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Originally published Sunday, February 10, 2013 at 5:05 AM

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Facts about the faux horses in ‘War Horse’

The skinny on South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company equine stand-ins for the mighty steeds in “War Horse.”

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The most vaunted stars of the acclaimed National Theatre of Great Britain’s hit show “War Horse,” starting a run at Paramount Theatre this week, are tall creatures with hoofs, manes, perked-up ears and fringed tails.

They may sound and act like horses, but are the handiwork of South Africa’s inventive Handspring Puppet Company. Each puppet is manipulated by three actors who undergo rigorous training for the job.

A few fascinating facts about these faux horses:

— Joey, the lead horse, weighs 120 pounds and is handmade by 14 people. He’s just under 10 feet long and about 8 feet tall, and has about 20 major joints.

— The horse frames are made of mostly cane, soaked, bent and stained. They have a “skin” of hosierylike fabric and an aluminum-frame spine lined with leather so the horses can be ridden.

— The hair in the mane and tail is made of Tyvek, a plasticlike paper.

— One puppeteer controls the ears and head; another controls breathing and front legs; a third in the hind controls the tail and back legs.

— The tail and ears are movable, since that’s how horses usually express themselves. The leather ears are controlled by levers connected to bicycle brake cables.

— One lever moves the tail up and down; when two levers are moved together, the tail spirals.

Misha Berson: mberson@seattletimes.com

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