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Former Hobbit horse wrangler claims “incompetence” caused several animal deaths during production

August 7, 2012 at 11:24 pm by Demosthenes  - 

Two New Zealand newspapers report that a former wrangler who worked on The Hobbit alleges that “incompetence” caused the deaths of several animals used in the production.

Both papers report that the ex-wrangler mounted a protest outside a farm in Porirua, where the animals were kept. He is calling for an investigation into the deaths of the animals.

He alleges incompetence in the deaths of three horses used in the production, as well as six sheep, three goats and 10 chickens. The claims are rejected by the farm’s management.

UPDATE: The American Humane Association has given a statement to saying that its guidelines for the safe use of animals were followed throughout the Hobbit production.

Mr Smythe said he was sacked from the production in October 2011 after voicing concerns about animal welfare.

According to Kapi-Mana News, Hobbit production company 3Foot7 did not deny that the horses had died while The Hobbit was filming.

Through both Kapi-Mana News and Citylife Porirua News, Hobbit production company 3Foot7 released the following statement:

Throughout production we have worked closely with, and been monitored by, the American Humane Association and have taken great care to follow their guidelines.

We also work with a local veterinary surgeon to ensure the ongoing health and welfare of all the animals in our charge. The production has complete and ongoing confidence in the integrity of, and care provided by, its animal team.

Farm manager Ross Berry rejects Mr Smythe’s claims of neglect. He told Citylife Porirua News that the production company “never skimped” on expense.

“If there was a problem with an animal, the vets would come immediately,” he said.

Asked about specific animal deaths, he said there had been no deaths due to cruelty or mistreatment.

“I would be the first to jump up and down,” Mr Berry said. spoke to the editor at Kapi-Mana News who said that the paper was currently seeking additional comment from both 3Foot7 and farm management. will keep readers up-to-date with further developments with this story.

UPDATE: The American Humane Association has given a statement to saying that its guidelines for the safe use of animals were followed throughout the Hobbit production. Read the statement in full here.

Read the Citylife Porirua News article | Read the Kapi-Mana News article

Posted in Hobbit Movie, Production on August 7, 2012 by

30 responses to “Former Hobbit horse wrangler claims “incompetence” caused several animal deaths during production”

  1. Luthien says:

    This is indeed disturbing news if true. If there were “no deaths due to cruelty or mistreatment”, then what were the deaths due to? No one has denied that there were in fact animals that died during filming. I hope this allegation is unfounded, or this will cast a dark cloud on the production.

  2. Tony Doms says:

    I don’t believe Mr Berry, period. Horses just don’t die for no reason.

  3. Huck, the Fobbit says:

    You can bet the film company will spin this until any complainant grows weary.

  4. t_bomb says:

    After filming “The Charge of the Light Brigade” (1936), Errol Flynn, Tasmania’s favorite (albeit most rambunctious) son, vigorously lobbied for better animal rights in the production of films. In that film, they used trip wires to make the horses fall down while running full gallop. Countless horses had to be put down after filming a scene. Like everyone else, I’m sorry about the loss, but we’ve come a long, long way. Just sayin’

  5. // says:

    Sad news indeed..

  6. Luthien says:

    In this day there is no need for animal cruelty while making a film, given the various methods and special effects available. The movie War Horse is a perfect example; it was horrifying to watch, but in reality no horses were injured and it was rated an ‘outstanding’ rating from the agency that oversaw the treatment of the animals. As a horse lover in particular, I certainly hope this allegation against The Hobbit film makers isn’t true. Animals shouldn’t have to suffer or die for our entertainment. Saying ‘we’re sorry for the loss’ just doesn’t cut it.

  7. I really hope they investigate this matter. Frankly, I can’t imagine three horses just happening to die of natural causes during the shoot. I don’t need animals to die for my entertainment.

  8. ZiharkXVI says:

    I’m sure it was because the production abused the animals. That has to be it. Not because some disgruntled employee was fired. I’ve worked around animals for a long time. Animals do die. Radical new thought, I know. If there was animal abuse, you believe for a second there wouldn’t be a crowd of people talking about it and telling the production company they owe? You can’t even make a movie nowadays without the Humane Association watching over your shoulder. I’m going to assume for the moment barring any big revelations that some former employee may just be making things up.

  9. Horsed died on the lord of the rings as well see the full AHA report at monitoring was then carried out by the fictional organisation AWINZ using the AHA end title without authority.

  10. As with any accusation, does he have proof?

  11. s hoppit says:

    I too am concerned about the horse deaths. However, as a
    horse owner I know that horses do die without good reason. Pampered Brego, Aragorn’s mount survived a
    near-fatal bout of colic.
    A horse cannot vomit if they eat something
    different, bad hay or have a heavy parasite load (which can happen even with proper
    worming) the gas in the gut can cause a horse to die horribly. This is just one example. A gate left open or opened by a clever horse can
    allow horses to get in the feed room. Over eating feed can result in colic, this is bad or can result
    in the horses hoofs coming “unglued” from the bone, this is REAL bad.

    I am just saying there
    are a lot of things that can go wrong. Don’t jump to conclusions. “three horses used in the production, as well
    as six sheep, three goats and 10 chickens”
    is a lot and I think clear explanation should be forthcoming .

  12. s hoppit says:

    sorry I did not read the links to the article until after I posted. Does sound like some bad decisions but any time you have strange horses together it is Hazardous. Horses die at race tracks daily this is not right but a fact.

  13. Claywise says:

    Come one, team. If this is true … wow. A serious clash between my love of Tolkien and my long-standing advocacy for animals. If true, I’m really angry. Why don’t they have certification from AHA – or don’t they operate in NZ? Obscene if true. Man.

  14. Claywise says:

    Usually AHA certification/monitoring is quite good. if this is true, it’s a real clash between my love of Tolkien and long-standing advocacy for animals. Wow.

  15. neorion says:

    This is very disturbing and has to be investigated. If here had been no deaths due to cruelty or mistreatment then what was the cause of deaths?

  16. Chris Hewer says:

    I worked as an extra on the set and worked with some of the animals and saw no evidence of mistreatment whatsoever the animals were all in excellent condition I don’t believe that anyone involved would have allowed this at all. From what I saw the handlers were very professional and the care of their animals was paramount after all this is their job and livelihood. I was raised on farms and through experience know that animals like people can be affected by a multitude of problems and death is a part of everyday life. What people have to realise is that working with animals is differcult at the best of times let alone on a movie set. I don’t believe for one minute that anyone from 3foot7 ltd or any of the directors producers or crew would condone any ill treatment of animals at all there was no exspence spared when it it came to the health and well being of everyone involved. I really have to wonder if this is a case of sour grapes after all everyone employed for this production were very well paid!

  17. Dawn says:

    What has the american Humane society got to to with what happens in NZ. Obviously their laws are different to ours!

  18. Dawn says:

    Stuff printed the reasons the horses died. One fell down a cliff and drowned. One died after being suddenly stabled due to the previous two deaths and appears to have died because the diet was too abrupt after being on pasture..I think the horse died after being injured then not treated, so if that is how the American Humane society thinks horses or any animals should be treated, then there needs to be accountablity from the top, so whare are you Peter?

  19. Fiona Simpson says:

    I had a horse who died in a film production about 12 years ago. It was of no fault of anyone as far as I was concerned. It appeared to be a heart attack, these things happen I was there when it happened. It is just one of these things that can happen and at any time, and from what I saw of the horses used on the Hobbit set while I was working there was they all looked happy and well looked after.

  20. Herbethor says:

    Horses do just die for no reason just like anything else that lives and breathes. Having seen behind the scenes for LotR extended editions, i find it extremely unlikely that any negligence occured. Also, Viggo Mortenson himself was so enamored with the horses while filming that he purchased 2 of them, doesn,t seem to me like he would do that if the horses were mistreated during filming.

  21. horse wrangler says:

    Hi. i also worked as a fulltime horse wrangler on this film. The claims that John Smythe have made are absolutely true. The three deaths of horses are not the only incidences that happened on the farm where the animal training was based. There were also two seperate incidences where horses were caught in a fence and had a leg each partially degloved. They were no longer able to be used in the film There was also at least one incidence of cruelty I know of where a horse was hobbled and left tied on the ground for 2 – 3 hours because he had been too “fresh” for the rider. This horse ended up with rope burns on it’s legs that had to be covered with make up for filming. Another incident where the lead wranglers nephew turned up to work drunk on set, was warming up a horse, spooked it , fell off and got kicked in the head. He was not wearing a helmet. He got rushed off and hidden to sober up before production saw any of it. I myself was mad as there was a zero tolerance to drugs and alcohol and if it had been any one of us we would of got the sack. There were also chickens killed by dogs on two seperate incidences over the time, goats died of worm infestations and one of the staff members had to walk up in to a steep creek to find a production goat that had been missing for 4 days. She found it and it later died as it was too infested with worms. It is basic care to de worm animals. I’m not saying there was alot of deliberate mis treatment of animals but there was definately a lack of experience and forsight which led to a whole bunch of unneccassary incidents. There were people paid to keep quiet about their animals being hurt and it’s come out that this also happened during lord of the rings filming where horses also died under supervision of the same lead animal wrangler as the hobbit movies so there is alot more to it that just a case of one person with sour grapes . Of course the animals were taken to the studio only if they were fit and healthy and these are the animals people saw, such as the extras. I wish I had spoken up earlier. There were meetings at work where a couple of people spoke up but most of us didn’t because we didn’t want to lose our jobs. I hope something is done about this industry. I’m not wanting to say my name as I want to keep working with film animals in some way but I think there are some really good horseman and women in New Zealand so there is no reason why we can’t have a good, honest, knowledgable crew of people working on these films.

  22. logan says:

    Horses can break a leg running around a paddock. They can get colic and die before a vet can be called. Laminitis can kill even with the best of care – remember Barbaro? Secretariat? If you’re looking for a cause for animal welfare to support against cruelty, there are far worse industries than the film business to rally against. Look into the darker side of horse racing – what happens to all those two year old who never get to live to the age of three because they break down on the track racing or training, or they just aren’t fast enough to make it. Many end up on the feed lot. Or the industry behind the menopause drug Premarin, the main ingredient being pregnant mare unrine – what do you think happens to all those foals that are the inevitable result?

    And consider the possibility that what you may have here is a disgruntled ex employee with an axe to grind, and short of exposing abuse of babies, nothing gets people riled up as accusations of animal abuse.

  23. horse wrangler says:

    very sad to hear

  24. Lionel Hutz Phoney Lawyer says:

    I guess everyone except the horse wranger fear the big shot legal team, a sad sign of the world we live in.

  25. trepkos says:

    Perhaps Mr Mortenson wanted to spare the horses any future film work.

  26. Anthony says:

    What 2 morons would vote this down? This is the kind of transparent reporting needed to improve things! Some people are just dangerous to have around at all, let alone in charge of other living things…

  27. FrankTheTank says:

    No the actual circumstances of the deaths are not stated, but having worked with animals during my first years at vocational college, and accidents happen, and nature happen.

    A likely scenario is that horses might have behaved unexpectedly, and so got hurt and put down, (a sideways fall can mame a horse). Chickens routinely peck the lowest ranking bird to death. And sheep are liable to drown.

    I have full confidence that PJ’s team do all in their power to make sure that neither human nor animal perish, (there are no reason to be cruel to the animals for the production company, unlike breeders, who want the most return on their investments).

  28. Willian says:


  29. Jay says:

    I was told a disturbing story some years back from someone who worked on Fellowship of the Ring that Liv Tyler was so terrified of sitting on the back of a horse that she completely refused to do so (if you google Liv Tyler scared of horses you’ll see what she’s said herself about them) and after the crew failed to convince her to do it just for one scene where they didn’t want to use cgi apparently the story goes that the horse was quietly taken away, put down and stuffed and then some days later they filmed the scene with Liv sitting on the stuffed horse. It sounds crazy and I wasn’t sure if I could believe it at the time but this guy was part of the crew involved with horses and he says this is what happened!? Stranger things have been done in Hollywood to appease difficult actors/actresses so it’s possible?! He said that she was particularly difficult to work with. As beautiful and sweet as she may look, she apparently thought of herself as very important and she was very stubborn and always got her way on and off set. If this story is true then it would have been a very big secret to keep and likely those involved would have had to sign or have some kind of secrecy agreement. Certainly many would keep quiet to protect their jobs and careers as in film it’s all about who you know first and how good you are second! And with the LOTR films long productions over years everyone involved would want to protect their roles for the duration of the franchise. I think the Liv Tyler story needs to be investigated also. As crazy as it may sound it could be true. As for the strict no alcohol or drugs rules I also heard from people who world on LOTR that drug use was common behind the scenes particularly amongst crew who worked 12 or up to even 18 hours a day and night on some shifts so speed and also party drugs were used. Also a lot of alcohol was catered for for actors and crew. But thats hollywood and people seem to have rose tinted glasses about their favorite actors/actresses when we know many are and have been addicts and have a double life on and off camera.

  30. Sarah Ann says:

    I may not work on movie sets, but I’ve worked in the horse industry long enough to know that probably 50% of horse trainers abuse their animals behind closed doors. Sometimes it is negligence, sometimes it is misguided beliefs (if I turn my horse out of the barn he might hurt himself so I’m going to keep him in a stall the rest of his life), some of it is direct abuse to achieve that show ring ideal, some of it is idiots loosing their temper and beating their animals. This sounds more like negligence- unwilling to fix fences, don’t know how to de-worm their animals, poor management and staffing. I was really looking forward to this movie. I won’t be seeing it now… Although honestly it doesn’t surprise me. The movie Flicka had horse deaths as well due to the idiots running the film. It’s too bad they didn’t hire me as a manager. It isn’t that difficult to de-worm animals and put up electric fencing. Keep the chickens locked up, or the dogs… Treat your horses right, and they will do everything you ask! Hobbling a horse to the ground is just idiotic- tells me exactly what kind of people those were. The good old cowboy horse breakers and wife beaters!

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