Plucked from obscurity by Steven Spielberg to star in the film adaption of War Horse, actor Jeremy Irvine admits he was truly the rookie in the cast – the entire cast.
"All the horses had more acting experience than I did," Irvine tells PEOPLE. "They'd all been in many more movies than I had."
The first order of business after Irvine took the role of Albert, a boy whose beloved steed is shipped off to serve in World War I, was learning to ride – which he had never done before.
"I certainly wouldn't have called myself an animal person [then]," says Irvine. "I was kind of skeptical because I didn't think I'd genuinely get a relationship with these horses."
The 22-year-old surprised himself when, during the intense training, he began to bond with his equine costars. There were 14 in all who played the main animal character, Joey, including a horse named Finder who starred in the 2003 film Seabiscuit.
"I think within about probably a week, I was a sucker like everyone else," he says. "There's something very human in their emotions."
Watch the clip above to see Irvine talk more about the challenges of training and how the War Horse story relates to his own life.