Everything I Need To Know About Horses I Learned From the Movies

Who needs a trainer, actual riding skills or a suitable horse? Katie Passerotti explains that all you really need is determination and heart.


War Horse

From Katie:

Oh, horse movies. You wonderful, cheesy, well-intentioned perpetrator of inaccuracies and falsehoods. I both love and loath you in the same breath. As a child, I watched you, fascinated by the magic you created between horse and handler. The handler was usually the misfit kid, just like me, so I watched with bated breath, knowing that the next time I rode my horse the same magic would be created if I just believed enough. And you know that you did the exact same thing.

Now as an adult, I have realized that I have become jaded and forgotten the elemental truths to be found in horse movies. Watching The Black Stallion the other day on TCM, I remembered and I can’t wait to put some of these into practice throughout the show season this year. Bastian and I are going to be champions and once it happens, I’ll write a book and be a millionaire. Here is a teaser of what it’s going to include…..

Health care:

No longer will colic, blindness, severe lacerations of key muscles or a bad hoof injury prevent us from competing. In fact, if the records show correctly I actually want my horse to be badgered by at least one of these problems before every horse show. The closer to the show date the better,  as it improves our chances of putting in a stellar performance. If I don’t have to call the vet out and contemplate the possibility that my horse might not make it, he isn’t sick enough and we won’t win at our show that weekend.

Don’t believe me? Let’s take a look at the facts:

1)      Hidalgo: falls into a pit of stakes, lacerates his shoulder (not to mention that he was already weak and dehydrated — on his way to a healthcare grand slam here) and goes on to gallop to victory.

2)      Moondance Alexander: Her horse, Checkers, colics severely just days before the big Hunter Classic. He remains laying down forever! At no point do his rider or trainer say, hmmm, perhaps he shouldn’t be competing this weekend. Instead they go and surprise, win the Classic.

3)      The Black Stallion: The Black lacerates his front leg and blood is pouring down it in the starting gate. Despite this (and his rough start) he defeats the two fastest horses in the country.


National Velvet

Training Practices:

No more lunging, no more working steadily each day to achieve calmness, balance, forwardness or submission. Oh no, I’ll be talking to my horse daily about these things, preferably while he is loose in a field. I’ll say things like “See, its simple, you just go like this.” At which point I will demonstrate what it is I am wanting him to learn, whether than means putting the tack on my own body (“See, this is where the bit goes” and I place the bit  in my mouth) or demonstrating proper leads, flying changes, or the basics of jumping. I’m going to have to be creative sometimes and I’ll also have to spend more time staring meaningfully into my horse’s eyes.

These are the training methods that get results. I haven’t taken the time to do these things, this is a major hole in my horse’s training, it’s no wonder we aren’t champions yet. Nor do we need to practice these things regularly; in fact once a skill has been mastered once I should never do it again unless during a competition. In case you don’t believe me, let’s once again examine the facts:

1)      War Horse: Did you see that boy train that horse to wear a harness?  That was some amazing training, eh? He just put the collar on his own neck, showed the horse it was OK and bam, the horse got it. No fuss.

2)      The Longshot: The horse that she rides in the huge dressage freestyle competition is not only blind, but hasn’t been ridden or worked for about a year. Yet it goes into the arena and puts in a beautiful Grand Prix test. Absolutely lovely.

3)      Black Beauty: This not only shows these great training methods, but brings home the point that you can only do it if you have a kind soul. If you are evil or malicious, you need not apply because the horse will not respond to you.

The Longshot

The Longshot

Riding Ability:

Hah! I’m not taking any more lessons. I don’t need them. All I need is grit and determination to keep getting back on every day and the belief that me and my horse are the best. That’s it. In fact, the less time I have to practice and/or weaker I am the better. My horse and I are going to become champions on heart alone. If we can dream it, we can achieve it! That’s all it takes. For example:

1)      The Black Stallion: Pint-sized Alec raced against adult professional jockeys and totally won! I mean he did have Henry Daily helping him, but we’ll talk about possible trainers in a minute. Alec totally almost fell off, but because he believed he and The Black could win, they did.

2)      Moondance Alexander: Moondance had never ridden before in her life, but in the space of about two months, learned how to ride and jump 3’6” fences. Not too shabby! I’ve been riding for almost 20 years and while in my younger years I was jumping 3’, right now I’m struggling to master 2’6”….

3)      National Velvet: Have you seen her over those jumps! Velvet Brown needs some serious help from George Morris, but that certainly did not stop her and The Pie from doing so well in the Grand National.


The Black Stallion

Breed Type and Suitability:

The rule seems to be that whatever breed of horse you have, or what his conformation says he’ll be best for, you need to do the opposite. My horse Bastian is a thoroughbred, I guess I’m kinda already there because we’re mainly dressage, but that’s not enough of a stretch as there are plenty of successful thoroughbred dressage horses. We should probably take up western pleasure, or maybe reining. I think he might like reining, he does like to run… But basically, the more unsuited you seem to be to the task at hand, whether due to breed, color, or conformation, that is what you should compete in. It equals an automatic blue ribbon because you’re defying the odds!

1)      Hildalgo: Paint horse competing against Arabians in a long distance desert race.

2)      Moondance Alexander: Paint horse competing against Thoroughbreds and Warmbloods in the Hunter classic

3)      National Velvet: (refer to the book!) Paint horse competing in the Grand National

I think I just need to sell Bastian, buy a Paint horse and then compete — it’s a guaranteed success story.


Moondance Alexander


Should I need a trainer or instructor, I’ll need to find one that I coax out of retirement. They need to have a shady past either because of a tragedy involving horses or involving them making a bad choice concerning horses. If I can’t find a suitable crotchety retired equestrian, I can always hire a child. Children make champion horses all the time, and they regularly employ those training practices that I talked about earlier. They are great for talking to horses, demonstrating things and staring meaningful into eyes. Whatever program they cook up for me, no matter how unorthodox, I will follow it religiously to the letter.

1)      Dreamer: Dakota Fanning. That’s all I have to say. She made that horse a champion.

2)      The Black Stallion: Double whammy! Crotchety Henry Daily combined with Alec the boy wonder, they really had a lot going for them.

3)      Sylvester: How awesome was it that the owner of the ranch just happened to have classical dressage training and knew about high-level eventing. Although he would only train her secretly at night — don’t want the cowboys to learn he was doing “Englishly” things!



Obviously, the more of these that I can have going on, the better and more likely I am to be successful. I’m starting tomorrow when I go to the barn, — I’m going to stare meaningfully into Bastian’s eye for 15 minutes, maybe whisper a little about how amazing I think he is and how we shouldn’t let any naysayers hold us back, that we have to do what we were born to do. Then I think I’ll demonstrate some flying lead changes, because we’re really struggling with those. Wish us luck!

Like I said, this is just a sampling, before I write my “How to Succeed with Your Horse” book I want to implement all of these methods and some others that I didn’t mention to make sure they work. I’ll be writing the book as the owner of a Champion Dressage/Western Pleasure Thoroughbred.

Go Riding.


Leave a Comment


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *