Viggo Mortensen’s affinity with horses began when he was growing up in Argentina. “I am Danish-American, in that my father was Danish and my mother American,” he explains, “but I also have Canadian heritage and spent some of my early years in Argentina. Horses are very important in the Argentine and the nation is proud of its equestrian heritage. Is it any wonder that I soon had a love of horses!
“I was very young when we moved to Argentina and we stayed until I was 11 and we moved to New York. During that time I started to spend time with horses and to ride and I just became totally into them. If anything, I am even more passionate about them now.”
That passion shows because Viggo is an excellent rider as he has revealed in some of his movies, and even more so when he is riding just for the sheer joy of it. He doesn’t just slip out of the saddle and hand the reins to someone else though.
“It is important to have a good relationship with your horse,” he says. “When you are filming you cannot often spend so much time with them on set, but I have always liked to visit the stables at the end of shooting and have some time just chatting with them, telling them how well they have worked today; maybe some grooming too, depending upon what time of the day it is. Talking to horses is like talking to humans; you need to communicate to get to know each other and often that communication is a pathway to understanding each other and then actually liking each other.”
AT ONE WITH HORSES
Perhaps that is why Viggo always looks at one with his horse no matter what the movie might be.
“Making movies is a team effort,” he says. “I have never gone for the star keeping away from the extras or the crew. We are all in it together and everyone has an important role to play, including any animals, and especially if you are going to sit on the back of that animal and trust him to gallop across the set without launching you into space.
“If there are stunt men on the team I like to spend time with them because I have a lot of respect for what they do and some of them are fantastic horsemen. I like to do my own riding stunts where possible, but because of insurances and contracts it is not always allowed. So the stunt men risk their necks and I appreciate what they can do and, of course, what the horses can do.