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Images: Lord Of The Rings Equine Star Stars Again

Lord of the Rings equine star to entertain at three day event

The last time Jane Abbott rode at Puhinui, it was to take third prize in her first novice three day event in 1997.

When Jane rides into the arena at this year's Auckland Airport Regency Three Day Event (December 6-9), it will be as the highlight of the entertainment programme with her Andalusian-Lipizzaner stallion, Florian, one of the equine stars of the blockbuster movie series, LORD OF THE RINGS. The first in the trilogy FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING premieres in Wellington this month.

When she wakes these mornings and looks out the window of her Te Horo home, to see a handsome grey stallion with flowing mane and tail in her paddock, Jane Abbott has to pinch herself to make sure she’s not dreaming.

Indeed, for 18 months, until the middle of this year, Jane kept having the feeling that she was in the middle of a dream. It’s not surprising, film-making is all about illusion and dreams, and Jane was part of the prosaically named Horse Department of the Lord of the Rings film, an exciting, hard-working stint that taught her much, brought new friends and left her with a myriad memories and amazing experiences.

Now back firmly in reality, Jane - rider, horse breaker and trainer and riding teacher - has a new dimension to her life in Florian, her "dream horse". For 18 months he was Jane’s main charge and she cared for and rode him as double for Hollywood star Liv Tyler who plays the Elfin Princess Arwen, daughter of Elrond. Florian’s film name is Asfaloth. Not surprisingly, a strong bond built between the pair and Jane was not looking forward to parting with the stallion.

"He’s a dream ride, has amazing presence and wonderful movement. He loves attention and is full of his own importance," she says of Florian. "He’s the dream horse - every little girl’s dream horse to play with and have fun.

"By the end of the film, when the horses were to be sold, "I was in love with Florian; he is very special. I really wanted him, but thought I couldn’t afford him and I also knew that someone else wanted him." Unbeknown to Jane, a very special friend took it upon himself to bid on her behalf. After many heartwrenching days, she got a phone call to say "good news...I have got Florian and you can go and pick him up!" To Jane’s absolute astonishment, embarrassment and delight, her friend (whom she prefers not to name) made her a gift of Florian.

When Jane, a slender, fit lass who works hard as a freelance, breaking, training and competing horses, auditioned for a riding part in the film, she thought it was for a Black Rider, but she came out as Arwen’s riding double. Then began the whirl of excitement, as the team of wranglers and riders started the training of the horses to withstand all the trials they would face in the months to come.

Other than the "hero" horses, many of those they had to mould into equine actors "had been sitting in the paddock for a couple of years, hadn’t been ridden, were horses people wanted rid of...contrary to perceptions about the film, there certainly wasn’t a huge budget for buying good horses! We were dealing with rejects that most people wouldn’t buy and having to train them to be bombproof - go on movie sets and put up with smoke, crowds, machinery, sword fighting and all sorts of weird things. We worked them in groups to desensitise them. I think horses get a lot of security from working with other horses. For instance with the smoke machine...if you took one horse up to it, it would flip out and you’d have a huge battle, but if you took a group up to it, they gained confidence." The first block of filming took them to Tarras in Central Otago for three months and that was where one of Jane’s outstanding experiences came, when a dramatic chase was filmed, in which Arwen is pursued through the forest by the Ring Wraith Black Riders. For six weeks, we were filming galloping scenes." Most of the time Jane had a dummy, representing one of the Hobbits in front of her on the saddle, but the challenge was exhilarating, firing the adrenalin, as she called on all her riding skills.

As well as Florian, one of the Black Rider horses, Chico - a part-Clydesdale - is in Jane’s team and she’d like to use her experience with Lord of the Rings to do more work in films and commercials. Both horses are learning new skills, including Chico being broken to harness, and both will entertain spectators at Puhinui. A third horse from the "cast", Bits is training to do eventing.

Life won’t be all work and no play for Florian. As a handsome stallion with good movement and a superb temperament, he will be used at stud, including covering two mares of Jane’s with the hope that she can breed some more horses with the talent to learn the ropes for film and associated work.

The Auckland Airport Regency International Three Day Event takes place December 6-9 at the Puhinui Reserve, Manukau City. A strong field of three star competitors includes several Australian riders and New Zealand combinations hoping to impress the selectors with the 2001 World Equestrian Games in view. There’s a big field in the two star trial, with some promising new horses tackling their strongest challenge to date.

Entry to the event is free of charge, although spectators will be asked for a donation to the charity KidzFirst, and as well as the competition there will be a trade village and a range of entertainment and activities for all members of the family. No other major national fixture in any code is free to spectators, so it’s a great opportunity to bring friends and relations and help keep the prestigious three day sponsors happy! Highlight of the arena entertainment, which includes a celebrity harness scurry on the Sunday and Pony Club team show jumping, will be the performances of Jane Abbott with grey Spanish stallion Florian and his stablemate, Chico, two of the equine stars of the first in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Fellowship of the Ring.

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