PLUS: ROS QUIST, PONY POWER AT GLENHILL, INTERSCHOOLS FUN, IN THE ZONE WITH KERRY MACK, A MAGICAL NCHA OPEN FUTURITY WIN, DR MAXINE BRAIN & SPLINT BONE FRACTURES, SUZY JARRAT & THE DONKEY WHO STOLE THE PICTURE … & SUSANNA RODELL’S ‘RIDE OF THE CENTURY’!
AUSTRALIA`S BEST EQUINE MAGAZINE
click here to start reading
click on left side to read the previous article
click on right side to read the next article
scroll down or click icon to read article
A Few Words
FROM THE PUBLISHER
LIVE WIRE SPARKS COACHING DEBATE
BY HEATH RYAN
GOLDEN GAMES FOR VIRTUS TRAILBLAZERS
BY ADELE SEVERS
GOLLY & HOLLY A POTENT FORCE
BY ADELE SEVERS
THE GREATEST HORSE SHOW ON EARTH
BY KATRINA LODGE
BOYD EXELL REIGNS AT AACHEN
BY EQ LIFE
YULGILBAR MAGIC STEVIE MADE OF ‘TUFF’ STUFF
BY AMANDA YOUNG
MY RIDE OF THE CENTURY!
BY SUSANNA RODELL
GLENHILL DISCOVERS PONY POWER
BY ADELE SEVERS
ROS QUIST NEVER MISSES A BEAT
BY ROGER FITZHARDINGE
SCHOOL RIDERS KNOW HOW TO HAVE FUN
BY ADELE SEVERS
THE DONKEY WHO STOLE THE PICTURE
BY SUZY JARRATT
GET IN THE ZONE & GO WITH THE FLOW
BY DR KERRY MACK
SPLINT BONE FRACTURES
BY DR MAXINE BRAIN
HAWKESBURY DRESSAGE FESTIVAL CREATES A BUZZ
BY ROGER FITZHARDINGE
Colin Farrell and donkey Jenny in 'The Banshees of Inisherin'. Image supplied.
At the start of the recent Oscars awards ceremony, host Jimmy Kimmel walked on stage leading a donkey – “This is Jenny,’” he announced. “She’s from The Banshees of Inisherin.”
Set on a remote, fictional island off the west coast of Ireland, 'The Banshees of Inisherin' stars Colin Farrell and donkey Jenny. Image supplied.
The 2022 film had been nominated nine times but missed out in all categories. And Jenny hadn’t been flown from Ireland – the donkey, named Dominic, was hired from LA.
Despite leaving the Academy awards empty-handed, the picture did win a handful of Golden Globes and BAFTAs. And it made money. With a budget of $20 million it has so far netted over $50 million.
This 140-minute film is described as a black tragicomedy, directed, written and co-produced by Martin McDonagh. Set on a remote, fictional island off the west coast of Ireland, it stars Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson as two lifelong friends who find themselves at an impasse when one abruptly ends their relationship. Colm (Gleeson) decides he no longer wishes to entertain Padraic (Farrell) or his inane small talk; the consequences for both are alarming. Other major players are Kerry Condon and Barry Keoghan – and of course, Jenny the donkey who is Padraic’s best friend. She dutifully follows him across the island, a tinkling bell around her neck, and provides comfort when the end of the friendship becomes clear.
Jenny was initially sourced and trained by Rita Moloney and Mary Owen from an animal agency in County Kildare. (Mary sadly died from breast cancer during the production). Training was continued by Megan Hines of Positive Equine Training. Originally from South Africa, she is Ireland’s only qualified Connection Training Coach and runs an equine centre near Boyle in County Roscommon.
“The humble donkey might not command the same level of cinematic references as its leggier cousin, the horse, but sweet Jenny’s presence in this film speaks to Padraic’s gentle character. Noble men have horses but good men have donkeys. And while his best friend writes him off because of his lack of intellectual rigour, the fact Padraic cares so deeply about his little donkey friend – an animal too small to be of any real use in the harsh, rural environment – speaks volumes about his priorities.” – Hannah Strong, Vulture Magazine.
At first Jenny was not a fan of people and knew absolutely nothing about obedience. The only person who understood the miniature donkey had been Mary, who was able to school her up to where another person could take over.
Megan trained the little three-year-old to respond to both verbal and physical cues. “These included ‘send to station’, ‘stay’, ‘back up to me’, and ‘wait’,” she explained. “If she did the correct thing she’d hear a distinct ‘click’ and was fed a carrot. This reward-based method is called positive reinforcement, also known as clicker training, and donkeys thrive on it,” added Megan.
“In this process everything is broken down into little steps and the correct response is frequently rewarded until the animal demonstrates that they understand what to do. At that point you can train duration in behaviour, adding a little more time between each click/treat, until finally you can do a sequence of cued behaviour with a click/treat at the end.
“Donkeys are not stubborn at all, rather they can be quite stoic and wary and so thrive with the rewards earned in positive reinforcement training, turning into much more confident and outgoing little creatures.” – Megan Hines
“My role as handler on set often involved me being just out of shot of the camera. I’d lie on the floor, crouch around a corner or hide next to Colin in order to cue Jenny.”
Farrell loved her even though she did kick him once. “There were no divas on this film so she thought she’d be one,” he said. “After two-thirds of the shoot I think she needed some space.”
At the start of the recent Oscars awards ceremony, host Jimmy Kimmel walked on stage leading a donkey; it wasn't Jenny, but in fact a ring-in from LA. Image supplied.
However, the Irish actor didn’t feel the incident affected their overall relationship. “But a film set can be an intimidating environment,” he added, “and the best way to feel like you belong there is to know exactly what your purpose is whether you’re the sound recordist, caterer or props guy. Now Jenny didn’t know what a piece of tape on the floor meant and I’m not sure she really knew what her purpose was.
“She was gorgeous but was a nervous wreck at first. Her stand-in was Rosie who came from Stoke-on-Trent and became her buddy.” English Rosie was cute, curious and friendly but she never made it on to the screen. “She was a bit too tubby,” recalled McDonagh, “but we couldn’t have made the film without her.”
Donkey trainer Megan Hines of Positive Equine Training. Image supplied.
Donkeys need access to cospecies to feel safe and express their natural behaviour (e.g. grooming and playing), things they would miss out on if kept alone. Donkeys are also at risk of hyperlipaemia if they suffer stress of being separated from their friends. They go off their food and there’s a chance they may die. For this reason, Jenny always had Rosie to keep her company.
“I think getting Jenny to lie down was maybe the biggest challenge, because I didn’t want to use ropes or force,” explained Megan. “I wanted to make sure she was really happy and comfortable. There’s a process called ‘shaping’ where the animal does the behaviour and then you praise it. You have to wait for her to offer to lie down and then reward that. So, it took a bit of time.
Colin Farrell on set. Image supplied.
“I had a brown check blanket and I’d just throw it onto the ground and she’d go up to it and lie down, which was really sweet, just as a dog might do. I also had to train her to stay on a mark, sit, lie down, heel like a dog and nudge a box.”
There was also an improvised segment involving a loaf of bread. “Jenny was meant to lie beside the fire next to Padraic; instead she got up, went to the table and pinched a loaf of bread which wasn’t in the script!
“I also trained her to walk around the room in various ways. To go around the chairs and under the table, getting used to going in different directions to reach Colin, so it would look very natural.”
In the movie Jenny dies in a most unfortunate and bizarre manner – you’ll have to see the film to find out more.
She is, of course, very much alive in reality, as is her stand-in who has now returned to the UK.
After filming, McDonagh wanted no commercialisation of Jenny – one role, one movie and that’s it. Now Jenny has some space – heaps of it on a property at a secret location in Ireland. According to her trainer she is very happy and is hanging out with her new friends. “To reveal Jenny’s whereabouts and have her on show like a prize pony would not only compromise the little donkey’s safety but would go against everything Martin McDonagh wanted for Jenny from the start of her journey to the big screen. And let’s face it, the last thing we need is to create a desire for miniature donkeys to be the new must-have pet.”
Rosie the stand-in donkey. Image supplied.
Colin Farrell loved Jenny... even though she did kick him once! Image supplied.
Jenny has retired from showbusiness and is done with fame. “Now, she’s doing what she should be doing – just being a donkey.”
The Banshees of Inisherin, distributed by Searchlight Pictures, is out on DVD and available to stream on Google Play, Apple TV and Disney+.
Next month, My Heroes Were Cowboys, a short film on Netflix starring Australian horseman Robin Wiltshire. EQ