Just in time for Rolex, Horse Nation film critic Amanda Ronan reviews Sylvester, a movie about a horse, a girl, and every eventer’s wildest dream come true.
In honor of the Rolex, I decided to review the most implausible, fairytale eventing movie out there… many of you know it, many of you love it… it’s the one and only Sylvester (1985). The movie was directed by Tim Hunter and starred Melissa Gilbert, Richard Farnsworth, Michael Schoeffling and The Gray Goose ridden by Kim Walnes.
The movie opens in a Marfa, Texas stockyard. We are introduced to Charlie, our young heroine, Foster, her boss, and a handful of other cowpoke types. Just as Charlie leaves work for the day we hear a soft whinny. Charlie leaps up on the rails and finds a handsome, gray, umpteen hand, Thoroughbred/Irish Sport Horse amongst the gangly mob of unbroken mustangs and cow horses. She names him Sylvester Stallone.
After a somewhat disastrous first encounter with Charlie, Foster hands over the breaking of Sylvester to Red, a cruel cowboy with no regard for the animal’s well being. Later on, after picking up her love interest Matt, played by Schoeffling who you might know as Al Carver in Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken, Charlie and her two little brothers go to check on Sylvester. What they find isn’t pretty. Red left Sylvester beaten, bloodied, exhausted and without water.
Charlie gives Sylvester a bucket of water earning his trust. She backs him the very next day, racing him against a train and then putting him to work with cattle. The nefarious Red isn’t happy about being one-upped by a girl. He whacks Sylvester with a gate causing him to dump Charlie in the sand, jump a massive piece of fence and then tear down the side of the road.
I don’t mean to overload you with images here… but holey rusted metal Batman can that horse jump!
Finally Charlie catches up on her trusty leopard Appaloosa, does a daring horse to horse leap, stops Sylvester, saves the day and heads home. Whew!
Charlie has a whole host of her own problems. CPS, headed up by a very snarky woman, tells Charlie that her younger brothers are at risk of being taken away from her and placed at a boys camp. She has to get a “real” job if she has any hope of keeping her family together.
Snarky CPS Woman (in reference to Charlie’s horse career): “That’s not really a job is it? That’s just a phase you are going through. Lots of girls go through that phase, dear. It’s nothing to worry about.”
PAH! Snarky Woman then tries to force a secretarial class on Charlie, like some sort of horse hating Nazi. Not to worry though, Charlie has a plan, train up Sylvester and make bookoos of money when he sells.
Inspired by an ad in a magazine, encouraged by two cowboys who can barely speak English, funded by the Annual Police Charity, and armed with an “Olympic Training Conditioning Schedule” in Practical Horseman, Charlie begins gearing Sylvester up for a Preliminary event in Kentucky. Let’s lose touch with reality for a moment and pretend this is possible…
So they build her a course out of old tires, barrels, scrap lumber and furniture. Amazingly the horse jumps all of this except for the Armoire Mudpit Jump.
Mr. Foster and Matt are not at all pleased to see what Charlie is up too. Matt’s afraid he’s lost his girl for good to “this horse stuff,” and Mr. Foster is simply afraid she’ll “crack her head open like a watermelon.” Matt then convinces Charlie she needs Foster to help her train.
Matt: “He was in the cavalry. Cavalry invented three day horse trials. Foster’s prolly forgot more about eventing then you’ll ever know.”
Well, that’s convenient.
After a lot of “whelps” and expletives, Foster finally agrees to train Charlie and Sylvester. They practice XC by day, and dressage on moonlit nights. And just like that we head off to the Rolex! Sylvester and Charlie finish dressage on a score of 51.
Next is 11.5 miles of Roads and Tracks, Steeplechase and Cross Country course. 2 Time Penalties in Steeplechase but a CLEAR XC! Her total score of 53 moves Charlie and Sylvester in to 4th place!
The ride catches the eye of Mrs. Whitney Hyde of the Clover Leaf Stud Farm. She offers to buy Sylvester and bring on Charlie as a working student. One year of serious training with no distractions i.e. leaving Texas, Matt, Mr. Foster, and her two little brothers behind.
Charlie has a lot of decisions to make, not to mention the show jumping phase still left to ride.
You’ll just have to watch and see what happens!
This movie was always one of my personal favorites and you just can’t beat watching The Grey Goose herd cattle one minute and then blaze over a XC course the next. This also is the quintessential “horse” movie; underdog heroine, mystical horse connection, drunk codger for a trainer, hunky love interest, and impossible odds.
My only problem with this movie was the use of obscene language. It was out of place, unnecessary and completely inappropriate for younger audiences. But I still give Sylvester a solid 3 ½ out of 4 Golden Horseshoes.
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.