"I think a good rider leaves whatever drama or personal bullshit behind when in the saddle....It's about creating a relationship. You are equals. There is no master."
Here I chat to Layke Anderson, who is cast as the lead role of 'Freddie Forester,' a gifted young dressage rider. The film explores Freddie's struggles and the relationships he encounters upon his journey - including a turbulent one with his beautiful stallion Gaius (Sandro's Dancer.)
HE: What riding experience do you have prior to the film? Was dressage a new discipline for you?
LA: I hadn't been on a horse in years. My last riding experience before making the film was in Villaguay, Argentina where I was sometimes spending up to six hours a day in the saddle on a gaucho ranch. It's a whole other kettle of fish compared to dressage, and I did that for a few months, so no, I hadn't had any professional dressage experience.
HE: Dressage is notorious for being a sport that takes years to get very good at. What training did you do that enabled you to give a polished riding performance?
LA: I have a stunt double in the film who is responsible for about 50% of the riding. Despite some training before the film, it would be impossible in the time frame we had with this film to make a decent dressage rider out of me. Fortunately, Sandros who plays the stallion, is an expert, so even if my coordination was off at times, he guided me, whereas some of the horses I was training with would get lost if I made an error.
HE: You said it was about 7 years since you had ridden – how was it being back in the saddle again? Was it hard work or did it come naturally?
LA: It all came back, but I wasn't prepared for the leg pain after that first day in the saddle when we were training. It was similar to the first time I lifted dumbbells, but your body adapts very quickly after that initial phase. We dove straight into it.
HE: You’re selective about the films that you appear in, particularly now you are starting out a career behind the camera as a director rather than in front of it. What was it that made you want to do this film?
LA: Initially it was the prospect of playing opposite a stallion and exploring that relationship. I've always been more interested in flawed characters, usually because there's some kind of fear holding them back from fulfilment or a certain goal. What scares people is the most interesting part for me, and in this case the character is afraid of failure. He's a perfectionist. He's impulsive. He's impatient. There's a lot of expectation riding on him, most of which has been placed there by his father, and it was explicit in the script without being overwritten.
I don't expect to make any more films as an actor. I have said that after every job I've done, but I think this film serves as some kind of closure for me, though it can also be seen as a new beginning.
HE: The film explores the relationship between Freddie and Gaius (Sandro’s Dancer.) How did your own relationship with your co-star develop throughout the preparation of, and making of the film?
LA: We got on really well. There's quite a bit of violence between our characters, but even as you're lying there at his feet and he's stamping the ground, you get the impression from him that he knows it's all play. He was confused for a while I think, but as we went on I think he began to figure out what we were doing. He grew to trust me, probably because his trainer at the
time, Stef, was always just out of shot. We both worked hard.
HE: Do you have any top tips, learnings or philosophies from training with top dressage riders, and riding a highly trained competition horse?
LA: I think a good rider leaves whatever drama or personal bullshit behind when in the saddle. It's the same principal with any kind of sport or work activity. Freddie's emotions take over in the film and he gets an ass-kicking for it. But keeping the communication open between you and the horse can serve as a positive. You work together and respond to each other. The right kind of emotions can be a necessary part of training, and the people I worked with on the film - the dressage trainers and the stunt coordinators would agree with that. It's about creating a relationship. You are equals. There is no master.
HE: What is it about riding, and dressage in particular that you think makes for such interesting subject matter for such a film?
LA: There is this misconception with equine sports, something that was pointed out during the Olympics, that the rider is just sitting there. Dressage is a collaboration between horse and rider. The film isn't explicitly about dressage. It's also about a strained relationship between a father and son and the dressage serves as a reflection of this. Gaius, Freddie's horse, knows Freddie better than Freddie knows himself I think. It's about tough love, finding confidence, forgiveness... everyone can relate to these topics on some level, and we've all seen similar representations of these issues before in cinema, but this film gets to the nitty gritty of the sport.
"There is this misconception with equine sports, something that was pointed out during the Olympics, that the rider is just sitting there. Dressage is a collaboration between horse and rider."