With a couple of major horse races like the Grand National and the Kentucky Derby having taken place recently, horses have been firmly planted in our consciousnesses. Spring has definitely sprung, in fact it has sprung all the way into summer.
There’s something that happens in your soul when you watch these horses gallop and jump at full blast, so let’s take a quick look at a couple of the best classic flicks of the equestrian variety.
Most would agree that 1944’s National Velvet starring a twelve-year-old Elizabeth Taylor is a must-view in this category. Adapted from a book by Enid Bagnold, the story follows Taylor’s character, Velvet Brown, who lives in Sewels, Sussex and wins a horse in a raffle.
She famously trains the horse, named The Pie (short for Pirate) to compete in the Grand National Steeplechase. When the jockey doesn’t believe he can win, she takes the reins and nabs the victory. Co-starring Mickey Rooney as a former jockey, National Velvet was a revelation for Taylor, who went on to greatness.
The shots of Taylor riding the horse are mesmerising (even with some of the close-ups being obviously given the Hollywood special effects treatment), and the Grand National sequence is as exciting as anything you would see in a major blockbuster of today. Most of the riding scenes were shot with Taylor performing her own stunts, and in fact, she would later state that many of her back problems were due to her falling off a horse during shooting.
Another great horse racing movie is The Black Stallion. Executive produced by Francis Ford Coppola, this 1979 classic is based on the Walter Farley novel and is another story about a child befriending, taming, believing in a horse, and eventually claiming victory.
Youngster Kelly Reno plays Alec Ramsey, a boy who survives a shipwreck along with a horse he names The Black. Both awaken on an uninhabited island and form a bond.
They are eventually rescued, and when they arrive back home in America, Alec decides to ride The Black in a race with the country’s two champions.
The Black wins in a come from behind victory (naturally). With epic wide shots of Ramsey riding The Black on the beach and a fantastic score by Carmine Coppola, The Black Stallion is truly an amazing equestrian cinema experience. Interestingly enough, this flick also co-starred Mickey Rooney as a former jockey.