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Cruelty Whispers Hurt Trainers

; Quelle: The Dominion

Moments after rearing on a crack-of-the-whip command for The Lord of the Rings animal trainer Dan Reynolds at a Te Horo stables yesterday, Gandalf's horse Shadowfax nuzzled his boss affectionately.

In an unprecedented move, after rumours of cruelty, Peter Jackson's normally closed film production crew opened up its horse training to The Dominion for inspection.

The training team has been accused of a variety of cruelties -- from peroxiding a horse to change its colour and then putting it down when it was hurt to using block tackles to knock horses to their knees.

The accusations have been anonymous, but they have hurt even though inspections by the International League for the Protection of Horses and the Agriculture Ministry have found no cause for alarm.

Every report is posted on the Internet and is judged by the world.

One horse was alleged to have broken its back in a trick, another to have had to be put down after falling from a wharf, and another shot for a hide to cover a riding "contraption" for star actress Liv Tyler.

Wrangler Dave Johnson said the rumours, some apparently blown up from real but innocuous incidents, were bewildering and had upset trainers and other stable staff.

The "germs of truth" behind the rumours were easily traced, he and horse coordinator Stephen Old said.

Because of a dearth of white horses, the training team had briefly flirted with the idea of changing a horse's colour. The human hair dye -- not peroxide -- dabbed harmlessly and ineffectively on a horse had been bought from a beauty supply shop.

A horse -- one of the ringwraiths -- had slipped on a small jetty. It was, however, now back in action.

"It was given a few days off. We gave it some antibiotics just in case the water was dirty. It's fine," Mr Reynolds said.

Tyler's "contraption", a barrel with springs for close-up motion shots, had been covered with a bought hide.

Mr Reynolds said there had been two deaths, both from natural causes: one from colic and a twisted bowel, one after a heart attack.

Irishman Ray Lenaghan, The Lord of the Rings vet, said all the horses were well treated and in good condition. "For 70-odd horses there haven't been a lot of injuries.

"We've had a couple of sprained tendons, puffy joints . . . it's nothing like as strenuous as for racehorses.

"If horses could talk, they'd be pretty happy about what they've got here."


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