Nearly two months after HBO canceled its horseracing drama Luck following the death of the third horse during production, new complaints of mistreatment have emerged from watchdog group PETA.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals on Thursday filed new complaints with the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office and the California Veterinary Medical Board claiming what it dubbed severe mistreatment of horses on the set of the Michael Mann-David Milch series.
New documents released by a whistleblower and memos from the American Humane Association point to evidence that the production violated AHA guidelines and California anti-cruelty laws, including that horses were underfed in an effort to save money.
Documents obtained from a whistleblower claim trainer Matthew Chew -- hired by Milch's production company -- allegedly allowed for the following to take place with the knowledge of veterinarian Heidi Agnic:
• Horses were underfed in a bid to save money, with one 300 pounds underweight, and Chew proposed covering the protruding ribs of another horse with a blanket during filming.
• Sick horses were regularly used in filming, with some ill horses disappearing from the set without explanation, and the trainer warned he could be charged with neglect.
• Improperly trained, unprepared horses were used during racing scenes, putting jockeys and the animals at risk.
• Horses were regularly tranquilized in order to keep them docile.
"These documents appear to reveal what Luck executive producers David Milch and Michael Mann have repeatedly denied: that horses were mistreated and endangered on a daily basis," PETA senior vp Lisa Lange said Thursday. "HBO says today it lost $35 million with the cancellation of Luck, but the horses paid a much bigger price. The authorities can take action now to send a message that cruelty to animals for the sake of 'entertainment' -- or for any reason -- will not be tolerated."
In a statement Thursday, HBO reaffirmed its commitment to the safety of all involved.
"The safety and welfare of the horses was always of paramount concern," the network said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. "While we maintained the highest safety standards possible, working closely with American Humane Association to review and improve protocols on an ongoing basis, it was impossible to guarantee no further accidents would occur. Accordingly, we reached the difficult decision to cease production."
After giving an early renewal to the glossy series starring Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte, the premium cable network pulled the plug on the effort March 14 following the death of the third horse.
Production on the sophomore season was underway in March at the Santa Anita racetrack in Arcadia, Calif., when the third horse was injured. Gary Beck, a veterinarian from the California Horse Racing Board, was on hand and noted the horse was on her way back to the stall when she "reared, flipped over backward and struck her head on the ground."
HBO had been working closely with the American Humane Association and racing industry experts within the California Horse Racing Board to implement safety protocols that go "above and beyond" typical film TV industry standards and practices, with prerace exams performed by a CHRB-certified vet with radiographs taken of the legs of all horses being considered for use in simulated racing sequences.
HBO opted to cancel the drama the day after PETA for production on the series to be shut down following the third incident (two horses were injured and euthanized during production of Season 1).
"Safety is always of paramount concern," HBO said in announcing the series' cancellation. "We maintained the highest safety standards throughout production -- higher, in fact, than any protocols existing in horseracing anywhere -- with many fewer incidents than occur in racing or than befall horses normally in barns at night or pastures. While we maintained the highest safety standards possible, accidents unfortunately happen, and it is impossible to guarantee they won’t in the future. Accordingly, we have reached this difficult decision."