War Horse: Puppets Bring Horses to Life

Dec 5, 2012

To bring the story of "War Horse" to the stage, it was necessary to create convincing likenesses of horses.

The Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa designed the lifelike puppets for War Horse.
Credit Courtesy / Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

The British company behind the play turned to the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa for the job.

"War Horse" arrives at MSU’s Wharton Center tonight. There will be eight performances.

It was 18 months from the first cardboard model that I sent to opening night. Adrian Kohler

WKAR's Scott Pohl spoke with Adrian Kohler, artistic director of the puppet company, in Capetown, South Africa. Kohler says when he first heard the story of a farmboy whose horse is sent off to the battlefields of World War I, he thought a horse puppet would be relatively simple to design. Then, he read the book. The scenes of plowing and battle charges showed him right away that it wouldn't be that simple.

Getting it right took extensive research, including the study of horse anatomy, observations of live horses, and films made by Monty Roberts, the self-proclaimed Horse Whisperer. The detailed puppets are able to display what Kohler refers to as a horse's "emotional indicators," the ears and the tail. In all, nine horse puppets are seen on stage.

Handspring also trains the puppeteers who operate the horses on stage.

Kohler says "War Horse" has brought the Handspring Puppet Company its greatest international acclaim.