Game of Thrones challenge for Borders euine stunt team
Jedburgh-based equine stunt team Les Amis has recently been working on two major films made in Scotland and is now taking part in one of the biggest TV shows in the world.
The team was split in two to work simultaneously on Mary Queen of Scots and The Outlaw King at sites across the country.
Having worked on the hit TV series Outlander for the past three years, all the Les Amis riders are now heading to Northern Ireland to feature in the latest season of Game of Thrones.
Sue Zacharis, Les Amis founder, explained regular jousting shows throughout the summer ensured her riders were in their finest form for filming.
She said: “We have had so many interesting things going on in late summer and autumn of this year.
“The Outlaw King was filmed all over Scotland, including in Berwick where they the old bridge was transformed into London Bridge. We also went up to Glencoe and Aviemore.
“Strangely, Mary Queen of Scots was filmed almost in the same locations.
“Filming for both started in September and finished a couple of weeks ago. We had riders out at both at the same time, so we were stretched.
“There were some big battle scenes but it is really just riding roles rather than stunts. Our riders still need to be fully trained though.
“And thanks to our live shows, our guys are fully trained already.
“They did a variety of roles, from carrying a large flag or sword to riding a horse into a river or over rough ground. All of which they are trained to do.
“All of our riders were involved, literally half on one film and half on the other. It was a very busy time.
“And they have now gone to Northern Ireland for Game of Thrones which is super exciting.
“They finish on December 22 for Christmas then go back in the New Year.”
Sue explained how the film and television work came about.
She said: “My son Jake Martin runs that side of the business. Like a lot of things it really is who you know.
“When Jake was 16 and first starting up in France he wanted to do this as a career.
“So I sent him to the UK to work with a team that does a lot of work on films.
“He made friends with a lot of people through that and was in a couple of films.
“The friendships made there have come back to reap rewards for Les Amis.
“About four years ago when they were looking for riders in Outlander one of his friends got in touch with Jake.
“Because they knew him they knew his team would be reliable. If you know the person your are bringing into filming it helps.
“They respected Jake and his ability and knew he wouldn’t bring someone in who wasn’t up to speed.”
While admitting the film work can be “boring”, Sue said it’s also a huge boost for their business.
She said: “To be honest, it just makes people sit up and take notice of us.
“Our proper skills with our horses are in our live arena shows which run from May to September.
“We are really good at and love what we do.
“But now we can say we rode on Game of Thrones, that also raises our profile.
“And obviously we get paid to do the work. As this is our low season it’s good to have that extra income.
“It gives added security through the winter and means our riders have work year round.
“For the team gelling, filming is also very good. Half the time the guys are just waiting around so it’s actually quite boring, that’s the honest truth of it.
“We did quite a bit of work on Outlander and the whole team took part, both riding and acting as doubles for actors. Stunt work is reliant on you having the same body shape as the actor.
“I did go along to the Mary Queen of Scots filming in the Cairngorms and it was a great experience.”
With more filming work than ever, coupled with a growing number of live arena shows – thanks in part to a growing relationship with Historic Scotland – Sue is delighted that Les Amis have gone from strength to strength since being founded in 1999.
She added: “Every year it seems like it has ramped up more and more.
“We thought last year was hugely busy but this year is even busier. I would say this has been our busiest yet.
“It has been steadily growing over the years which is great.
“Jousting for Historic Scotland is brilliant. It’s another really good thing for us to be doing. Through the team’s hard work, things are definitely on the up.”
From France to the Borders
The Les Amis d’Onno Premier Equine-Canine Stunt Team, to give its full title, specialises in jousting, western shows, stunt riding, cabaret, horseback archery, circus, fire shows, film , TV and photo shoots.
The firm has quality, trained Friesian and Andalusian horses, performing dogs and goats, stunt riders and performers of every kind. Les Amis also provides horses for weddings, birthday parties, photo, film and TV shoots.
It currently has a selection of stunning Andalusian and Friesian horses.
Sue Zacharis explained the French name and origin of the Jedburgh company.
She said: “The name has been very difficult. It’s the name of one of our horses.
“We were based in France for many years but we moved back to our home farm here.
“Started just before 2000, we are a family team with myself and my son and daughter, Bethany and Jacob, working in France training horses.
“My children were very young but got completely swept up in it. By the time they were 16 or 17 they knew they wanted to be part of the business.
“It seemed like the right thing to do to come back to the family farm in the Borders in 2008 and the business has just grown from there.”
Les Amis has seven full time riders and 17 horses at Lanton Hill Farm, just outside Jedburgh.
Sue added: “Local people have come to us for lessons or student placements and have stayed because they have been very good at what they do.
“We all live and work on the farm – it’s like a big family.
“We have also got an additional ten local riders who ride for us at the weekends, mostly in our jousting shows.
“There’s a lot of people involved but they are pretty much all from the local area.”