I teach animals how to act for a living and it's my dream job!

It’s lights, camera, animals for Rosie the wrangler!

By Fleur Guthrie
Rosie Miles can regale you with stories of working with actors such as Tom Cruise and Ryan Gosling, but it's her colourful account of getting caught up in a drama with a little-known actress called Carol that brings the most laughs.
After training animals for film and TV for more than 20 years, Rosie had never met a star who didn't warm to her – until Carol the monkey, who was starring in a car commercial.
The furry wee diva had formed a close relationship with Rosie's colleague, animal behaviourist Mark Vette, and wasn't afraid to let others know.
"She loved him and was quite possessive because obviously Mark was her man," says Rosie with a chuckle.
"One day, Carol was sitting on his shoulders, running her fingers through his hair, and when I walked into the barn, she gave me this expression that said, 'Don't even look at him.'
"I was feeling a little uncomfortable when suddenly she climbed down his body, ran across the floor and up my body. She straddled my shoulders, dug two hands into my hair and shook my head violently. Then she ran back to Mark to climb up for a cuddle and smooth his hair, then looked at me like, 'Did you get that memo?'"
It worked out for the best when producers later needed the monkey to look threateningly at someone.
"Guess who they chose? So Carol sat there giving me the evils! I was just so glad she didn't bite me."
Rosie Horsing around in Xena days.
As Rosie welcomes the Weekly into her home in Waimauku in west Auckland, which she shares with her partner John, she can list an impressive filmography, including The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and The Last Samurai, for which she trained everything from wolves and chickens to oxen.
"When Tom Cruise was filming The Last Samurai, he used to come and visit the animal enclosure on his way back from set with his children. The kids would show him how they'd taught cats to come to a buzzer," recalls Rosie, who admits she was initially star-struck.
"You do stop breathing there for a second when he walks in. But he was extremely pleasant and down to earth. We watched him get very cold and wet doing his own stunts, so we had great respect for Tom."
It was on the long-running TV series Xena: Warrior Princess that Rosie cut her teeth as a horse wrangler, before becoming the equine coordinator on Young Hercules and teaching Ryan Gosling to ride.
The grandmother-of-three says she got to know the "delightful teenager" very well, with no inkling of how famous he would become.
"We were both just working in our dream jobs!"
Before they were famous: Rosie (left) with a fresh-faced Ryan Gosling.
Born in Nairobi, East Africa, Rosie remembers being a little girl in love with anything with fur or feathers.
Her family lived on the edge of "bundu" (bushland), where animals roamed freely and there were leopard-paw prints in the concrete.
Rosie got to ride a zebra and had an unforgettable time interacting with five-month-old lion cubs who went on to star in the movie Born Free.
Rosie's parents moved the family to New Zealand in the 1960s, where her love for animals continued.
"I was always horse-crazy, so finally, when I was 11, my mum bought me my own pony, Clyde. I've owned a horse ever since."
She competed in show jumping and rode horses to Grand Prix dressage level.
"I had a brilliant horse that would lie down or bow on command and I was approached to see if he would do that for a TV ad," she tells.
"The work grew and suddenly I was on set too as a wrangler."
It was on a set that Rosie, a trained nurse, met her best friend, fellow animal trainer Bex Watts, who worked as Kiwi actress Lucy Lawless' riding and body double on the hit show Xena.
The talented duo recently took the reins to train Ace, a miniature horse who plays possessed pony Black Cyril in TVNZ 2's comedy Fresh Eggs.
He was a challenge, explains Bex – he was cast for his looks, but not necessarily for his talent.
"Ace is living proof that you can teach an old pony new tricks," she says with a laugh.
"It took a while for him to be keen, but he's tenacious. I had to teach him to bite my butt for a scene. He ended up doing that quite successfully!
"When it came time for filming, he was like a torpedo. His head went down, he galloped over and pulled with all his might on the padded overalls on the actor's bottom.
Rosie has fond memories of growing up around animals in East Africa, including a ride on a zebra.
Bex and Rosie agree you have to set the animals up to win and make sure their welfare is paramount, even if it means telling producers they're allowed just one more take and then they must call it a day.
"When you take them onto a film set, they have to be desensitised to so many things going on," says Bex.
"We encourage them to have their own personality too.
"There have been many wrap parties after a shoot where the animals have joined us for a little socialising."

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