An actor who fell off a horse while on the set of the History Channel’s Hatfields & McCoys is, according to Deadline, suing the show for all kinds of legally-defined stuff, like “suffering” and “anguish” and “punitive and exemplary damages”. Apparently, it’s partially about the permanent damage to the actor’s body and his career, and partially about the generally unacceptable conditions on set.
And this is what insurance is for, folks. When you do a dangerous job, and when you make a dangerous production that you know may result in your staff getting injured, you get insurance. Simple enough. Studios have money. It sounds like this guy’s counsel has a convincing argument to make. He’ll probably get his money, if he’s willing to wait the years and years it’ll take to settle this.
My question is, who’s suing on behalf of the horses? I know that might sound dumb at first, but the legal filing also states in no uncertain terms that the animals on set were subjected to “violent mistreatment” by “improperly trained handlers”. Not cool, guys. Not okay. Especially with horses. If you know anything about horses (this documentary is a great start, if you have even a passing interest in horses and the human-horse relationship), you know that they are sensitive animals. They need patience, compassion, and a calm, confident trainer. The chaos of a normal production set is already hell for these kinds of animals – animals that thrive in quiet, peaceful environments. Add criminal-level mistreatment by people who don’t understand horse psychology to the already questionable circumstances (less-than-expert riders, dozens of staff milling about, all the noise and big machinery, the moving vehicles, the long hours of waiting around, the heat, the confinement, etc.) and you get something disastrous. It’s just not okay. Where’s the Humane Society? Where’s the SPCA? Where’s the government of whatever country has jurisdiction with their animal cruelty laws?
Animal suffering has always been an emotional hair-trigger for me. I remember crying till I retched during movies like Free Willy, Babe, and My Dog Skip. I don’t think I ever made it all the way through Black Beauty. I never even attempted Old Yeller. So this is a topic that gets me particularly riled. But c’mon – animal cruelty is never necessary, and is always avoidable. There’s no excuse for mistreating animal talent, especially in an industry as completely gratuitous and privileged as TV production. Animal cruelty is especially wrong in TV production because none of it is necessary. If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all. When you’re making TV, you’re never making something that society can’t do without. Do it well, and honestly, and with integrity and value, or just don’t bother.
By the way, can you imagine being the sucker who pulled the short straw and had to read through the 38-page legal filing to write that Deadline article? Hoo boy. No thanks. But seriously, those horses. Just not cool at all, guys.