“National Velvet” (1944)
Start with one of the classical pieces of cinematic horse history, number one is a story that is canonically one of every horse-lover’s favorites. The protagonist, Velvet Brown (played by Elizabeth Taylor), adores horses and comes to own one very spirited horse, which she names The Pie. A jockey played by Mickey Rooney helps her get The Pie’ ready for England’s Grand National Race. However, problems arise right before the race.
This one is for adventurers and horse lovers alike, and is based on a true story. Frank Hopkins (played by Viggo Mortensen), an American cowboy, who is most known for his horsemanship in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, is challenged to prove himself in a horse race called the Ocean of Fire. The race stretches out across thousands of miles of the Arabian Desert and is known as the world’s most dangerous horse race.
This one is arguably the most famous horse film of the 21st century. Set in the Great Depression, this movie catalogues the story of one of the most famous race horses and jockey pairs. The protagonist, played by Tobey Maguire, is a jockey with a history filled with racing injuries. He is paired with Seabiscuit, an undersized horse known for being temperamental and difficult to work with. One of sports’ great underdog stories.
“A Day at the Races” (1937)
It may be the oldest one on the list, but its humor still holds up. Groucho Marx plays the role of a veterinarian who is pretending to be a lead doctor at Standish Sanitarium, treating the wealthy patient Emily Upjohn. To save the failing Standish Sanitarium, The Marx Brothers & Co. must find clever ways to win a horse race.
This animated film is ideal for younger family members. It follows the story of a wild mustang stallion as he journeys across the American countryside. The horse is eventually captured by a young Lakota brave, who tries to train him. The horse and the Lakota brave strike up a friendship, but the horse still clings to his desire for freedom.
“Let it Ride” (1989)
Take a chance on this one, starring Richard Dreyfuss, as a cab driver who takes a few of his own betting at the race track. Dreyfuss’ character may seem like he doesn’t have very much going for him, but one race — then another, and another — changes everything.
“War Horse” (2011)
Viewer warning— this film is only for truly dedicated horse fanatics. The length (almost two and a half hours) may be a deterrent for a lesser fan. Set in the British countryside, Albert (Jeremy Irvine) is too young to fight in the “Great War” (World War I) at the start of the movie, so when his horse is sold to the British cavalry, Albert vows never to stop looking for him — even when he joins the fight.
“The Horse Whisperer” 1998
The 1998 Robert Redford film about a trainer gifted with an ability to understand horses was shot on location in several spots in our area (in addition to Montana). Look for scenes in Ballston Spa, Hadley, and Saratoga Race Course. Note: This is the novel/movie that spawned the popularity of the phrase for someone who has special abilities.
An underdog story of two parts: of a housewife who becomes the head of a horse racing ranch and a horse with a rebellious streak who went on to become one of the greatest of all time. Secretariat is the hope of the ranch and despite what others tell Penny Chenery (the housewife and ranch-owner) that Secretariat is not the right horse to race, Chenery takes a chance on him.
“Black Beauty” (1994)
The story is timeless, as is evidenced by how many versions and remakes there have been of Anna Sewell’s novel. This one features Sean Bean. Spoiler: He doesn’t die.