You may recognize Ross O’Hennessy from the popular Game of Thrones, The Musketeers or The Bastard Executioner. When reading this interview, you might also recognize the name Sultan – this horse gets around. Not only is he the horse from War Horse, but he was also in YTV’s Ride. Ross is an experienced equestrian, having ridden for film many times and even participated in medieval jousting.
1. Did you have any horseback riding experience before you became an actor?
I have a lot of horseback experience, as I have been a horse owner and rider for many, many years. In fact, I have a huge amount of experience with medieval horses and stunts. In 2001 I took my kids on a riding lesson to a farm in Caerphilly in South Wales. My stepson rode a big Section D called Bronze – he was a Clydesdale and Welsh Cob cross. He was a monster of a horse at about 700 kg and 16 hands 2 inches, but he had such an intelligent nature and was so forward going, I just knew he was meant for more than just child lessons. I bought him from the farm and had him stabled at a friend’s farm.
Over the next 10 years that horse and I did everything together from winter riding to jousting! Yes, you read correct…he jousted. I have a passion for medieval history and together we explored the life of a war horse. I learned to ride and joust in armour, and he learned to wear armour and how to behave on the battlefield and jousting arena. We won a few competitions and had the deepest of love for the fun we experienced together. Bronze was the greatest of all the horses I have owned.
2. Other than Game of Thrones, have you ridden for any other film projects?
I have ridden in many film and TV projects, for some strange reason I often end up with the same horse. In a project called Da Vinci’s Demons, which was written by David S. Goyer, and The Bastard Executioner, which was written by Kurt Sutter, I ended up riding a horse called Sultan. He is owned by a fantastic stunt team called The Devil’s Horsemen and he was the horse they used in the film War Horse. He is a very strong horse who needs a positive rider, but he is a beauty. I enjoyed working with him immensely.
3. Do you have any behind-the-scenes stories to share (with regard to horses)?
Yeah, I have a wonderful one. Lots of actors will say they can ride; it is very normal for actors to make this claim. All actors desperately want the job and often claim abilities above their realistic aspects. I know that also a lot of actors can ride but all real riders know that once you put 30 horses together and try to get then to canter under control, the real horse nature comes out. Horses love to race and once you get a dozen horses together their heads lift and you can feel the electricity dancing through their hooves! We shot a scene with 20 horses cantering through the woods whilst we were filming for The Bastard Executioner, I remember the squeals and the giggles as those actors experienced that feeling of racing horses for the first time. As we cantered through the woods I looked across to my fellow actors and I laughed out loud as I could see the fear and thrill on their faces. One thought crossed my mind… “Now you are riding, enjoy it… it doesn’t get any better than this!”
4. Most of Game of Thrones is filmed in Ireland; what was it like working there?
I shot all of my scenes in Northern Ireland, to be honest with you I didn’t really get a chance to enjoy Belfast very much as we were working long days. I have, however, been there several times with plays and other film projects and I can say that the people are very friendly.
5. You play a lot of period characters, what’s your favorite time period?
I do indeed play a lot of historical characters. Ha ha! I guess it must be the beard. My favourite period is the 14th century and when I am not on a film set then you will find me at Cosmeston Medieval Village near Cardiff, South Wales. I am the historic advisor and supervisor to this reconstructed medieval village. It is the largest reconstructed medieval village that is built on its original stones anywhere in the world.
6. What sort of research, if any, do you put into your characters before you prepare for a part?
I just adore history and when I played Sir Locke in The Bastard Executioner, I was able to bring all my research to that role and completely fill out my character. It is good to have a passion and mine is horses and Welsh history. So, when I was given the chance to use all my personal knowledge to create a character for Kurt Sutter, well…I was over the moon.
7. How has riding and being around horses affected you as an actor?
Horses have affected me as an actor a lot because as we all know, you have to be calm around horses. This carries into my work; I often find myself being calm on set and not getting stressed or overly excited.
8. Do you have a favourite horse to ride/work with?
A favourite horse? Well of course my own! I have been lucky and I had a few chances to use him on some smaller projects.
9. What do you enjoy most about working with horses?
Horses are just such beautiful creatures. I feel blessed to have had so many chances to bond with such great animals on set. Everything about them is magical and I enjoy every aspect, even down to coming home smelling of horse sweat.
10. Do you have any current or upcoming projects that you’d like to share?
I just finished a film this year called Knights of the Damned. We had a lot of horse riding scenes and I rode a gorgeous mare on that project. Lots and lots of high action moments.