Yorkshire stunt team hitting the heights with big-screen action

IT is a good job that Dylan, a stunt horse, is an unflappable character.

Carrying a cameraman across the moors, who sat facing the horse’s tail so that he could film as they went along, was all in a day’s work for this horse.

On this occasion the work in question was for the film Wuthering Heights. On another he, or one of his stable mates, might be asked to jump through a hoop of fire, or take part in a medieval jousting tournament.

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“It is fun but we do spend a lot of time training as well,” says Mark Atkinson, who is a former dairy farmer.

That was all a long time ago and he has no regrets about giving up farming in favour of horses. Life certainly sounds much more glamorous but is probably equally hard work.

“I did show-jumping for fun, I’d just got married and we had two small children and when people started asking me about somewhere to keep their horses, we decided to start a livery yard and riding school,” explained Mark.

Through one of their customers, he became interested in providing horses for historical reenactments and works with both English Heritage and the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds.

One thing led to another and now, as well as the livery business, the whole family is involved in providing horses for films and television and for public events.

Next week they will take a team of six horses to London to prepare for the Royal Tournament, which takes place at Earl’s Court next weekend.

Mark’s son Ben,18, is an accomplished stunt rider and will be riding two of the horses as they jump through hoops of fire.

They have set up their own stunt team, Atkinson Action Horses, and recently returned from putting on a display in Malta.

Five members of the team, including Ben, have been working on the yet to be released Stephen Speilberg film of War Horse.

The Atkinsons were asked to supply a total of nine horses for the film Wuthering Heights, much of which was filmed near Hawes.

“The horses were based at Ferdy Murphy’s racing yard at West Witton and the facilities were brilliant,” said Mark. “Andrea Arnold, the director, was so supportive and it was a really good experience.”

They spent three months working on the film. At one point, the conditions underfoot were so muddy and uneven that they decided the only way to film Cathy and Heathcliff riding across the moors would be to put the cameraman, who had never ridden, on horseback.

Back home at Eastrington, near Howden, they keep their horses in training ready for the next assignment. It may be jousting or chariot races or pulling a gun carriage at an English Heritage event. You may have seen them making a fleeting appearance as Cavalry horses in The King’s Speech.

“We really enjoy doing our own stunt shows, too,” says Mark. “One of our favourites is the Hallowe’en show at the Royal Armouries in Leeds.”

It’s a show full of stunts, tricks and fire. And while there are some downsides to this job – a lot of driving and hefty insurance charges – he certainly doesn’t miss life as a dairy farmer.

Mark Atkinson can be contacted at [email protected]

Return to East Park proves a hit with crowds

THE decision to take top class show-jumping back to East Park in Hull has proved to be a success in more ways than one.

Hull Show used to be a very popular event in its heyday 30 years ago and many people have memories of hacking there on their ponies and competing at the show.

After a trial run last year, British Showjumping’s Area 15a committee took the plunge and made it an even bigger and better event this year.

A third ring was added to accommodate the many entries, there were more trade stands as well as a small fair and over 20,000 people visited the park on the day of the show.

The organisers were delighted by the response and have just had an unexpected pat on the back from British Showjumping, whose members voted it one of the top three shows in the country this year.

The other two were major players, Hickstead and the Scope Festival.

“To be nominated in the company of Hickstead and the final winner, the Scope Festival, was felt by all to be an honour in itself,” said Esther Fowler from the Area 15a committee.

Michael Bainbridge, the committee’s chairman, along with Sharon Cawood, Anne Fearnall and Lisa Topi attended the recent Show Jumpers Awards Ball in Birmingham where the presentations were made.

John Lanni, the former owner of Arena UK, received an award for his commitment and contribution to show-jumping.

Also receiving awards for regional points were Area 15a members Katie Benbow and Dan Patrick.

The latter made a quick turnaround, returning from the Hallowe’en Show at Arena UK the previous day with five wins to his credit and the Leading Rider award.

Hull Show will be held in East Park again next year on August 12.

Brave Danielle to open Christmas Winter Wonderland

THERE will be donkey rides and sleigh rides if you visit Santa at the EST Leeds Children and Donkey Centre at Eccup next weekend.

The centre is holding a Christmas Winter Wonderland weekend on December 3 and 4. The event will be opened by BBC Radio Leeds presenter Andrew Edwards and 13-year-old Danielle Bailey, from Otley.

Danielle recently won a Pride of Britain award for her courage.

She had her hands and legs amputated after contracting meningitis as a child and has fought hard to become a gold medal-winning amateur swimmer.

Visitors to the festive weekend will also be able to meet the centre’s 22 donkeys. The centre runs an adopt a donkey scheme which costs £16 a year.

A Christmas carol concert and nativity follows on December 15 when the stars of the nativity will be the children with special needs who benefit from donkey riding therapy at the centre.

The Alwoodley-based Mixed Voices choir will be there, too. For tickets and more details call 0113 261 9249.

TICKETS for next year’s Horse of the Year Show have gone on sale and apart from the Saturday night performance, remain at this year’s prices. Next year’s show will be at the NEC in Birmingham from October 3-7.

If you are looking for Christmas present ideas, HOYS have two Christmas gift packages on offer which can be ordered as an extra when you buy tickets. One includes a HOYS rosette and a confirmation letter, wrapped up in a gold box, which is £8. The other includes a gift-wrapped copy of the book Horse of the Year Show: Under the Spotlight by Gillian Newsum, a rosette and letter, which is £32.50.

For more information go to www.hoys.co.uk or call the box office on 0844 581 8282.