When Lionsgate Films contacted Tom Warriner almost two years ago about the herd of black Friesians he oversees at the Grand Oaks Resort and Museum in southern Marion County, he never thought two of them, Dieuwe and Tristan, would play prominent roles in the recently released film "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire."
The pair were among 17 Friesians used in the movie, but Dieuwe and Tristan were the two chosen to pull the chariot carrying the two main characters, Katniss Everdeen, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Peeta Mellark, portrayed by Josh Hutcherson.
"They are beautiful horses. We probably have the biggest Friesian herd in Florida," said Warriner, who is the general manager at the resort, which holds concerts and special events throughout the year.
The horses are used at the resort to pull carriages. They also compete in driving events, which in addition to formal carriages and dress, known as dressage, also includes speeding through a cross country course with water and other obstacles.
"We purchased them from Holland and brought them over as 4- or 5-year-olds," Warriner said.
Dieuwe is now 20 and Tristan is 15. Both are geldings.
For those not familiar with "The Hunger Games" trilogy, the story revolves around the annual tournament where one boy and one girl from each of 12 districts is selected to fight to the death. The lone survivor wins the Hunger Games and, in addition to personal riches, their district also is rewarded. The participants, known as tributes, are randomly selected by the government to attend the Hunger Games.They have no choice in the matter. The two tributes from each district enter a grand arena on a chariot seemingly led without a driver. The procession is a spectacle in which flamboyant costumes are worn by the tributes in an effort to make the grandest impression.
But what is shown in the film is mostly movie magic. While the glamorous costumes and chariots were real, the visually huge arena scene was mostly shot in the parking lot of a speedway outside of Atlanta.
"They had tons of these shipping containers stacked all around and then those were draped in green fabric," said Suzie Dixon, who was one of the hidden drivers that lead the Friesians in the grand procession.
Dixon had to crouch in front of the actors, covered in a black blanket, as she drove the horses while looking out a small slit in the front of the chariot.
"All I could see was the horses' hocks. It was very interesting," Dixon said. "During the shoot, it was like you were living in your own little world with the film crew and everything. Then we had our own little world inside the world taking care of the 17 horses."
Dixon, who winters in Ocala and trains at Grand Oaks, has been driving carriages for years. She said the filming was intense and most shooting days started before light and ended after dark.
"You'd get up at two in the morning to start braiding their manes and wrapping their legs. Then we had to get them loaded and drive about an hour to the shooting location so we could have them there by 8 or 9 a.m.," Dixon said.
She said she never got to meet Jennifer Lawrence, but did see her from afar.
"She is very good looking. All the actors were beautiful, and so beautifully dressed. There was this one gorgeous man, who was half-naked and painted in gold, that I remember," Dixon said. "It was just so much fun."
Dixon is not unfamiliar with production work. She was a television casting director until the mid-1990s. During The Hunger Games shoot, she was especially impressed with the care the animals received.
"They took great care of those horses. They would check the horses constantly and made sure they had the best of everything. The ASPCA was there. There was a lot of concern for the health and welfare of the horses," she said.
Back in the real world, Dieuwe and Tristan work every day. But the "movie stars" are available for viewing by the public from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day at the Grand Oaks show barn.
"They may be stars now, but they still have to work for their grain," Warriner said.