HBO Vs. PETA: Letters Reveal Long Battle Over 'Luck'

The animal rights group had put persistent pressure on the network for weeks ahead of the show's cancellation following the deaths of three horses.

To many television viewers, HBO's March 14 decision to cancel Luck after three horses died during production seemed to come from out of the blue. But for weeks, HBO had been under pressure from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which had written to the premium cable channel raising questions about the treatment of horses on the series from executive producers Michael Mann and David Milch.

The animal-rights organization first inquired about Luck in January, prompting HBO to respond that it was following strict safety protocols. PETA responded with detailed questions Jan. 25, Feb. 1 and Feb. 3. On Feb. 7, HBO responded briefly, reiterating its commitment to safety. In March, PETA wrote again to express alarm -- days before the third horse's death. Below are excerpts from the correspondence.


Dear Mr. Lombardo,

I'm writing today because PETA has received allegations about the condition of the horses used and the oversight of race sequences during the filming of Luck, and we're hoping you can clear them up for us. We have been told by insiders at Santa Anita Park that some of the horses were not in good condition and that, as a result, some suffered from breakdowns and injuries. Furthermore, we understand that track veterinarians were prohibited by the track itself from providing care and that the American Humane Association did not require that a veterinarian be present. Can you clear this up for us? Was a veterinarian hired by HBO or the producers specifically to care for the animals, examine them before and after racing and training sequences, and provide care for sick and injured animals? How did the producers choose the animals filmed, and what condition were they in? We understand that at least one horse died on the set at the end of the pilot shoot. We are concerned that some of what was described to us about how the horses were being used that day could have contributed to that horse's death, so we'd appreciate any additional details about what happened.

One of my colleagues saw the preview of the first episode and said that it features a breakdown during one of the racing sequences. The breakdown looked very realistic, and we would like to know how that was handled.

I'd be grateful to hear from you at your earliest convenience. I can be reached at 323-850-xxxx or via e-mail. Thank you very much.

Best regards,

Ilana Sparrow


Dear Ilana:

I am writing in response to your email to Michael Lombardo regarding PETA concerns about the treatment of the horses on the set of "Luck." We forwarded your concerns to the production, and they responded with the following specifics about the safety measures that were implemented:

Please know that everyone involved with "Luck" is committed to taking every precaution to ensure the safety and well-being of the horses and other animals used on the show. HBO partnered with American Humane Association (AHA) to monitor the animal action during production, and we adhered to their established Safety Guidelines.

• We had both an experienced Local 399 movie wrangler and an experienced racing trainer overseeing the horses per AHA guidelines and working closely with them at all times and frequent veterinary care and treatment as required by American Humane Association.

• We had at least one veterinarian specializing in racehorses standing by at all times when running or training, and a horse ambulance standing by at all times both when filming horse races and when training. In addition, paramedics and an ambulance for the jockeys were present.

• Our horses were experienced in racing and in entering and exiting starting gates; and training was maintained throughout the season.

• Our racehorses were provided by a vendor who has provided horses for many other films.

• A veterinarian examined the horses every day. The vet was in the employ of the vendor and advised AHA, the 399 wrangler/trainer and the racehorse trainer. ...


Dear Mssrs. Richmond and Lombardo,

We are hearing from multiple credible sources that horses are once again at risk on the set of Luck. I urge you to take immediate action today to correct this situation.

We understand that there are currently no licensed humane officers on the set. This is inexplicable, unacceptable, and dangerous. While the American Humane Association may have a representative present for filming, this is inadequate. We ask you to return at least one, and preferably more, California licensed humane officers to the set and to ensure that their recommendations about the choice of the horses used and the filming methods are followed to the letter.

During the filming of the first season, there were reportedly four humane officers monitoring the use of horses. We are told that the production company, to its shame, did not always follow their advice, and this accounts, at least in part, for the two deaths during filming. These officers had rejected as unfit a number of horses who, we are now told, have been returned to the Luck set for the filming of the second season.

If this information is accurate, these horses are likely to sustain injuries or even die, and HBO will be culpable. Will you please take action today to stop filming any sequences involving horses until humane officers can be brought on the set to evaluate the horses and their conditions?

I look forward to hearing from you without delay.


Kathy Guillermo