Plight of horses used in films hits headlines as animals spotted on set of new ‘Napoleon’ movie

Author: Maria Chiorando

Read Time:   |  15th April 2023

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Horses have been described in the past as 'historically among the animals most commonly injured and killed when exploited for entertainment' by vegan charity PETA


The plight of horses used in the entertainment industry has been making headlines following the recent release of photos from the set of upcoming film Napoleon.

Stills from the movie show animal rights advocate Joaquin Phoenix riding one of the animals, prompting a debate about the use of animals on set.

The historical drama, which is directed by Ridley Scott and set to be released in November, may have put Joaquin in a difficult position, some have suggested, saying the vegan celebrity may feel uncomfortable riding.

While the Oscar-winning actor (who used his 2020 victory speech as an opportunity to discuss unethical practices in the dairy industry) has not commented on images, he has previously spoken about riding horses in 2018 movie The Sisters Brothers, revealing he ‘felt bad’ about it.

Horses in films

This is a position vegan charity PETA is likely to empathise with, having previously described horses as ‘historically among the animals most commonly injured and killed when exploited for entertainment’.

In a blog post, published last year, the organisation called on film producers to ‘commit to making their projects without using real horses’.

PETA cited a number of incidents in which horses had died during film production, including one who suffered cardiac arrest and died during the filming of The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power.

HBO was forced to release a statement after whistleblowers said a horse died on set. The statement confirmed the animal had collapsed and died while pulling a carriage on set.

Director Peter Jackson faced criticism from animal rights advocates after animal wranglers said some 27 animals died during the filming of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – with several horses among the deaths.

Jackson later denied the claims that any animals had been mistreated, calling them “unsubstantiated”.

Modern methods like CGI are a kinder alternative to using live animals in film. Image © Roman via Adobe Stock

Modern methods like CGI are a kinder alternative to using live animals in film. Image © Roman via Adobe Stock

‘Better ways’

PETA has called on producers to stop using live animals, including horses, at all – and instead to use modern alternatives like CGI.

It said: “In such a creative industry, there are better ways to show animals in movies and TV shows without using them at all.

“Special tracks have been used in some films to help with horses’ footing, and breakaway ropes can be used to prevent tripping.

“But even with these precautions, animals can be hurt or killed…It’s time for Westerns, period pieces, and all films and shows to limit or remove the use of horses altogether.

“If productions can’t use humane and realistic CGI, mechanical rigs, and other humane alternatives, they should consider reworking their stories completely.”

Do you think animals should be ridden? Could there be any grey areas? Join the debate: Is horse riding vegan?

Featured image © Bilal via Adobe Stock

Written by

Maria Chiorando

Maria is an editor and journalist. Her work has been published by the Huffington Post, the Guardian, TechnoBuffalo, Plant Based News, and Kent on Sunday among other national and regional titles.

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