4 Things Horse Movies Always Get Wrong

Hollywood's idea of horse behavior doesn't always survive the scrutiny of an equestrian audience.

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1962
Rearing Horse
Just an average movie horse, hangin’ out, doing average movie horse things.

We all love watching horse movies, but after hundreds of them, we start to notice the flaws as well as the fun. Of course, we continue to love them even when they make us affectionately cringe from time to time. I’ve come to embrace this aspect of horse movies, especially if you watch for all the often-repeated clichés. Some of my favorite equine flick flaws include:

1. Overuse of whinnying

I don’t know about your horses, but mine don’t whinny non-stop. In movies, horses whinny constantly. They can barely move without whinnying. They even whinny while eating. The worst part is, I think they are only about three actual recordings of whinnies in existence, and all movies share them and use them over and over. But my biggest whinny pet-peeve? Rearing and whinnying together. I’ve never actually seen a horse do both at once. Except in the movies, where it happens every day. Which leads me to number two…

2. Rearing

Sometimes in movies, rearing is just funny; it’s just a natural part of a well-trained horse: “Gol-ly-jinx, she’s sure full o’ spunk today, huh Pa?” At these times, rearing isn’t a problem. On the other hand, sometimes rearing is the scary sign of a horse with an untamed heart, in which case it will rear and rear and rear, all by itself, unprovoked, in the middle of a corral. All the cowboys and trainers with decades of experience will just shake their heads (“crazy maverick!”) and wonder how they got saddled with such a problem horse (we wonder, too). But eventually, someone (usually a young person) will find a connection with the whinnying, rearing animal and, despite stiff warnings from their elders (“Don’t get any closer—he’s loco!”), ride off into the music without a bridle or any other method of control. Rearing problem fixed.

3. Human-like intelligence

I forgive this one on Roy Rogers movies (“Run Trigger! Go find Dale and tell her to meet me at the old abandoned mine!”) because they’re generally supposed to be lighthearted and because Trigger’s “character” is supposed to be highly intelligent. I’m tougher on movies that are clearly supposed to be realistic, like My Friend Flicka (1943). This movie features “Banner,” a black (naturally) stallion who is so smart, he runs around instinctively helping the cowboys move a huge herd of horses across the range. Naturally, there is a stampede, and when the entire whinnying, panic-stricken herd runs towards the edge of a rocky cliff (maybe the cowboys should’ve given it a wider berth?), it’s up to level-headed Banner to charge ahead and prevent the silly mares from plunging to their demise. Like many movies from this era, Flicka suffers a bit from storylines that don’t go anywhere and are later dropped; Banner is rewarded for his intelligence and bravery by being written out of the rest of the movie.

4. Impossible athleticism

There’s a climax of one Roy Rogers movie in which the stagecoach with Dale tied up in the back is on fire and the team of twelve whinnying Mustangs pulls it at a full gallop (I think they had to get to the border in time to stop the bank robbery, or something) for what feels like thirty minutes or forty minutes. I mean, these horses don’t stop. I know it was really filmed in pieces, probably spread out over several days, but didn’t the guys piecing the footage together think it was even a little unrealistic?

Or consider Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron (2002). After spending most of the movie bucking off cavalry men and outrunning loose locomotives that are rolling down a mountainside (?), Spirit ends with a dramatic climax where our lead buckskin must outrun more cavalry men who are chasing him through a rocky gorge. In the end, instead of being leg-weary from his five-mile sprint, Spirit makes a desperate, last-chance leap across a canyon that must be pushing 75-feet wide. Great ending, but hard to believe. Okay, I’ll give Spirit a break since it’s a cartoon. 🙂

What are your favorite horse movie pet-peeves?

40 COMMENTS

  1. The constant neighing , my horses neigh very little ever, now there are a lot that do especially mares but not like that! Oh and the riders jerking their reins up and ridiculously high just to turn and run off!

  2. All the running ..here and there always at a dead run.
    Switching the horses that don’t even match the star’s. Close up bay.. Long shot bay.. Close up bay.

  3. Breeds used were not bred in the time depicted. Dutch Friesians are popular now but the breed is about 400 years old. Alexander the not so great rode a Friesian. How many hundreds of years ahead of his time was this?

  4. It bugs me when stallion/gelding plays the part of a mare or filly. If they have to have a gelding/stallion play a mares part, they could at least not show the plumbing and it wouldn’t be so obvious. It bugs me the other way aroud too, but it’s no quite as obvious. Even non horse people can figure that out. Also bugs when tbey use several horses to play the part of one particular horse and they look nothing s like other than whatever white markings they paint on it.

  5. Further Pet peeves: “Wild,” unbroken horses standing calmly and rearing and pedaling their front feet. Frightened horses bolt, kick, crash into things. 2. Changing horses every few frames. In old movies they even change their colors and BREEDS. 3. The notion that some random city kid can feed an untrained stallion and suddenly it is tame, obedient to him. Stallions can be tricky to handle even when fully trained and ridden by an expert.

  6. Mine is horses that are supposed to be wild but have shoes on. I mean what blacksmith is going to go out and shoe a herd of what are supposed to be wild mustangs. Or when the actors use incorrect terminology. Like in a
    Movie about a standardbred mare they said they were going out to ride her. Well they didn’t ride her they drove her. And then there is the movie the longest ride. Girl gets on horse for first time and after a short time she is galloping across the open fields. Don’t know any beginners that would be doing that. Or a clearly scared person giving another riding instructions. I mean can they not cast people in roles that can actually ride if required.

  7. Congratulations – you’ve found all the imperfections in children’s movies about horses. Let’s see how you do with Peter Pan.

  8. Using the wrong breeds in films… like the Friesian.. they are used in EVERYTHING… They were used in Alexander (there is evidence that Friesians were around during that time, but it was believed that [Romans] thought they were ugly and used them for farm work… Horse movies need to be historically accurate or us horse people will continue to go nuts about it..

  9. Changing horses being used on same run. “Silverado” uses different paint horses for same scene not even closely matched.

  10. The herds of wild mustangs tend to be all adults with no foals or other young horses running with them, and most of the other horses in the herd are actually geldings with obvious white saddle marks near their withers. Wha……?

  11. They’re MOVIES. By definition, therefore, they’re made-up, often based on a best-selling children’s book. The “pet peeves” you’ve described are nothing more than artistic license used to enhance dramatic effect. So what if it isn’t technically accurate?

  12. When they try to convince us that it is the same horse through out the movie and it doesn’t look anything like the star character.

  13. When they try to convince us that it is the same horse through out the movie and it doesn’t look anything like the star character.

  14. Oh definitely the whinnying. Between the nickers, whinnys and other weird noises movie horses make it a wonder they have time to do anything else. Same thing with dog movies. All the dogs whimper, squeak and make other odd noises constantly. The only thing mine do is bark.

  15. In cartoons: why can they never get the gaits right?!
    I am a trail guide and because of cowboy movies, everyone thinks they can shake the reins to make their trusty steed run. Lol

  16. All true. I especially detest the whinnying horses that running at full speed for long distances. What race horse ever whinnies while running a race? Pffft.

  17. I realize that a lot of this is artistic license, so I try to ignore the “peeve” sort of things. However, the one thing that for some reason bugs me to this day is at the end of Hidalgo. Frank unsaddles & unbridles him and turns him loose back with his herd, and as Hidalgo gallops away, the sun glints off of his shoes!!!!!!! Guess the continuity people don’t realize that would have been a no-no.
    There are other parts in the movie which are hard to swallow, too, but it still remains one of my favorite horse movies!

  18. To Sharon,
    In Hiladgo Frank pulls the horse’s shoes before letting him go. Love the movie and have seen it many times and probably the horse did still have shoes on for that scene, but they did show them being pulled.

  19. IN Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron during the whole movie all the horses have their mouth open. I have only seen that happen in real life when a horse is eating food or yawning. I think that was an obvious and terrible flaw in the movie that bugged me like crazy.

  20. I second chances than Ginger is supposed to be a mare. But in one scene (Where Ginger is rearing because she is spirited) Than you can clearly see that the horse is a gelding. I men couldn’t they have just said that the horse was a gelding, or just use a mare.

  21. Yes!!!!! I hate how they’re always whinnying! Also in some movies where the person is doing a barrel race on this big ‘wild’ stallion, and gets like 12 seconds….no you only learned to ride yesterday, you can’t win a barrel race when you haven’t even ridden for a week!

  22. People who ride the horse at full speed for miles, then rush into the ranch house, saloon, whatever without another thought for the horse left there with reins adraggin’.

  23. There’s an Indian movie in which the hero leaps onto the back of a passing Marwahi to escape the bad guys. Very, very lengthy chase scene through traffic. At some point the horse magically acquires a saddle and bridle.

  24. It always bugs me when they use 4 or 5 different horses for the same part and they aren’t the same color or sex. Good grief those who grew up with horses knows the difference and if you are paying so much to see the film, look at it before you send it off. Just saying.

  25. You for the horse that rears and stomps something to death—a snake, wolf or human. I thought that War Horse, the movie was a realistic depiction. It think about 6,000,000 horses died in WWI.

  26. Lonesome Dove – the “Hell Bitch” was a gelding… really you couldn’t find a mare for the part??? But otherwise the series had good horse continuity, the right riders on the right horses at the right times

  27. I think this was very true. How about the Wild Black Stallion that no one can get near or catch. During one of the dramatic scenes, the wild stallion is galloping, stops and rears up and has 4 shiney shoes on its hooves, but nobody can get near him. LOL

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