Friday Flicks: ‘National Geographic: Horses’

Horse Nation movie critic Amanda Ronan reports that this Nat Geo documentary is all over the map, literally and figuratively.

From Amanda:

National Geographic: Horses (1999) opens with cave paintings.

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Horses were first domesticated, for more than a meal, about 4,000 years ago on the Eurasian steppe. The film discusses Mongolia’s rich horse heritage including Genghis Khan and their national drink “airag,” fermented mare’s milk. For another look at the people and horses of Mongolia, check out this HN article. Then we see footage from 1992, when 16 Przewalski’s horses were freed on a 120,000 acre Mongolian nature reserve. As of filming, the number of horses had been brought up to 88. Horses are routinely brought in to the reserve to diversify the gene pool.

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Next, we head to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in southern Spain. The curriculum is exacting and traditional. Dressed in 18th century traditional garb, the students perform for the public.

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Spanish horses were some of the first to set hoof in the New World almost 500 years ago. Originally feared by the Native Americans, they eventually became an integral part of the culture. One myth said, “they came to each other like long lost brothers.” Many of these “skydogs,” along with other runaways, eventually became what we know as the Mustangs of the American West. In a Prior Mountains band, a stallion, named Raven for his black color, fights off younger bachelor males. I’m not sure who has the upper hand here, but it looks like a crazy fight!

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Then we watch a Californian cowboy, named Brian, start a feral 2-year-old stud colt. He says the first step in the whole process is “when the horse asks me for reassurance instead of trying to escape.”

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Within half an hour of the first touch, the horse is saddled for the first time. He had an interesting theory that horses initially have a fear of saddles because in the wild the exact spot where the saddle sits would be where a predator would have the best advantage for a kill. There is a particularly chuckleworthy moment where the colt totally loses it and bucks around for several minutes before coming to Brian and he in a very cowboy, nonchalant way says, “Okay, maybe I’ll give him a little bit of consoling.” The next day, Brian rides the colt for the first time. The ride lasts no more than 15 minutes and is rewarded with a head hug.

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Next we head to Georgia where Carol Wooley adopted an old school horse in 1995, named Carousel. In 1996, the Paralympics came to Georgia, including equestrian events for the first time. Event organizers called out for horses for 62 athletes. Carousel was volunteered for the job. His rider was Britta Anderson of Denmark. The pair took 1st place in their division and secured the Gold medal with their high score.

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Inspired by the events, Carol started a therapeutic riding school for people with disabilities. In 1998, 9-year-old Shawn Donaldson competed Carousel one more time, once again bringing home first prize.

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Carousel was retired the same day of the show to live out his life on green pastures.

National Geographic: Horses (1999) touched on a wide gamut of horse culture and different disciplines, but it may have tried to cover too much. Just as soon as the film started getting into material that most horse enthusiasts wouldn’t consider “common knowledge”…boom…off we’d go to another subject entirely! I was also hoping that it would delve deeper into the various disciplines and breeds of the world when it touched briefly on the Andalusian school in Spain but it really didn’t, preferring instead to tell more personal stories of individual horses and trainers.

Those stories were good, but just not what I was expecting from a National Geographic documentary. I do warn you there were also a few moments that were difficult to watch both during the Mongolian horse race and when the film spoke briefly of the tragedies that befell horses and mules during the world wars.

I give National Geographic: Horses 2 Golden Horseshoes

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About the Author

Amanda’s experience with horses is just as eclectic as her taste in movies.  She has dabbled in almost every discipline from eventing to team penning to fox hunting.  She started riding when she was 8 with her local 4-H club in Western performance events.  She moved on to the AQHA circuit with her Quarter Horse, “Aggie,” when she was 12 and he was a green 2 year old.  Through college she held a working student position at Seahorse Sporthorses, owned by Terri Adams, where she was introduced to the wonderful world of show jumping and eventing.  Along with Aggie, who just turned 20 years old, she has two OTTBs in her herd named “Gump” and “Lizard.”  Amanda continues her jumping training with Ms. Adams and works on that necessary evil also known as dressage with Mimi Burch of Blue Moon Farm.

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