Thrills and Spills! – Atkinson’s Action Horses

Atkinson Action Horses are a professional stunt team that provide horses and riders to film companies. They’ve been involved in films such as Wuthering Heights, The Kings Speech, War Horse, Clash Of The Titans 2 – Wrath Of The Titans, Snow White and the Huntsman & Robin Hood 2010. They also

They perform around the country on a regular basis for organisations Royal Armouries, English Heritage, Wirtartna (Maltese Heritage Trust), Royal Tournament at Earls Court and for recreation societies such as The Ermaine Street Guard, Destrier, English Civil War Society and the Sealed Knot.

I’ve seen Atkinson Action Horses in action all summer at the Royal Armouries Leeds at the Jousting events and had a chat with several of the team members. I’ve seen the horses up close and spent time in their company.  Most recently I saw them at Royal Armouries doing a stunt show on Friday 30th August and Saturday 31st August.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were different line-ups on Friday and Saturday but the show followed the same format. Both days the main host was Charlie who introduced us to the theme for the show. Apparently a mistype on the Royal Armouries site had led Italy to believe the site was an independent kingdom and declare war… the team were the Royal Armouries Professional Army, or RAPA – gang signs were thrown out!

So RAPA were training in case of Italian invasion.

Here Mark Atkinson riding Dylan jumps a shield wall, there is a beam to jump after the shield wall which on a second run is set on fire.

Dylan then returned to confront the shield wall again. Or rather one member of the shield wall, Ricky, who sets to receive a blow from a lance.

These shots are from Saturday when Mike was riding Dylan.

Ricky walks away unscathed.

Mike returns with a flaming lance, setting fire to Ricky’s shield. The floor of the tiltyard is actually flammable, this is a lot more dangerous than it looks and the shield needs to be laid flat to be safely extinguished.

Training of the horse is one thing, the humans need to be confident in the horse and rider to hold their ground in these stunts. Of course the worse thing they could do is move out of position. Dylan is a big fella and a clip from him will smart a bit.

The next trick involved a pistol, four people and four balloons.

On Friday the stunt was done by Mike, riding down the line on Charlie (the horse not the host) firing at the targets, the balloons obviously. All bursting, the last one filled with water.

On Saturday it was Matt on Charlie (horse) and no one can accuse Matt of under-acting the part.

The last balloon was water-filled for extra fun, Friday the victim was Jack and Saturday Ricky.

Clearly a rather simple stunt here for Charlie (horse) but it illustrates some of the film work the horses and riders might be required to perform, usually without balloons one would assume.

What followed was a relay race between tow teams. Friday the teams were Candice and Mark riding Bruce against Gill and Mike riding Seamus. On Saturday Candice and Mike were with Seamus and Gill and Matt were with Bruce.

The relay involved several lengths of the tiltyard with much mounting and dismounting and putting on and taking off of disguises.

The horses carrying one or two riders at a time.

Though Matt did find mounting Bruce at speed a wee bit tricky in those ever-so-tight leather trousers. Ricky was on hand to assist.

At times there were other difficulties, such as seeing where you are going. Though to be fair Seamus knew what he was doing even if it wasn’t certain that Mike and Candice did.

It wasn’t only the horses having to run around in this series of stunts.

It was quite close between the ladies at one point on Friday.

On Saturday it was close between the gents too, but this was before the picture above of Matt being unceremoniously positioned on Bruce.

I’m not sure Bruce knew what to think of that.

I can’t recall who actually won on Friday but it might not be a shock when I reveal that it was Candice and Mike victorious on Saturday.

I’ve left out a lot of Italian stereotyping that went on during the show. You’ll be comforted to know that at this point the Italians called off their invasion. Charlie (the host not the horse) was slightly discomforted when a family of Italians made themselves known to him on Friday after the show. I didn’t get a picture of that meeting…

We were then treated to a fine selection of trick riding. These stunts take quite some time to practice, it’s a long haul for these riders to get ready for show-day.

 This set of shows was the debut for Candice, pictured here with Seamus.

On Friday I was sat near a group of Candice’s friends. It was impossible to miss as they were quite excited waiting to see someone and went bananas every time Candice did anything. It was quite entertaining in itself, it certainly didn’t seem to put her off at all.

If I hadn’t known it was her first live show I wouldn’t have guessed. These photos are a mix from Friday & Saturday simply as I got better shots of the tricks on different days. Frankly I couldn’t say there was much of a difference between the two performances.

A very good opening show for her.

Charlie is seen here chatting to a non-Italian family on Saturday…

Possibly why he is looking very relaxed.

Though to be fair the Italian family I mentioned earlier had taken it all in the manner intended, just a bit of fun. Still, it did make me laugh.

This set of shows was the debut for Candice, pictured here with Seamus.

On Friday I was sat near a group of Candice’s friends. It was impossible to miss as they were quite excited waiting to see someone and went bananas every time Candice did anything. It was quite entertaining in itself, it certainly didn’t seem to put her off at all.

Charlie performed the Backwards Riding on Chelsea’s neck (above left) and a Heel Drag (above).

To the left he is doing the Clown Walk, sadly I didn’t get a picture that does this justice on either day. It’s a great stunt believe me.

Mike performed two tricks where he was horizontal on the horse. I’d think that takes quite some core body strength.


And Mike’s signature stunt. Standing upright on Bruce at canter. Here shown in the two phases. Impressive.

That wasn’t everything though, Mike came back with Charlie and Chelsea. Would he really be trying standing on two horses?

Actually, yes he would

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd he then proceeded to run a slalom around 



and Matt.

This is Roman Riding, made popular by the Greeks despite the name.

This was the first time Mike has performed this stunt in front of a show audience. Though a variation on his signature stunt, quite a step up.

Again I’m sure all must agree, very impressive.

The final stunt was one that the team saw a Mounted Police Officer perform at the Horse of The Year Show.

While riding Mike, Charlie and Mark removed the saddles from their horses.




And then make a jump bare-back riding.

Mark on Chelsea



Mike on Bruce



Charlie on Dylan.

Quite a finale to a great show.

These shows brought an end to Atkinson’s Action Horses appearances at the Royal Armouries for the Summer.

They will be back with a different show at Halloween.

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