Over the Fence: How Did They Train the Ponies in That Horseware Ireland Ad?

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Horseware Ireland Rambo commercial shoot
The stars of the new Horseware Ireland Rambo ad, from left to right: Atlantis, Nahlah, Comet and Calypso

Years ago, one of the best horse trainers I’ve ever worked with me gave me a critical piece of horse-care advice. When it comes to a blanket for your horse, she said, never buy anything but a Rambo. I followed her advice and over many years I’ve watched other horse owners’ rain sheets and mid-weights rip, tear, wrap around their horses legs and otherwise fall apart. All the while, my pasture-boarded horses have stayed warm and dry, thanks to their Horseware rugs, which – come hurricane or blizzard – never seem to slip, rip or spring a leak.

Last week when I saw Horseware’s adorable and funny 30th anniversary video circulating online, I was curious. On Friday, I called up the company’s headquarters in County Louth, in a town called Dundalk, which is near the border with Northern Ireland and equidistant from Dublin and Belfast. I had a great chat with Emma Ferguson, Horseware’s head of marketing. She told me all about how the video was filmed. Here are some highlights from our conversation:

How did the idea for this video start?

We had a conversation last February with a trainer named Emma Massingale. She’s one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. She trains her horses at liberty and is such a natural with them. She was preparing for a mad adventure called The Island Project, where she was taking six Connemara Ponies to an uninhabited island for a month, two of the ponies were unbroke and she intended [to train] them. She intended [to make] a documentary about the experience. She asked us would be interested in providing turnout blankets for the ponies. Because they were traditional Irish ponies, she wanted them in the original Rambos. She successfully completed the project in June, despite the most horrendous weather conditions and the footage is currently being edited for TV release.

We got talking about previous commercials she had done with her horses and she said she could do something fun with her Connemara team in our factory.

We decided a news segment piece would be funny and we could have it that the horses were helping make our limited edition rugs. We didn’t want it to be like a traditional TV commercial and intended it only for online. The main thing was to be funny and entertaining and show that the Rambo blankets are still made in Ireland. Emma taught the ponies to push a button, go through a door, push a trolley, shake their heads to say “no we don’t want that color” and to smile. It was all by voice commands.

How did the filming go?

We filmed it about four weeks ago, over a weekend. We were very careful in the planning and took every safety precaution to ensure the workers and the ponies were safe at all times. However, there were many variables that made the situation not ideal. Firstly, it’s a factory with 30 staff workers who are not used to being around horses and of course you have four ponies that have never been in a factory with rugs hanging overhead and sewing machines and a pretty slippy floor and they are loose. Our health and safety officer was kept extremely busy.

Emma came on Friday for a walk through with our health and safety expert and myself to get a feel for where we might do the scenes. The factory is closed at the weekends so the ponies came in on Saturday, they walked around and stayed about an hour. It was all very calm and we didn’t turn on any of the machines. We filmed the tricks on Sunday when it was quiet with a few extras just so we had as much banked as possible. Monday was going to be the challenge as the factory was in full operation but it went so well we filmed lots of additional things we hadn’t planned on, like the canteen [lunchroom] scene and the scene at the sewing machine with Horseware CEO and founder, Tom MacGuinness.

It went unbelievably well, even though the factory was noisy with machines going and the rugs travelling overhead and the staff high with excitement taking photos. But the ponies were great. They were comfortable and calm and oblivious to all the excitement they were causing so we kept shooting stuff.

Where you in the video at all?

I’m in the clip, I didn’t intend on it as I wanted it to be as authentic as possible with the real factory workers. But, we needed a horse person to do one of the scenes close-up with the ponies, so I held the binding material for the horse as he shook his head. That’s me giving the thumbs up. It was amazing, it was the first scene we shot and I thought the take would take far longer. I loved being with the ponies and felt extremely privileged to experience their intelligence first hand.

Horseware Ireland Rambo commercial shoot

Who are the ponies?

They are four and five year old Connemaras that Emma broke herself. Three geldings – Nahla (he’s the one who shakes his head), Atlantis (he pushes the trolley and smiles), and Comet (he walked around with Tom and helped with the sewing). Calypso was the only mare, a real sweetheart. She and Comet were the two in the canteen scene, they were delighted with their carrot sandwiches.

What was the most fun part of it all?

Watching Emma work and seeing them work entirely on voice commands without any force. They really are happy to do as she asks, it really is quite special. And, of course they’re still real ponies with proper personalities– pushy at times and inquisitive. My favorite was the lunch scene – I really didn’t expect that to work out how it did.

Did anything else unexpected happen?

In the last scene where the ponies walk out the door past the reporter in formation, Atlantis had different ideas and walked off towards a keyboard, grabbed it in his mouth and gave it a good shake. Calypso also grabbed the egg mayo sandwich off my plate and scoffed the lot.

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