We recently released a horsemanship DVD on Retraining Racehorses with Tom Curtin. Technically, I was the “producer” — which mostly means that I was the one running around, flapping my arms at people and trying to keep everything on schedule.
I had never been involved in filming a horsemanship DVD before, so it was quite an experience for me. There are several interesting lessons I learned, both about horses and film projects.
- No matter how well you plan, something will go wrong — it’s the natural outcome when you try to combine horses, cameras and tight deadlines. In our case, the weather didn’t cooperate. The day before filming, we had one of those Texas rain “experiences” in which approximately 6 inches falls in 5 hours. The round pen, fields and arena had standing water and slippery footing. Because Tom Curtin only had a couple of days to be filmed (he has a very busy clinic schedule), the show had to go on. We adjusted the schedule to film groundwork and tying for the first morning, dropped some of the more ambitious equestrian activities, and ended up with a terrific amount of footage that focused on getting back to the basics with the ex-racehorses (which eventually became the theme of the entire DVD).
- Horses can’t be scripted — especially for a DVD on horsemanship techniques. The greenest horse opened and closed a gate without a single snort or stare. The far more experienced 12-year-old horse had a major meltdown at the same gate. You have to be prepared to direct the camera crew to follow the action that’s unfolding right at that moment — even if it’s completely unexpected. Sometimes that can be a little uncomfortable, such as when a nervous horse nearly backed over one of the more intrepid cameramen (he stood his ground and got a wonderful shot of the situation). More often, it can be very rewarding, as when a horse that hadn’t been cantered under saddle in years stepped off smoothly into a quiet lope (and with the correct lead).
- Camera operators and sound techs are very quick to adapt to new situations, as long as you can give them some basic guidance. Our crew had one cameraman who had filmed horses before — the others were not experienced with horses. We gave them a colt starting DVD to review before coming to film our project — so they could understand what “there’s a good change” usually meant, spot the camera angles that were the most helpful, and get a sense of when to do close-ups of the horse’s feet, head and eyes. The crew arrived remarkably prepared to visually follow Tom’s and the horse’s movements — and to listen carefully to Tom when he pointed out subtle differences in the horse.
- Sound is just as important as good camera work. I didn’t realize just how terrific our sound technician was until I was sitting in the editing room and reviewing the footage. We had one afternoon that was very windy, with lots of gusts. The DVD sound was clear — Tom’s voice was easy to hear and understand, and the wind noise was dropped to nearly zero. Without the excellent audio, many moments with the horses would have been missed — Tom’s commentary was key to understanding the technique he was practicing (at least for someone of my amateur status).
- Editing takes about a million times longer than you think it will. Our editor, Patrick, was very skillful and fun to work with. But the footage (from two cameras and two days of filming) was over 24 hours. We eventually pared that down to a little over 3 hours. It was fascinating (and time consuming) to decide when to cut to the second camera for a certain angle, how to organize the footage into menus and when to insert Tom’s narration over which scenes. There is no way to do any of this fast — it’s a classic example of the “the long way is the short way.”
- The most important factor in a horsemanship DVD isn’t that your camera, sound and editing crew are terrific, that your location (Hy Court Farm) is lovely or that the weather is perfect and rain-free. The true centerpiece is the horseman and the horses — and how they work together, demonstrating how good horsemanship is practiced. We feel so fortunate that Tom Curtin wanted to be part of this DVD and that the LOPE horses had the opportunity to meet him and learn from him. In the end, we were lucky enough to have all of these factors come together for the DVD!
We’d especially like to thank Tom Curtin, Beef & Pie Productions, Hy Court Farm, and Monica Adams for providing the horsemanship, filming, editing, location and still photography for the project. And of course, the ex-racehorses (Wooden Phone, Pogomeister, Lightening Ball, Santos and Mitti).