Horse films are typically watched by horseriders, which means the film is going to have a very critical audience right off the bat.
I can’t enjoy horse films or TV shows (although… I don’t really know anyone over the age of 12 who does) because it’s really difficult not to nit-pick.
These are the things that always seem to let a horse film down:
- Foals not being the gender they’re supposed to be. (War Horse and Black Beauty (1994)).
- Using incorrect terminology. (Racing Stripes).
- Fake white markings. Therefore, making the differences between all four of the horses used to play the main horse very obvious.
- “Wild horses” wearing metal shoes (Of Horses and Men and The Saddle Club).
- Actors who can’t ride! The studio cut-aways to the actor riding in front of a green screen does not make up for it! (Flicka).
- Giving the actor a saddle to use when they’re supposed to be riding bareback (Snow White and the Huntsman and McLeod’s Daughters, watch it here). Also, “bridleless” horses (see right) wearing bridles made of string (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).
- Wrong sound effects used for when horses are cantering on grass. Sometimes it sounds like they’re galloping on concrete wearing iron shoes (Black Beauty).
- – So much rearing!!
- Excessive loyalty between horse and rider. Horses aren’t dogs. Horses don’t sniff out their human from across a battlefield. I’m referring to that bloody War Horse film again of course.
- The worst thing? The excessive neighs and horse sounds. Horses are actually really quiet animals in most circumstances. This blunder is in every film with horses.
I think the biggest disappointment though, is the false hope we get from horse films. I always get so pumped to go out for a ride after watching Black Beauty or whatever, but when I hop on my old nag, he refuses to look awesome and respond in the same way as a Friesian does. He also has never protected me from so much as a wasp, let alone a fire, a speeding truck or gun-waving soldiers as seen in the movies.
I must give a thumbs-up to the following horse movies though. For the most part, they got a lot right.
Certainly looks like Toby Maguire can ride!
- Black Beauty (1994).
I’m still baffled as to how they got the horses to do half the things they did. Maybe the animal welfare laws were a tad lax in those days? Fantastic score though!
- The Horse Whisperer (featuring Scarlett Johansson).
Again, how they got the horses to do much of what they did is amazing. A very realistic approach to training for once too. And, yes! That’s another dig at War Horse! It’s terrible! I wrote all about it here. Including the part where horses climb ladders to get into the loft.
- Of Horses and Men.
A beautiful Icelandic horse film celebrating the horses’ way of life there.
- Most horses in films are solid colours because it’s easier to get a double that looks the same. That’s why you rarely see spotty, patchy or dappled horses on the screen – even the ones in the background, so as not to draw attention away from the main horse… I wasn’t going to break out the Saddle Club fan girl in me, but that’s why Comanche is an Appaloosa in the books but a bay in the TV series! SCANDAL!
- Solid black horses with no white markings tend to be difficult to come across. Hence why Friesians are often used (Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, any war or fantasy film you can think of), because that breed only comes in black, never has white markings and they’re all similar in size and height.
- Horses are taught to rear to show resistance to the rider because teaching them to buck is much, much harder to do.
- The two gorgeous ponies in Sleepy Hollow are my favourites. Johnny Depp even adopted the one he rode (named Gunpowder in the film, and Goldeneye in real life) because he was going to be put down after the film! *Sigh*
Thank you to my fellow equestrian friends for helping me collate this list!
Let me leave you with the worst and most cringe-worthy horse film trailer I’ve seen. Enjoy.