The Need for Steed

Stop nagging, here's what horses have done for the movies

As you will have noticed through Roobla’s splendid sports section, the biggest few days in the horse racing calendar are imminent with Cheltenham Gold Cup week. So to mark the occasion, we thought the film section should also get in on the act (any excuse for a feature) and pay homage to our equine friends. Aside from thrilling race-goers around the world, ploughing fields and generally being mankind’s slave for thousands of years, they’ve also been a wonderful servant to the movies. Without them, there are many that probably wouldn’t have even seen the light of day, although they’d probably agree that Alexander wasn’t their finest moment if they could.

Naturally, they have played an important part in historical films. After all, in days gone by it was either ride a horse or walk. This is especially true of those that deal with ancient history – those chariots in Ben-Hur were never going to pull themselves. That’s not to say that horses have been indespensable for every single movie within the genre, as you could quite easily have a Henry VIII biopic, for example, without them, but for many they have been an absolute must. One type of film that couldn’t do without a frisky filly or two, however, is the Western. It would be worse that fish without chips, Steptoe without Son. A horse-less cowboy? That’s just crazy talk. It may also have meant that Hollywood would never have seen the potential in a young Clint Eastwood, and what a black hole that would have left.

Horror movies, or at least those of a more gothic persuasion, also have a lot to be thankful for. We need look no further than adaptations of Dracula for evidence of that. That journey by the intrepid Jonathan Harker through the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains on a dark eerie night, on his way to meet the Count at his Transylvanian abode, is as chilling an atmosphere as you will ever experience whilst being glued to a screen. The relentlessly slow clip-clop sound of the horse-drawn carriage adds an extra layer of impending doom, making the whole thing even more spellbinding. The same can definitely be said of Sleepy Hollow (a bit of a no-brainer, that one), whilst Victorian-set classics such as Sweeney Todd and The Hound of the Baskervilles just wouldn’t be the same.

As for the subject we began with, there have been relatively few films that have centered around ‘the sport of kings’, with Seabiscuit and International Velvet the possible standouts. Although a racehorse was actually a vital part of one of the most infamous scenes in any gangster flick. Yes, you know it now, that one from The Godfather, where the fictional dobbin had met a rather unfortunate end as its severed head turned up on a pillow (fictional, remember).

So, the next time you give old neddy an apple and a pat on the head, take a moment to reflect on how his kind have done so much more for us than trot, canter and gallop. In the meantime, above is a clip from that modern-day classic War Horse.

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