest of the team faced in accurately portraying their movie horses as World War I era animals was appropriate body condition.
Back in the first World War, the horses were not all big, fat show horses (as most horses are today)," he relayed. "(And) you can’t use an old horse or an old skinny horse (in the movies). They all have to be in perfect health … they all have health certificates."
Additionally, he noted, "We filmed in the summer when they weren’t very long haired, so it was a little more difficult to show the older look."
Lovgren turned to a team of equine makeup artists–"A huge department just doing equine makeup," he said – that took fit, healthy horses and turned them into rough-looking steeds in need of some TLC: "That took a lot of makeup," Lovgren said.
"Brushing their hair backwards and putting a little shaving cream in it so the hair sticks up … can show a lot of those things," he shared.
Further, he explained that outlining the horses’ ribs with darker makeup gives the impression the bones protrude from the animals’ sides, giving the look of a skinny horse.
"Also, just teaching a horse to walk with his head far down shows that (he could be) tired or sick or not feeling well," Lovgren said, discussing one of the tasks he taught some of the movie horses before filming began. "A horse doesn’t walk with his head down naturally unless there’s something wrong. So we’ll teach him to do that–where he holds his head down and walks slowly.
"That portrays that emotion of, ‘Oh my goodness, there’s something wrong with him,’ when in fact there’s nothing (wrong) … he’s just been taught a trick."
– Movie Magic, Makeup, and Horse Tricks Shape War Horse, The Horse (Your Guide to Equine Health Care)>>
– The War Horse, IMDB>>