Richard Madden in Game of Thrones
04/10/2012 AT 02:30 PM EDT
Besides good looks and a Scottish accent, Richard Madden shares another trait with his Game of Thrones character, Robb Stark: a love of horses. But it didn't start out that way.
"I didn't know how to ride before I got the part," he tells PEOPLE. "I actually ended up really enjoying it, and continue to do it [on my own]."
After learning he had landed the plum role on HBO's epic series, Madden immediately began taking horseback riding lessons to successfully portray Stark, a highborn lord who grew up on horseback.
"That's something that's very natural to Robb," Madden says. "I don't want to be thinking about trying to keep a horse in check or trying to control him; I want it to be second nature to me so I can focus on doing the job."
His appreciation for the animals has come around so much that Madden now enjoys squeezing in a ride when he's not needed on set.
"Horses are these amazing creatures, and very cunning actually," he says. "When I can, I'll just jump on a horse and go for a race around in between scenes. It keeps the horses awake and it keeps me entertained too."