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When was the last time a horse starred in a movie set in Manhattan? It's about to happen. Save Valentine's Day for the opening night of?a romance that might replace Titanic as the film that defines romance. For in the Warner Brothers production of the film based on the bestselling novel, Winter's Tale, there's a horse in the center of the romance instead of an oceanliner.
His name is Athansor ?and he can gallop and jump with superhorse ability. How else could an Irish immigrant gangster-on-the-run in 1890s Manhattan manage not to be caught when he's all over town on a sparkling white steed?
Athansor's gallops through Manhattan are just part of the magic of this story, which is a time-travel fantasy starring Colin Farrell. Russell Crowe is the scar-faced villain ill-equipped to be chasing him on a merely-mortal black horse, and Jessica Brown Findlay?is the sickly girl whose light and love turn a thief into a confused time traveler on the streets of New York City, both then and now.
When we last saw Brown, she was Lady Sybil on the PBS Masterpiece hit series Downton Abbey. She had run away and married her wealthy family's IRA-sympathizer chauffeur, the very man who secretly drove her to suffragette rallies and filled her mind with politics. Dying in childbirth freed the talented actress to pursue a broader film career; Winter's Tale is just one film that will feature her in 2014. But her characters' penchants for ne'er-do-well Irishmen persists in Winter's Tale when she meets an Irish burglar as he breaks into her family's home.
You know that she will eventually be fleeing her sick bed on the back of Athansor. If anyone deserves a getaway horse with magical powers, it is this woman.
"He moved like a dancer, which is not surprising; a horse is a beautiful animal, but it is perhaps
most remarkable because it moves as if it always hears music."
--author Mark Helprin, describing Athansor in Winter's Tale
In real life, Athansor is a 17-year-old Andalusian stallion named Listo from upstate New York who took surprisingly well to life as an urban fantasy icon. His co-owner/trainer Cari Swanon of Swanson-Peterson Productions was still full of praise for how well her horse handled the role, the sets, and how he earned the affection of actor Colin Farrell when The Jurga Report tracked her down on the set of yet another Manhattan production requiring horses this week.
Cari credited ?her partner Rex Peterson for training Listo and the three other horses in only eight weeks to perform the many tricks necessary for the complex scenes. ?"Rex taught them all how to lay down, bow, rear, dig, shake head yes and no, look etc.," Cari said. ?"One of the most dramatic scenes in the film is when Athansor is trapped in a net under the Brooklyn Bridge. ?Rex trained the horses to lay down and roll up under the net to convince the audience of a struggle to survive."
No one has seen the film yet; all we have is the trailer. But if you've read the book, which millions of Americans have, you know that this is a story that delights the imagination and touches the soul as adeptly as Athansor carries his rider from harm, time and again.
Special for The Jurga Report readers: To watch a snippet of video of Listo in a training session backstage on the set, visit (and please "like", if you do) The Jurga Report's Facebook page.