With ‘War Horse’ at cinemas at the moment, much deserved recognition is being given to animals in TV and film. Animal trainer Martin Winfield owns and runs Rockwood Dog Training Centre in Caerphilly and has also supplied animals for TV and films for over 25 years. He explains, “I have always been connected to animals. I was brought up in Spain in a little village with loads of stray dogs around. Everyone else hated them but I used my pocket money to buy food for them.”
“Later I learned to train my own German Sheppard to do tricks. I loved showing off and doing demonstrations with him. I trained him to walk on a tightrope, pick up fire dumbbells and we did little Shows together. Then we went onto ‘That’s Life’ with Esther Rantzen and all of a sudden everyone wanted me and I got an agent. People kept asking how could they train their dogs so I started a Dog Training Club and a Dog Display Team and now have 16 people working with me and a 12 and a half tonne lorry all kitted out to take the dogs to Shows and TV sets.
“I have worked with Peter O Toole, Anthony Hopkins and Rhys Ifans and provided animals for lots of TV programmes and films. I provide the ‘Party Poodle’, a black and white standard poodle, for S4C’s Children’s series Ha Ha Hairies and have provided dogs that have caused pile ups on motorways for Casualty, pigeons for Casualty (one escaped in a hospital),insects and rats for Torchwood and Dr Who and horses for Merlin.”
Martin continues, “I would never have thought for a minute that my life would have gone this way. I’m not an academic and I think you need a bit of luck in life. I’ve been given some great opportunities. People have put their faith in me.”
“I am a very spiritual person and believe that we all have instincts that we don’t use and appreciate any more. We have lost that important connection with nature and animals.”
The affable animal lover recalls, “My childhood was idyllic, the biggest decision I had to make was to go to the beach or the mountain. Every day I was outside exposed to nature, it was fabulous. People today don’t even understand growing their own food, they don’t want to get dirty. Schools shouldn’t just have playing fields they should have growing fields.”
Rockwood is now a family run business and it comes as no surprise when Martin confesses, “Animals have priority on our garden and it is designed to accommodate them. We have got flower boxes and little topiary bay trees but the dogs have got plenty of room to run around. When we came here first we did spent time on the garden but the dogs just cocked their legs on everything. My wife Ellen, keeps on about having an allotment and we have the scope to grow our own at home but just no time. We are filming every day these days and have dog training classes every evening. I never know what I’m going to be asked when the phone rings, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.” You can read Martin’s fascinating memoirs at www.rockwood-dog-training.com where there are also details of his TV animals and dog training classes.