Horse Movies Given Center Stage at the Equus Film Festival

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Equus Film Festival Prizes

The inaugural New York City Equus Film Festival took place in Harlem, showcasing 119 films that were narrowed down from the 149 that were entered. On Nov. 21 and 22, 2014, three theaters presented films that ranged from documentaries, to commercials, trailers, art films, music videos, full-length productions and more. It was an event any horse lover would enjoy.

Mil's Life
Mil Pratis, center, is the subject of the documentary Mil’s Life. Zach Hauptman (left) is the director and Nick Colt edited the film. Photo: Diana De Rosa.

To pick and choose which films to watch was part of the fun, since the topics included various breeds, disciplines, profiles on people and works still in progress. What was compelling about the films were the stories of how the bond between people and horses often turned tragedy into triumph.

Mil’s Life is one good example. Mil lost his brother at a time when his life focused mostly on crime, drugs and drinking. When his brother was shot right in front of his home, it made Mil realize that if he didn’t change the path of his life, he could end up like his brother.

“Once my brother got killed it made me crazy and then I shut down,” he admitted and then added, “Riding horses changed my life. I was a bad boy. Then I met the horses and it changed everything. I started riding horses, racing, playing pony chase, all types of stuff…”

Mil’s Life paid tribute to the fact that the film was being held in the heart of Harlem, a largely black community with a lot of talent hidden behind the walls, including the festival’s location at the renovated Mist Harlem Theatre.

The director Zach Hauptman and editor Nick Colt, along with their crew, not only revealed the story of Mil but added music appropriate to the theme. They also captured the truly human side of this man whose life was saved, mostly because of a horse name Dusty.

Click here to learn more about Mil’s Life.

Watch the trailer for Mil’s Life below:

The 74 minute Japanese film by Matsubayashi Yoju called The Horses of Fukushima, not only brought an international dimension to this event, but revealed yet another and very different story. This one was about the March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan.

Those within a 20 km radius of the nuclear plant were forced to evacuate. This included third-generation rancher Mr. Tanaka, who had 40 horses within these confines. While many of the horses initially survived, because their caretakers were not allowed back into the area for two weeks, some of the horses died from starvation.

While the tsunami swallowed up the stables, miraculously horses survived. Ultimately nine horses starved and the rest Mr. Tanaka and his staff desperately fought to keep alive, despite the order by the government to kill them. Public outcry ultimately helped save the horses, and the nuclear contamination prevented them from being slaughtered for horsemeat, which is considered a delicacy in Japan.

The ultimate goal of Tanaka’s horses was to be part of an annual horse festival and although at times it did not appear that they would survive, most of them flourished and became part of the 2012 event.

It was a compelling story that at times made the movie hard to watch because the camera hid nothing from the viewer. Yet, this was and continues to be another heartwarming horse story.

Click here to learn more about The Horses of Fukushima.

Watch the trailer for The Horses of Fukushima below:

Yet another horse story with only a partially happy ending was called Horse Tribe, by Janet Kern, about the Nez Perce Tribe. The opening of this 60-minute documentary of horses running wild was breathtaking.

The film begins with a short history focusing on the Nez Perce War in 1877, when the army forced Nez Perce refusing to sign a treaty off their land. They made an attempt to flee to Canada 1300 miles away with the approximately 2000 horses (mostly Appaloosas) in their herd. However, in the end some horses were shot and killed but most were given to American military and allies or auctioned off.

Horse Tribe
(L-R) Janet Kern, director of Horse Tribe; Lisa Diersen, creator of the Equus Film Festival; Sarah Chase of the Horse Lifestyle Network; and Evelyn Rivera of Muchacha Salsa, a sponsor of the festival. Photo: Diana De Rosa.

This film then moved on to 2000 and the tribe’s attempt to create a Nez Perce youth horseman mentorship program as well as a new breed of horse known as the Nez Perce. When 47-year-old horseman Rudy Shebala was hired to run the program it quickly became a huge success, but his heritage as a Navajo created some infighting.

Sadly, that rivalry—and alcohol—were his demise. Rudy was let go after receiving his third DUI. The story then brings you to where things stand now and while the programs continue, they are not as strong as they were under Rudy’s leadership. Fortunately, Rudy ultimately stopped drinking and has turned his life around.

“Horses were what drew me to the story of the Nez Perce Tribe’s decision to adapt their legendary horse culture to modern purpose: creating a new breed to bear their tribal name, and guiding their children to the ‘strong medicine’ of the horse,” commented Kern about the documentary she created.

For more information about Horse Tribe, visit HorseTribeTheFilm.com.

The Equus Film Festival was the creation of Lisa Diersen, who has ridden ever since she could walk. She’s owned horses since she was 15 and now raises Lusitano horses in St. Charles, IL at The Royal Lusitano Farm.

A smaller version of the film festival took place in 2013 in Chicago when Lisa became fascinated by Rupert Isaccson’s story of riding across Mongolia with his Autistic child which was made into a film called The Horse Boy. That year some 30 films were shown and that film was again shown this year.

Happy with how that turned out, Lisa was surprised by a phone call from Sarah Chase of the Horse Lifestyle Network, who approached her about partnering on this project. They created a company called Equus Global LLC. The third person to join them was Suzanne Kopp-Moskow, of Four White Socks, LLC, who came onboard to handle the merchandising.

When asked why they put so much time and effort into this festival, Lisa commented, “I think every little girl grows up loving horses. People love to watch horse movies. And it goes beyond the elitist world. I decided to do something that covers every aspect of the horse world. I’ve been blown away by what has come in. We just scratched the surface this year.”

On the final evening awards were presented in 14 categories. Horse Tribe won the Native American category. The Horses of Fukushima won the International Documentary award.

They chose Harlem as the perfect landing place because in 1972 another film, Black Rodeo (also featured) was filmed in Harlem.
“That film was what brought us back to Harlem and the horses brought us back to New York,” she concluded.

For more information about the Equus Film Festival, join them on Facebook: facebook.com/EquusFilmFestivalNYC.

Read more on horses in film:
30 Best Horse Movies
5 Classic Must-See Horse Movies
Training Horses for the Silver Screen


Diana De Rosa is a veteran equestrian journalist, who has traveled the world and recorded history for close to 30 years. She has over 1000 published stories and photos to her credit. De Rosa has covered the past seven Summer Olympic Games and has covered or been on staff at every World Equestrian Games, numerous Pan American Games and World Cups. Besides being a writer and photographer, De Rosa also owns her own PR firm called Press Link. Visit her web sites: www.dianaderosa.com, www.dianaderosa.net.

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