For many, the next best thing to riding horses is watching them on the big screen- either in the comfort of your own home or at the cinema. It’s no wonder then that horses have long since been cast in Hollywood blockbusters, playing lead starring roles, performing stunts and capturing our hearts with their sense of strength, beauty and grace before the credits roll.
How horses are trained for movies
All horses have different personalities and, as we know, they’re unpredictable animals, which means that usually more than one horse is used in filming. When selecting a horse for a movie, their jumping history, riding experience and characteristics are all taken into account to ensure the best horse is picked to play the desired part. Horses are professionally trained to fall to the ground on cue and interact with actors in a way that’s natural and in keeping with the theme of the film they’re starring in. Actors are usually taught on Friesians as this breed is noted for their docility- their calm and sturdy natures perfect for all eventualities. It’s not just their hard working characteristics and willingness to please that make these horses so desirable to cast in horse films, but their long, flowing manes and effortless body movements make them ideal for photographing and filming on set. The Dent family, based in Hertfordshire, are the largest supplier of horses to the entertainment industry and have been involved in a long history of providing well-trained horses for films such as War Horse and Thor.
Take a look at the list of our top 10 horse films below and see if your favourite is on the list! (Warning spoiler alerts)...
The Black Stallion (1979) is a magical tale about the relationship between a young boy, Alec, and a mysterious Arabian stallion after they become stranded on a desert island together after the ship they are travelling on sinks. When they are finally rescued, Alec trains the horse to become a champion, racing against the fastest horses in the world. This film took two years to make and was filmed in Sardinia, Rome and Canada, eventually making it a box office hit and receiving nominations for 2 Oscars.
Black Beauty was originally written as a novel by English author, Anna Sewell and after the success of the book, it was adapted into film and television several times. It’s one of the most iconic horse films ever made starring one of the most famous horses in movies, the stallion known as ‘Fury,’ who played Black Beauty in the 1946 adaptation of the film. Fury was the highest paid animal star after the dog, Lassie, and was only 26 months old when he starred in the film. This famous horse film is an autobiographical memoir following the life of a beautiful black stallion from birth, through to his carefree life as a colt, before the hardships he faces as he matures. Adventure and growth is at the forefront of this remarkable horse film as it contains moral lessons that are typically related to the treatment of horses. The perfect way to see the world through a horse’s eyes, Black Beauty is a film not to be missed.
The box office hit, ‘The Horse Whisperer’ (1998) was based on the 1995 novel by Nicholas Evans and directed by Robert Redford. A heart-warming story of a young girl who gets hit by a truck whilst riding her horse, and the struggles she faces with her horse as they try to recover with the help of the ‘horse whisperer’. This healing horse film is moving and emotional, showcasing the bond between horse and rider throughout times of difficulty.
The 2003 film, ‘Seabiscuit,’ tells the true story of a racehorse who, against the odds, becomes an unlikely champion with the help of three men: a businessman, jockey and a trainer who have fallen on hard times because of the Great Depression. Loosely based on the best-selling non-fiction book, ‘Seabiscuit: An American Legend’ by Laura Hillenbrand, this horse film captivates and excites through the victories won by such an unlikely horse in a time that was full of great doubt.
Hidalgo (2004) is a horse film based on the legend of the American distance horse rider, Frank Hopkins and his mustang Hidalgo. They travel together to Arabia to compete in a cross-desert horse competition, which quickly becomes a race for their own survival as they challenge the finest Arabian horses ever bred, in the battle to win the race. Five American Paint Horses played the role of Hidalgo and more than 550 different horses were used in the final scene of this spectacular horse film.
Inspired by a true story, ‘Dreamer,’ (2005) is a moving horse movie about an injured thoroughbred racehorse who gets a second chance. A father and his daughter adopt Sonador, and look to mend not only his broken leg in the hopes that they can help him race again, but their long lost family bond. It’s a touching film that won the Young Artist Award in 2006 with nominations for the ESPY Best Sports Movie and Best Family Film, Critics Choice Award the same year.
Flicka (2006) is based on the children’s book ‘My Friend Flicka,’ and is an iconic horse film that highlights the troubles of a young girl as she battles her way into maturity. The film follows Katy, a teenage girl who encounters a wild mustang called Flicka, and despite her father’s disproval, she sets her mind to tame the horse and prove to her father that she can help run their family ranch. When her father finds out, he sells the horse and Katy attempts to win him back by entering a dangerous race, with only love and strength to restore hope when things take a turn for the worse.
The 2010 Disney film, ‘Secretariat, was filmed in Kentucky and is a horse racing film that chronicles the life of the thoroughbred race horse, ‘Secretariat,’ winner of the Triple Crown in 1973. Housewife and mother, Penny Chenery, takes over her father’s stables when he becomes too ill to manage them any more, despite knowing very little about horses. In need of help in a male orientated industry, Penny calls on a veteran horse trainer who helps Secretariat become the first Triple Crown winner in over twenty-five years.
Buck (2011) tells the real-life story of ‘Buck,’ an American cowboy who overcame a troubling childhood to become a well-known professional in the interactions between people and horses. The inspiration behind the well-loved horse movie, ‘The Horse Whisperer,’ ‘Buck’ won over 10 awards including winner at the Sundance Film Festival and Best Documentary Feature Film.
War Horse is last but by no means least in our list of horse films, and is an enthralling epic tale of the incredible bond between a young boy and a horse during the First World War. Produced by Steven Spielberg in 2011, ‘War Horse’ was adapted from Michael Morpurgo's 1982 children's novel and has since been an internationally acclaimed production in London’s West End. Fourteen horses played Joey during the movie and the main acting horse in the film, Finder's Key, also played the starring role in Seabiscuit (2003). This beautiful horse film was nominated for over 70 awards including 6 Oscars, winning Movie of the Year and Best Cinematography for the Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards.
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