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The Year of the Horse

Year of the horse

This week it's time to say hello to the horse. January 31, 2014 marks the first day of the Year of the Horse and in parts of Asia, the celebration lasts at least three days. In Chinese astrology, there are five elements: fire, earth, metal, water and wood. Each year has an element assigned to it and 2014 is the wood horse. Wood represents the yang side of nature: focused, hot, dry, aggressive and masculine.

As horses can be both elegant dressage steeds and sturdy workhorses, the Year of the Horse is about hard work and noble effort and hope.

So besides having paperwhite narcissus blooming and a bowl of oranges for good fortune in your home, you can eat noodles to insure longevity while watching some horse-inspired films. Earlier this month, I sent out an appeal to my fellow writers and we were off. I wrote:

As the daughter of two (amateur) artists who loved horses, I also love horses. I've read all of Marguerite Henry's books and grew up on Walter Farley's Black Stallion series. I recall watching "The Horse in the Gray Flannel Suit" with my father. I am sadly allergic to hay and horse hair.

My favorite horse films are:

I have serious objections to "Hidalgo" and the promotional campaign which turned into a smear campaign against a few writers and riders.

Wikipedia has a list of films about horses, but I wondered if my wonderful fellow film critics might know some of these and have opinions about the best (or worst) or might be able to add to this list.

Movie Mom Nell Minow was the first to respond with:

My favorites are "National Velvet" and "The Black Stallion." Both star Mickey Rooney!

Not on the Wiki list: "My Brother Talks to Horses"

I realized that I hadn't seen either "National Velvet" or "My Friend Flicka" in their full uncut form—only on network TV cut down for commercials. Both are available on Amazon Instant.

Scott Jordan Harris commented:

And of course, on the subject of horses, all adaptations the Black Beauty stories are popular here in the UK.

The film "Champions," about Britain's greatest horse race, is one that often slips under the radar internationally.

It's a true story, and I believe you can watch the whole thing on YouTube. The music is especially well-known.

Peter Sobczynski wrote:

No "Day at the Races" on that list? For shame.

Also, it isn't exactly a horse movie but "Animal House" deserves an auxiliary mention for one of the funniest horse-related jokes.

Susan Wloszczyna:

Peter is right on with the comedies above. I don’t think "Horse Feathers" actually had any. I guess you could include "Troy" because of the Trojan Horse but that is dreadful film human-wise.

You could include "Cat Ballou" – Lee Marvin won his Oscar partly because of his drunken horse.

One that is not on this Wiki list is "The Rocking Horse Winner" a British film based on a D.H. Lawrence story. Gets under your skin. And my horsey friends swear by "Phar Lap."

Omer Mozaffar:

The Rocky films feature an Italian at various levels of Stallion.

Donald Liebenson:

The Marx Brothers do race a horse-driven chariot of sorts across the end zone to win the football game against "good ol' Darwin" to end "Horse Feathers." And early on, Harpo does whistle Everyone Says I Love You to his horse.

Peter Sobczynski added:

And Harpo sleeps with his horse in "Duck Soup."

Speaking of, does "Zoo" count?

I wasn't at first clear at what Peter meant, but a quick search made me remember a certain horse-related sex scandal. I wrote back to Peter:


Did you mean the 2007 doc "Zoo" on zoophiles?

I guess that would mean adding the 1977 "Equus."

Lisa Nesselson:

Man oh man—"Zoo" is a doc you never forget once you've seen it.

I never understood why the authorities decided to kill a horse just because men had managed to have sex with it.

It's not as if the horse did anything objectionable of its own volition.

But if one of the definitions of a good movie is that it inspires you to think about stuff you've never really pondered before, "Zoo" definitely qualifies.

Steven Boone gave us his own list:

Horse flicks:

  • "The Lighthorsemen" (insane war horse action with gatling guns and explosions)
  • "The Wind and the Lion"
  • "The Horse Soldiers"

A new German-Canadian "Western" called "Gold" has some of the most amazingly realistic depictions of what horses go through on a long frontier trek. Blows "Meek's Cutoff" out of the creek.

Great horse moments:

  • "The Scarlet Empress" (insane horses-storming-the-palace sequence)
  • "Ran"
  • "Seven Samurai"
  • "Marnie" (weirdly but memorably staged horse accident)
  • "The Hidden Fortress"
  • "Blazing Saddles" (of course)
  • "Lawrence of Arabia"

  • "The Wild Bunch" (when they're at full gallop toward the camera, looks like a Frederick Remington painting)

Anath White recalled one of her favorites:

All hail The Year of the Horse!

I've been a horse person since really small, riding ponies at a friend's farm while in grade school in central Illinois. I wanted my own horse terribly all through school but my parents said it'd be too much trouble to keep. Yet the desire never left. Twenty years later the guy I lived with in Denver surprised me with a horse on my birthday! The best present I've ever received: a gorgeous, spirited quarterhorse bay gelding standing 15.2 hands with 4 white socks. He had a white moon around his blue eye, which meant the previous owner had named him "Moonie." Not a name I loved at first, but for 10 years I sure loved him.

When I moved from Colorado for Los Angeles to work in the film industry, having to leave Moonie behind was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Much tougher than leaving a boyfriend.

The film I'd choose isn't well known and hasn't been available for some years. It's a black/white documentary by the noted fashion photographer Arthur Elgort: "Colorado Cowboy: The Bruce Ford Story." At 1994's Sundance Film Festival, it won the award for best cinematography and was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. It's stunning.

Colorado Cowboy: The Bruce Ford Story [trailer] from Nonstop Pictures on Vimeo.

In the new year, we can hope for both good movies and good luck, but sometimes even bad movies and bad luck can be good. The Chinese and the Japanese have a saying: 塞翁失馬 Sāi Wēng Shī Mǎ or literally Sāi Wēng lost his horse(人間万事塞翁が馬Ningen Banji Saiou ga Uma). Sāi Wēng lost his horse, but it turned out to be a good thing. So bad things can be blessings in disguise.

Happy Chinese New Year! 恭喜發財 (Gōngxǐfācái;Gong Hei Fat Choi)

Jana Monji

Jana Monji, made in San Diego, California, lost in Japan several times, has written about theater and movies for the LA Weekly, LA Times, and currently, and the Pasadena Weekly. Her short fiction has been published in the Asian American Literary Review.

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