Lakeview Terrace equestrian group taps into popularity of Spielberg’s ‘War Horse’
By Jana J. Monji 12/29/2011
Horse lovers who have seen Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse” might be surprised to learn that not only are horses still used in battle, but even here in sunny California a group of dedicated equestrians dress up in historical military uniforms and drill their horses in the fine art of European cavalry formations — the War Horse & Militaria Heritage Foundation of Lakeview Terrace, which on Monday will be making its third appearance in the Rose Parade.
WHAM first appeared in the 2005 parade and again the following year. The group also makes regular appearances in the related Equestfest, which will be held Friday at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center in Burbank. But while WHAM Director Fritz Bronner and his wife, Margie Beeson, will participate in the parade for the third time, most of their 12 riders are newbies to the event.
In a phone interview, Bronner noted that despite all the technological advances since World War I — the period that the movie “War Horse” is set in — horses still are used in certain situations. “Horses are being used in war today. They are used in reconnaissance in remote areas … special forces in Afghanistan had a cavalry charge.”
Bronner called Spielberg’s movie “a great children’s story adaptation” and said it follows the perspective of what a horse goes through in the horrors of war. “Horses and humans went through madness,” he added.
The movie follows a thoroughbred named Joey, who is trained by an impoverished English farm boy, Albert, and then sold to a cavalry officer who dies in France at the beginning of the Great War. Albert runs away from home, hoping to find Joey as Joey changes hands and is then almost worked to death beside his friend, a black horse named Topthorn, who doesn’t survive the war.
WHAM honors the historical contribution horses made to warfare through both mobility and unquestioning loyalty. Bronner said when Topthorn died and Joey mourned, it was “a very honest moment.” Last year, when one of his horses died, the four remaining horses acted similarly. “That’s a valuable lesson,” Bronner said.
Bronner was impressed by the cinematography and called the charge a display of beautiful horsemanship, but admitted he found the movie was a little misleading. Training a horse to charge and perform military maneuvers would take about six months
with daily practice — longer than the movie implies. For his own group, since they all have day jobs, they train a horse for one or
WHAM has about 35 active members, although not all are riders. About 20 to 25 people will help prep the horses for the parade. For the horses and riders, the Rose Parade is midnight madness with little sleep and daunting cold, but when the parade begins “It’s like a double dose of strong expresso” Bronner said, describing the adrenaline rush. This year, WHAM presents the Age of Napoleon, with riders wearing uniforms from the Royal Northern British Dragoons (also known as the Scots Greys), the Prussian Deathhead Hussars, the Bavarian Chevaulegers, the French 3rd Cuirassiers and the French 25th Chasseurs.
This year, about a total of about 325 horses will march in the Rose Parade — including 100 palominos to commemorate Roy Rogers’ centennial birthday anniversary and a special float “Happy Trails” — so horse lovers will be particularly pleased.
Equestfest 2012 is at noon at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, 480 W. Riverside Drive, Burbank, (818) 840-9063. Call Sharp Seating at (626) 795-4171 for advance tickets. Tickets go on sale at 10:30 a.m., gates open at 11 a.m. Parking is $5 per car. For more information on the War Horse & Militaria Heritage Foundation, visit warhorsefoundation.com or contact Fritz Bronner at (818) 694-9277.