Horses: The Story of Equus
Directed by Michael Caulfield
Narrated by Gabriel Byrne
40 minutes; produced by Equus Films
Reviewed by Mary Daniels
Horses: The Story of Equus is a DVD that takes the viewer on a fast run through the lives of three Thoroughbred horses?all of top pedigrees going back to 1791, born on the same night, but with three different destinies. And that is the thread that runs through each of these stories: each horse has its own journey in finding its place in life.
All three go to auction. The chestnut filly begins training as a racehorse and while possessing the extraordinary heart to strive beyond her limits, a too-early start brings on an injury that might end her racing career. But her owners give her the time to heal and recover. She goes back into training (good shots of her galloping along a seashore) and triumphs in the end, earning the right to go back to the breeding farm and reproduce. Even if you are not particularly interested in racing per se, the realistic story line, the photography and the unusual Australian racetrack setting keep the viewer intrigued.
The second horse, a bay colt, is sold to a young woman who intends to use him as an event horse. The story line is that the horse is too stubborn and temperamental to make it and is a failure in competition. He dumps his rider in front of a formidable water jump and that puts an end to that partnership. Actually, the horse looks terrific in the dressage phase, though he keeps kicking out in practice. Since the rider has very floppy legs, it makes me wonder if the horse is really reacting to her legs banging against his sides or is this just a fictional set-up for the plot?
The colt is sold to a young trainer who goes about retraining him as a movie stunt horse, first establishing a relationship based on trust. During the filming of a fist fight in the barn loft, the barn is accidentally set on fire. The horse is saddled, waiting below for the rider to drop into the saddle. But he misses, falling to the ground. While too injured to stand, he manages to grab the rope off the saddle, and the horse, already trained to do this stunt, drags him along the ground and out of the burning building. The grateful rider gives him a home for life.
The third horse, a black colt with the most valuable pedigree, is sold to a stud farm. During a trailering accident, he escapes and heads for the hills, literally. This segment was my favorite of the three stories. The depiction of the wild parts of Australian high country is breathtakingly beautiful.
Being a herd animal, the colt wanders through this gorgeous setting seeking his own kind. In a first encounter of free-living feral horses, he is driven off by an alpha mare, but ultimately finds a band of young bachelor stallions that accepts him. His saga allows us to understand natural herd behavior and how horses lived before we domesticated them.
In the voice-over by Golden Globe winner Gabriel Byrne, we hear that man first domesticated horses 6,000 years ago, that Ice Age hunting nearly extinguished the primitive horse and that now there are 60 million horses across the globe. I enjoyed it as a piece of entertainment. The horses are all beautiful, are not abused in any way, and the valuable point is made?each horse is an individual and may not fit into the slot humans intend for it, but given a chance, if one career does not work out, it can be retrained for a useful and fulfilling life.