Equestrians seeking good entertainment find horse movies better than all other genres. Put a horse on screen and you have our attention.
Just as mirrors in the dressage ring offer riders the ability to watch themselves and their horses, great horse movies teach us things about ourselves and reflect the lifestyles of other interesting people. Research shows a connection between kids’ healthy self-esteem and positive, diverse representations in media, TV shows, and movies. During uncertain times, many of us turn to the one thing that keeps us calm and happy – our horses.
Our health and human happiness needs regular “Vitamin H”.
The Rider (Prime)
The Rider is a critically-acclaimed film that has received a 97% score on Rotten Tomatoes – and for good reason. The Rider is easily one of the best contemporary Westerns produced in years and certainly one of the best films of 2018. Because of its pacing, the movie feels more like a cinematic poem than a narrative account, although it’s a bit of both.
Set in South Dakota, inside the Native American cowboy world, it stars real-life rodeo star Brady Jandreau, who suffered a near-fatal head injury while bronc riding. Doctors warn him that another fall could potentially kill him, making the documentary a compelling and heart-wrenching story as we watch the cowboy try to put his life back together.
One of Jandreau’s best friends, a former bull rider named Lane Scott, has also been paralyzed in an accident and for a time it seems like the film is a study of disability, brokenness, and perseverance. Jandreau’s sister Lilly is autistic, and she and their father, Tim, add another dimension to the story.
The film uses real people to portray a dramatized version of themselves. The harsh scenes are sometimes difficult to watch. A stand-out for equestrians is a scene where Jandreau backs a young horse. It’s remarkable when the director just lets the camera run, documentary-style, so the viewers witness reality.
The Mustang (iTunes)
This gorgeous and intense film tells the story of Roman (played by Matthias Schoenaerts), a tough and violent convict in Nevada who enters the state penitentiary’s wild horse rehabilitation program. He hurt his child’s mother and is haunted by guilt. Sensing a kindred spirit in the mustang, who he names Marquis, he slowly learns how to control his temper and eventually understands how to reconnect with his daughter.
The Mustang is based on an actual rehabilitation program in Carson City, Nevada. Each prisoner in the program is given a specific mustang horse* to train and Roman is required to complete the training within 12 weeks before his horse is sold at an auction.
In real life, Colorado’s mustangs are relegated to four herd management areas (HMAs) in the state, maintained by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The agency has advised that all four combined should hold no more than 812 horses, yet hundreds more than that roam the HMAs. It is easy to understand why the horses in the movie are not considered valuable, and how their fate of being euthanized is a very real possibility.
The mustangs in the movie are not wild horses, strictly speaking, because they are descended from once-domesticated animals and are actually feral horses. This movie really explores their world and also the misery of the US prison system. Schoenaerts received critical acclaim for this film, as well as his portrayal of an ex-soldier suffering from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Running Wild (Netflix)
In keeping with the theme of convicts and wild horses, this movie features Stella, a socialite whose ranch is on the verge of foreclosure, who discovers a herd of horses on her property and starts a rehab program for prisoners to save her ranch.
Standing in Stella’s way is an animal rights activist (played with glorious villainy by Sharon Stone) who wants to shut her down and return the horses to the wild, even if that means they might die of starvation.
Stella battles against procedure, prejudice, greed, bureaucracy and vanity (including her own) to finally understand how there’s no better remedy to cure misfortune than helping another living creature.
The plot is convincing and well carried by accomplished performances. The film has a cozy rural atmosphere and a genuine concern for the plight of the American horse.
Walk. Ride. Rodeo. (Netflix)
A female barrel racer is paralyzed after a car accident and vows to return to the rodeo circuit. This heartfelt film is based on an inspiring true story of champion American rider Amberley Snyder.
The courageous teenager was a rodeo star and then was in a debilitating truck accident. Not surrendering to adversity, the heroine is determined to resume competitive rodeo months after her paralyzing spinal cord injury.
Viewers should know how Amberley herself performed all the post-crash horse stunts in the film, and because of the similarity of their riding styles, her younger sister Autumn performed the pre-crash stunts.
In real life, Snyder is a popular motivational speaker who posts a weekly “Wheelchair Wednesday” video on YouTube to showcase everyday tasks which have become more challenging. She has also written an illustrated children’s book, Walk Ride Rodeo, about overcoming adversity. Amberley Snyder also made a brief appearance as herself in the 3rd season of Yellowstone.
Rock My Heart (Netflix)
A 17-year-old girl Jana (Lena Klenke) with a congenital heart condition is, despite her illness, recruited by the racehorse trainer Paul Brenner (Dieter Hallervorden) to be his next prospective jockey. The girl ends up being the only person who can ride an untamable racehorse. Jana and the trainer forge a bond to race in a high stakes and dangerous race.
Rock My Heart is a German film with English subtitles; parents need to know it deals with some mature subjects. There is occasional swearing; wine is consumed in one scene, and reference is made to past teen alcohol issues. Prescription drugs and an inhalant are a part of the heroine’s medically-ordered regimen. There is some romantic kissing. Also (spoiler alert) a featured character dies.
Set in the German countryside, the film is dramatic, romantic, and affecting. The heroine’s fragile condition puts her in a constant peril that sustains suspense throughout the movie. Viewers can expect some scary and sad moments: for instance, the horse rears, throws his rider more than once, and briefly is subjected to a beating.
The plotline that the woman begins her journey unable to ride may strike more critical horse people as unbelievable, but the story and the characters are engaging enough to have you rooting for them at the starting gate.