Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2024

From Sylvester To The Black Stallion: Our Favorite Horse Films For Self-Quarantine



As the entire world faces down the COVID-19 pandemic, experts are saying there’s one very important thing people can do to help: Stay home as much as possible.

But downtime doesn’t have to be boring, and it also doesn’t have to mean keeping your eyes glued to the news 24 hours a day. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite horse-related movies and television shows to help pass the time and provide ample distraction while you’re self-quarantined.

-Available for rent or purchase on iTunes, Amazon or YouTube (and some might also be available with a Disney+ or cable subscription)

“Black Beauty”

Spoiler: It might make you cry (a few times), but most horse-crazed humans are already familiar with the plot of this classic thanks to repeated rewatchings of the film or readings of Anna Sewell’s 1877 novel of the same name. Revisit the old gang (Black Beauty, Merrylegs and Ginger, of course) and take solace in the fact that at least you’re not pulling a cart through a London street.


“The Horse Whisperer”

Come for the star-studded cast of Robert Redford, Kristin Scott Thomas, Sam Neill and Scarlett Johansson, stay for the beautiful scenes of horses (and people) learning to trust again.


“National Velvet”

Did this film come out in 1944? Yes. Does it still ring true for horse lovers everywhere today? Oh, heck yes. In lieu of following the actual British Grand National this year (since it’s been canceled), watch as a young Elizabeth Taylor gentles The Pie—a horse whose conformation would impress today as well—and goes for her ultimate goal.


“International Velvet”

It’s the sequel to “National Velvet,” but sport horse riders will find even more to love in this 1978 film as the focus turns to three-day eventing. Sarah Velvet Brown—niece of National Velvet’s Velvet Brown—aims to compete on the British team at the Olympic Games. Who wouldn’t want to ride under Chef d’Equipe Sir Anthony Hopkins?


“Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken”

This movie has everything: Horses jumping off huge diving platforms in Atlantic City (thankfully a practice we’ve stopped since then), love, loss and a healthy portion of overcoming adversity.



He had long odds and a rough past, but Seabiscuit still rose to the top, helped by a cast of similarly struggling characters. This 2003 film, based on Laura Hillenbrand’s bestselling novel, “Seabiscuit: An American Legend,” and featuring Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges, was nominated for seven Academy Awards.




You know Secretariat. He’s the horse who won the 1973 Triple Crown, including the Belmont Stakes (New York) by 31 lengths. But his story really comes to life in the 2010 film, “Secretariat.” Diane Lane plays the colt’s determined owner Penny Chenery, and John Malkovich is eccentric trainer Lucien Laurin. Even though you know the ending already, it’s almost a guarantee you’ll get goosebumps watching that Belmont stretch run once again.

“The Horse With The Flying Tail”

In 1959, Nautical, a palomino with a famous tail flick over fences, won team gold at the Pan American Games in Chicago with Hugh Wiley aboard. This documentary, which won the Academy Award for its category in 1961, follows the gelding along his journey from backyard-bred colt to international winner.



In 1985, Roger Ebert said of “Sylvester”: “Hollywood has never exactly had a shortage of movies about teenage girls and brave horses, and I was not exactly looking forward to ‘Sylvester,’ which stars Melissa Gilbert as a teenage girl with a horse so brave that its full name is Sylvester Stallone. I was dreading one of those movies where the horse is almost human, and after the girl starts to cry, the horse nudges her and tries to cheer her up.

“Maybe that’s why ‘Sylvester’ came as such a genuine surprise: There is a good movie here, obscured by a tired old formula.”

I can’t say I’ve ever grown tired of that formula, but the point is that Sylvester is a genuinely good movie about an event horse. And fun fact: One of the horses who played Sylvester was Kim Walnes’ eventing star The Gray Goose.


“Phar Lap”

The 1983 film is based on the true story of famous Australian race horse Phar Lap and his run of wins during the Great Depression. The bond between the horse and his groom—and the joy they bring to the public during tough times—is well worth watching.


“The Horse In The Gray Flannel Suit”

It’s “Mad Men” meets The Washington International Horse Show. In this 1968 comedy, an advertising executive makes a crucial misstep when he tries to use a horse—Aspercel—to make money. But “Aspy” and his rider still manage to win championships and hearts.


The Black Stallion

Did anyone else wish to be shipwrecked as a child, just so you could befriend a wild Arabian stallion? It didn’t happen for me, and probably not for you either, but you can still see it materialize for Alec Ramsey in this classic tale of oceanfront friendship. (This 1979 film is based on Walter Farley’s 1941 novel of the same name.)


“The Man From Snowy River”

Who among us hasn’t ridden down a steep bank while pretending to be in that famous scene from this 1982 Australian Western? The love story might be a little overwrought, but you can still enjoy plenty of stunning shots of the Australian countryside.



-Available on Netflix with your subscription 

“War Horse”

What does the Netflix synopsis say about this 2011 film? “During World War I, the bond between a young Englishman and his loyal horse, Joey, is tested when Joey is sold to the cavalry and sent to France.” What do we say about this movie? Make sure you have enough tissues available before you commit to a viewing.


“Being AP”

This documentary focuses on the life and career of British steeplechasing legend A.P. McCoy. It has thrills, spills and enough drama to help you forget, at least briefly, about the outside world.


“BoJack Horseman”

Is it actually about horses? Not exactly, even though the star of this six-season cartoon is a horse—a horse who’s a former alcoholic, played by Will Arnett. But BoJack Horseman, which it’s worth noting is not a child-friendly program, is both hilarious and tragic—much like life with horses, no?


“Spirit: Riding Free”

Entertaining a young rider who’s out of school? This heartwarming show, which centers on former city girl-turned-mustang-riding-equestrian, is sure to do the trick for at least several days. (There are eight seasons.)

Of course, make sure you’re warmed up for the series by watching the movie “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.” Before he was Jason Bourne, Matt Damon voiced the character of Spirit, a sassy mustang stallion who’s captured and then—with the help of some friends—stages an escape. Does he make it? You’ll have to watch to find out.



Don’t mind your feel-good television series with a small side of cheese? You might enjoy Heartland, a family drama set in Alberta.


“Equus: Story Of The Horse” (on PBS.com)

For those more interested in the history of horses than their fictional portrayals, check out “Equus,” part of the PBS series “Origins,” which walks viewers through the evolution of our riding partners from the time they were tiny forest dwellers to today.




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