Editor’s note: A version of this story appears in the March edition of Preston Hollow People.
She has taken her horses around the United States for shows and competitions. But nothing compares to the experience that Joni Kuhn and her two Royal Friesian horses had in Panem.
That’s the fictional nation that provides the setting for the blockbuster Hunger Games series of science-fiction books and films. And it’s where the Preston Hollow resident and her horses enjoyed a couple of weeks in the Hollywood spotlight.
Kuhn’s horses, Aandrik and Zobe, appear in a few sequences of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, which was the top-grossing movie of 2013 and is slated to be released on DVD this week.
Kuhn has been riding horses since she was a child. The SMU graduate is a trainer at Bella Cavalli Farm in Denton County and owns about 10 horses. She has owned Aandrik and Zobe for five years, and travels with them to compete for a few months each spring and fall.
Two years ago, however, came a call from a friend who was working with Hunger Games producer Nina Jacobson to find carriage horses for Catching Fire. Kuhn figured it would be a great opportunity, but she had one catch.
“She decided to go after the really beautiful Royal Friesians,” Kuhn said of Jacobson. “I said they couldn’t have the horses unless I could drive them in the movie. They finally gave in.”
Kuhn can’t actually be seen in the movie like her equine counterparts. Instead, she was driving the horses from her knees, performing complex maneuvers while covered up with a dark blanket and able to see only though a small slit. She also had to put ribbons on the horses and shave some of the hair from their legs to get them in character.
“It was pretty crazy. Everything they wanted us to do for the movie was everything the horses didn’t want to do, but they came through perfectly,” she said. “I fell in love with Friesian horses all over again.”
Filming of the horse sequences took place at the Georgia Dome and Atlanta Motor Speedway in fall 2012, more than a year before the film was released.
There were six teams of Friesians who rehearsed together and performed in a handful of scenes, some of which ultimately wound up on the cutting-room floor.
“It was probably the most challenging thing I’ve ever done in my life, but it was a huge memory for me,” Kuhn said. “They were fabulous to us.”
In fact, Kuhn was so proud of Aandrik and Zobe that she hosted a premiere for the film in Addison prior to its release, during which the horses were able to walk the red carpet.
“They’re stars. They love it,” Kuhn said. “I would love to put them in more movies.”