AHA says film horse care OK
Safety improvements at a Pauatahanui farm were recommended and enacted following the death of horses used in The Hobbit film production, the American Humane Association announced on Friday.
Its Film and TV Unit communications spokesperson, Jone Bouman, said the association investigated an allegation of animal deaths by a former contractor last year and recommended safety improvements to animal living areas.
In a media statement, Ms Bouman said the production company, 3Foot7, was responsive to the recommendations, ‘‘ upgrading fences, improving farm housing, and educating farmhands to encourage them to use the same high standard of care on the farm as on the set’’.
Last week Kapi-Mana News reported on a protest by former The Hobbit wrangler John Smythe, who claimed three horses died needlessly at the Gray’s Rd farm due to poor management decisions.
Mr Smythe said he did not make the complaint to the AHA last year, believing it was made by another wrangler who had left the production. He said he only recently contacted the AHA.
Ms Bouman confirmed receiving an email from Mr Smythe but indicated to Kapi-Mana News there would be no additional investigation into his complaints.
‘‘The farm where some of the animals were kept was not under our jurisdiction and our on-set veterinarian/safety representative was only made aware of any alleged problems at the farm long after the fact, so we have no first-hand knowledge or direct evidence confirming any of the allegations.’’
Mr Smythe said he had contacted the SPCA last year but was told he needed ‘‘hard proof’’, such as photos, which he did not have.
Mr Smythe’s claims have been rubbished by the farm manager, Ross Berry, who has applauded the film crew’s treatment of animals at the property.
Mr Berry said he observed the wranglers almost daily and their treatment of animals was wonderful.
He said horses used in The Hobbit had died at the farm, ‘‘but these were not deaths due to mistreatment or bad management’’. He considered Mr Smythe a troublemaker with an axe to grind.
Mr Smythe was fired from the production last year, claiming he lost his job after speaking out about the horse deaths. He believed it was in Mr Berry’s best interest financially to defend the film crew.
3Foot7 has not commented on the claims beyond a statement expressing confidence in its animal team and the great care the company had taken to follow AHA guidelines.