Reel Releases

Steven Uhles is a guest entertainment columnist

Reel Releases: Let's round up some classic horse movies

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I have an 8-year-old daughter who, like many girls her age, has developed something of an obsession. It’s not a case of Bieber fever or Twilight-itis, although she does exhibit occasional symptoms of both.

No, my daughter has a thing for the ponies.

She loves horses. She loves everything about them. She loves the way they look and smell. She’ll pick a day mucking out a stall over just about anything, because it means a few hours spent with her favorite animal.

Here’s the odd part – we’re not a horse family. We don’t own a horse. Never have, and, if I have my way, never will. We don’t ride, and although our Columbia County homestead is somewhat rural, the backyards in our neighborhood were clearly designed for pools, not pastures. So I have to wonder where this obsession, an obsession I recognize as one shared by a lot of girls her age, comes from.

I have a theory. I blame the movies. Let’s face it, cinema history is full of stories about noble steeds. Be it race horse or war horse, or even the occasional plow horse, filmmakers are forever romanticizing the human/equine relationship. It’s powerful stuff – particularly if you are a young girl.

Here are a few favorites.

PHAR LAP (1983) – Australia, like the American West, owes a great deal to heroes on horseback. So it comes as no surprise that, more than 80 years after his mysterious death, the name Phar Lap continues to inspire. The Aussie equivalent of Seabiscuit, Phar Lap was an unlikely race horse that turned out to be unbeatable. The movie highlights the relationship between the champion and his young groom.

NATIONAL VELVET (1944) – Looking back, this might have been the culprit behind my daughter’s obsession. Girl + horse = classic. She loves this story of a young girl and her historic Grand National ride so much that I don’t believe she’s ever noticed that it’s in black-and-white.

THE BLACK STALLION (1979) – Part shipwreck story and part racehorse tale, this is less about plot points more about the bond between horse and rider. Based on the classic Young Adult novel, it’s a truly lovely, lyrical and inspiring movie.

THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER (1982) – The year before he starred in Phar Lap, Tom Burlinson was cast as the titular Man from Snowy River. And while he’s theoretically the star, it’s Kirk Douglas, playing the dual roles of feuding brothers with conflicting relationships with Burlinson’s horseman, who steals the show.

THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN (1979) – Robert Redford’s love letter to not only the American West but also the ideal of the American West, Horseman stars Redford as a down-on-his-luck cowboy who, for altruistic reasons, steals a rather pricey steed. The story that follows is a contemporary tribute to the landscapes and romance of the American West.


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