Monday, February 11, 2013


Working for The Rider and loving movies it seemed a good idea to re-visit some favorite movies featuring horses and check out some of the missed ones.  A non horse friend, Barb Martin recommended "Secretariat" and that  motivated me to check out more horse movies.

If you watch anything set before 1900 that isn't all indoors you will see horses as that is how people and the goods they wanted got around.  In Westerns horses played more of a supporting role, taken for granted, but every now and then taking a spectacular fall.  Some of the cowboy heroes had their favorite horses, Silver, Trigger, Champion, Diablo, Topper.

Speaking of spectacular falls an interesting movie  (actually made for tv) is "The Englishman's Boy."  Originally a novel by Guy Vander haeghe who had a minor role in the film.  Back in the 1920's westerns were very popular and movie producers were always trying to add excitement.  We watch an action scene being filmed and a number of horses are seen falling supposedly from gunshot.  However we are permitted to see that actually they were tripped by wires and afterwards some of the horses had to be put down.  The reaction of one character to this cruelty became one of the focal points of the movie.  Today there are trainers that coach horses and riders a way to fall without injury.  It is an interesting movie that delves into aboriginal conflicts in western Canada as well as Hollywood westerns.

Secretariat was a quick pick that I had not seen before.  I knew he won the Triple Crown, but not much more.  The set up was a little discouraging (but really isn't that what movies are all about, overcoming adversity?) in the beginning with the decline of a horse owner.  The new owner Penny Chenery Tweedy was really the heroinne as she stuck to her guns when many suggested she sell off her father's estate and horses.  She fired a trainer she felt had a lack of positive attitude.  She ended up hiring an eccentric Canadian, Lucien Laurin and later a Canadian jockey, Ronnie Turcotte.

One of the stories within a story was to do with breeding. Most people seem to value the pedigree of a stallion more than a mare, but Penny felt that the mare was equally important.  Her father set up an unusual breeding program where he got the services of a proven stallion, but instead of paying a big buck he offered two mares and the stallion owner (who in this case was the richest man in the US) his choice of the two foals.  Penny thought the mare with the history of endurance would be the better choice and even though she lost the coin toss she got what she wanted.  Another important detail was raising money by selling breeding shares, something that had not been done before, but raised enough money that she could continue.

The reason the movie was made was that Secretariat did in fact win the Triple Crown, after a little bit of drama.  The movie reminded us that Secretariat set record times in doing so and went on to return the investment many times over.

The Black Stallion is a fictional account and admittedly improbable, but  a more touching movie.  We are introduced to a wild horse being harshly handled on board a ship.  A young boy attempts to befriend the horse, but is rebuffed by handlers.  A shipwreck sees the stallion and the boy marooned on an island.  Over a period of time they befriend one another.  During this period little is spoken, but much communication occurs.  To me this was the most wondrous part of the movie (and one of the best ever) with a combination of riding in the sea and what they tag as water ballet.  Music by Carmine Coppola accompanying the water ballet is very attuned to the mood.   A very beautiful setting which in reality is in Sardinia.  Kelly Reno, playing the young boy was very believable as the role required someone who had a lot of experience around horses from a very young age.  He was from Texas and started riding very young.

The second half of the movie gets back to the racetrack.  The young boy stumbles on Mickey Rooney, a horse trainer who has stepped aside, but becomes very excited about the Black Stallion.  The climax of course is a stirring victory from way behind.  It was filmed at Fort Erie racetrack which unfortunately  has gone through a lot of turmoil involving the casino down the Niagara River.

"The Horse Whisperer" is not only a movie I had seen, but a book I had read and even an event I had watched.  "Breaking horses" was a term I heard when I started selling ads for The Rider, but didn't really comprehend.  I read a book about Monty Roberts and then the novel by Nicholas Sparks and then I actually watched Monty, work with a horse who had never been ridden before.  Monty known as a real horse whisperer was a revelation changing the concept from breaking to "joining up."  I can see his objection to the movie and I can also see why they kept a certain scene in.

Monty's objection to the movie boiled down to the fact that the hero, a supposed horse whisperer at one point used violent means to accomplish his goal.  As I understood the movie there was an emotional element where Robert Redford wanted to impress Kristin Scott Thomas when her husband was about to visit.  The idea was that he was desperate and broke his own rules.  Not a good example of how to gentle a horse, but probably a human trait we all struggle with.  There is contrast between nature as represented by someone who can communicate with horses and modern urban society.

"War Horse" takes us back to WWI.   Mechanical transportation and modern weaponry started to make horses an historical curiosity.  Before Alexander the Great, horses made a critical difference in killing our enemies.  They covered distances much faster than infantry, carried heavy equipment over rough terrain and gave warriors greater leverage from a higher position. As technology advanced horses were no longer the critical difference in a battle.

Steven Spielberg produced and directed "War Horse" based on a book.  A play appeared before the movie and was praised for how they used mechanical devises to simulate horse action without detracting from the dramatic elements of the story.  The movie version was beautifully filmed with lots of violent believable war action and horse movement.  The story was sentimental and captured most of us soft hearted animal lovers with its improbable story line.  

National Velvet helped launch the career of Elizabeth Taylor in 1944.  Mickey Rooney was actually the big name star and here he is playing an ex jockey who helps train a horse for the Grand National Steeplechase.   A young Monty Roberts did stunt riding for Elizabeth Taylor.  In North America we are not used to the steepechase jumps with ditches and all, but it does add a lot of spice to the action.

As a kind of a throw in I picked up a library DVD titled "The Wild Stallion" which is suitable for 10-12 year old girls.  The best part was a 10 minute special feature of wild horses accompanied only by gentle music.  Very enjoyable.

Horses are beautiful to watch so if any of you readers have suggestions they are more than welcome.


  1. Love Secretariat and loved War Horse...most horse people might not enjoy them but hey - its Hollywood. International Velvet is way better than the first National Velvet I think.

    My all time favorite horse movie - Wild Hearts Can't be Broken.

  2. Thanks for the suggestion. I will follow it up.