Being an equestrian is more a lifestyle than a simple hobby or fleeting interest. Horse lovers, wherever they hail from, always go the extra mile to either care for their own horse, or to be dedicated followers of a dressage or flats racing superstar.
However, even the most ardent fan of horses will have their blind spot when it comes to cultural gems that feature their favorite animal. In this article, we take a look at the horsey movies that may have slipped under even the most enthusiastic equestrian’s radar.
Lean on Pete
When most people watch horse racing, they only think of primed thoroughbreds charging over towering fences and eating up furlongs at record speed. However, for each champion racehorse that competes at the likes of the Grand National or Epsom Derby, there are numerous retired racehorses who too often get forgotten and left behind; no longer providing any sort of value to their owners.
Lean on Pete is the story of one such racehorse put out to pasture, who is befriended by the movie’s young protagonist Charley.
Keen movie fans who are reading this will suspect they have seen the plot line before – boy and horse save each other from their respective woes to come good in the end. But that is far from how Lean on Pete pans out. Instead, viewers are instead taken to some uncomfortable and dark places by a movie which asks as many questions of the viewer as it does provide answers.
There is no doubt that horse racing and riding in general has always been a particularly masculine pursuit. Only recently have top female jockeys started to come through the system to compete for honors at Grade 1 races, and only recently have racing pundits who are eager to find value with their Grand National betting offers, started to back them just as they would male jockeys.
The Rider tackles this issue in a more nuanced way than other films do, showing how destructive such rigid ideas of masculinity can be for equestrians, or anyone for that matter.
Rather than this drama playing out on a racecourse, it is based on a Native American reserve, where masters of the rodeo are hailed as local heroes. There is little plot to speak of in this Chloé Zhao art house production, but you will be hard pushed to find a movie that is so cinematically attuned to the subtle movements and idiosyncrasies of horses and the people whose lives revolve around them.
While Lean on Pete and The Rider take a major detour away from the stereotypical ‘man saved by horse’ trope that is littered throughout Hollywood scripts, The Mustang is a relatively recent art house flick that gladly embraces the cliché.
This French-Belgium production’s downtrodden soul is violent convict Roman Coleman who, by striking up a bond with a wild mustang, finally finds a way to exist in the world without hurting those around him.
If the premise sounds cheesy, it’s because it is, but that shouldn’t stop horse lovers from tuning into what is still a powerful piece of cinema.
The Turin Horse
Bela Tarr is the Hungarian mastermind behind this haunting film, and there are very obvious signs of the influence of literary genius, and Tarr’s good friend, László Krasznahorkai here as well.
The entire movie is shot in black and white, and the story is loosely based around a horse from Turin that was purported to have brought about the mental breakdown of one Friedrich Nietzsche.
Despite receiving a tepid response in its native Hungary, the 2011 movie went on to wow critics abroad, some of whom bestowed upon it the great honor of being nominated for an Oscar.
It is now regularly singled out as one of the 21st century’s modern classics, so why not give it a watch and see for yourself what all the fuss is about?
While you are in the mood for post-modern fare, why not also do yourself the favor of delving into Krasznahorkai’s mind and prose, where animals play prominent rolls in novels like Seiobo There Below and The Melancholy of Resistance.
Au Hasard Balthazar
From a modern classic to an actual classic. This French movie has been melting hearts and flooring jaws since it was first released way back in 1966. Once again there were literary influences at play in this motion picture as director Robert Bresson is said to have been heavily inspired by Dostoyevsky’s seminal work The Idiot.
Strictly speaking there are no horses present in this movie, but the next best thing in the shape of a donkey called Balthazar. The story hinges around Balthazar’s life and how over time he comes to learn that humans are just as ready to be cruel to each other as they are to him and his fellow animals.
Like all good art house movies, this is one that lingers long in the memory and is worth multiple screenings.
Any horse fan worth their salt will have seen The Horse Whisperer, but not all of them will have clapped eyes on the excellent docufilm based on the man whose life Robert Redford’s character depicted.
That man was Buck Brannaman. Buck is all about how he discovered that the best way to train horses was not to punish them, but to bond with them on an emotional and spiritual level.
Buck received rave audience reviews when it was first shown at the Sundance Film Festival, and is an absolute must for any horse owner who wants to gain the trust of their beloved steed.
Sorry to Bother You
We thought we would throw in a little curve ball to end the piece. Strictly speaking this is no hard-hitting art house movie, but it does have one of the most whacky horse-related twists in cinematic history.
We won’t tell you more, but urge all readers to go and see Sorry To Bother You so they can make sense of the ‘horse people’ who come to prominence in this off-the-wall Boots Riley creation.