Girl meets horse in exotic locale. Falls in love.
Free Rein is a Netflix series that ran from 2017–2019, starring a very fresh-faced Freddy Carter (you might know him from the hit series Shadow and Bone as Kaz Brekker) and Jaylen Barron.
“After befriending a mysterious horse during a summer in the English countryside, 15-year-old Zoe finds the strength to deal with issues she faces.” – IMDB
The series opens with a sweeping shot of a girl galloping a horse down an idyllic beach. But that’s not our protagonist, a fact that is given to us via voiceover.
Quickly, we cut to the new girl in town, Zoe, along with her mom and posh little sister, as they walk down a country lane almost as scenic as the beach. There we meet Zoe’s grandfather, whom they are living with for the summer after life at home in Los Angeles got “kind of complicated.”
The family settles in, with Zoe heading to the library before napping in the front yard while Rosie whines about the lack of WiFi. When Zoe wakes up, Rosie is missing, and Mom is freaking out!
Everyone heads in a different direction to search for Rosie, with Zoe finding her way to the local horse stable. There she meets Jade, Becky, and a plethora of other characters. She asks if they’ve seen her sister, but they quickly inform her that they’re too busy searching for a missing horse named Raven.
Zoe then steals Becky’s bike and starts searching for her sister again, ending up on a beach with a massive black horse—presumably Raven—galloping straight for her. She falls over, and the horse starts rearing repeatedly in front of her.
Two people from the stable roll up in a Jeep just as Zoe manages to soothe the beast, and her and Raven’s connection is solidified when she fights against using a sedative to get him fully under control. Cut back to the stable, where Raven’s owner is talking to the police about how untamable he is, and suddenly everyone goes slack-jawed when Zoe just casually walks in with him in tow.
While the stable owner takes some heat from Raven’s owner and kindles a romance with the police officer, Zoe spots her sister’s pink sunglasses on the ground, realizing she must be somewhere in the barn.
While searching for her, Zoe goes into Raven’s stall and gives him a cuddle. It’s then that we meet the resident mean girl, Mia. Mia attempts to befriend Zoe but is spurned after exchanging barbs with Jade and Becky. It’s then that we’re told Mia owns Raven, and she wants Zoe to stay away from her horse.
Soon after, we find the wayward Rosie, plugged into the stable’s WiFi and happily ignorant of the whole day’s fiasco.
Meanwhile, a character yet to be named steals something from a cabinet containing horse medicines and then skedaddles out of a window.
Obviously, there are shenanigans afoot. When will the pony squad unite to fight petty crime? You’ll just have to watch and see!
Free Rein is a standard fish out of water tale combined with the equestrian film classic, a magical moonbeam soulmate connection trope.
I have a love-hate relationship with this particular cliché. On the one hand, we all kind of wish a championship-fit, gorgeous black horse would suddenly appear on a beach and bond with us, but on the other hand, it’s just a tad ridiculous, especially when the “connection” involves little more than speaking to the horse with a kind yet stern voice.
The biggest problem with this series, though, is the voiceovers that tell us Zoe’s internal thoughts. I actually loathe voiceovers. I hate them almost as much as the journaling at the beginning and end of every episode. Paired together, the two are a crushing combination. They always feel like the end result of writers thinking viewers are complete idiots. If the main protagonist is staring inquisitively at a person lurking and acting shifty, we do not—I repeat, we do not—need a voiceover that says, “Why is that person lurking and acting shifty?”
On the upside, the series has a diverse cast, was filmed on a gorgeous location, and after watching a few episodes with me, my 14-year-old daughter said, “I’m invested.”
I give Free Rein 2 out of 4 Golden Horseshoes. P.S. My daughter vehemently disagrees with this rating.
Amanda Uechi Ronan is an author, equestrian and wannabe race car driver. Follow her on Instagram @uechironan.