I came across a list of the TOP 100 HORSE MOVIES the other day (Equine Info Exchange™), and first I thought, Hmmm, who gets to write this list? And then I wondered (aside from, “Are there really 100? Where are they?), “What influences these choices? Is it the story? The humans? The horses? Or is it something silly and random — like the color of the horse? (Black Beauty + Black Stallion = any black horse makes a good story?)
I know I have my own favorite horse stories, and I’m sure you have yours, too. Mine started with a single book — the story that began my love affair with equine fiction.
I fell hard for My Friend Flicka in juniorhigh, and not much has come close since. This 1941 novel by Mary O’Hara about Ken McLaughlin, the son of a Wyoming rancher, and his horse, Flicka, awakened in me a fascination with the horse-human relationship. The idea that a horse could be a friend — with the closeness, communication and connection Ken formed with Flicka (against spectacular odds, I might add) — has inspired exploration even today into how this kind of relationship really does heal humans — and horses — from all kinds of ills. Drs. Tom, Deborah, and Adele Von Rust McCormick can tell you much more about the underpinnings of this kind of connection in their books, Horse Sense and the Human Heart and Horses and the Mystical Path.
While the horse-human connection portrayed in My Friend Flicka may have been passed off by many as a magical and farfetched idea when it was written, the truth beneath it is well documented by early Greek and Celtic horsemanship, as well as by the US Cavalry and more modern students such as Tom Dorrance, Ray Hunt, Monty Roberts, Linda Kohanov and many others. In my work with Clinton Anderson as a staff writer, and on his book, Lessons Well Learned, I got a front-row seat to horses and human learning from and connecting with one another. And then, as one of the many women-of-a-certain-age exploring this connection and all horses can add to the middles of our lives, I turned what I learned on this exploration into my own book, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Midlife Horses. My Friend Flicka, you see, was as much about growing up and gaining self-assurance through a relationship with a horse as it was about the horse itself.
My Friend Flicka was the first in a trilogy, followed by Thunderhead in 1943 and Green Grass of Wyoming in 1946. There was a popular 1943 film version featuring a young Roddy McDowall, followed by two other film adaptations, Thunderhead, Son of Flicka in 1945, and Green Grass of Wyoming in 1948, not to mention a TV series I didn’t catch until much later it its lengthy reruns. In 2006, Hollywood tried again with this great story — and even with Ken’s part played by a girl and Tim McGraw as the dad — nothing, I’m afraid, could compete with my own vivid imaginings.
As I read I could almost hear that horse nicker when she saw Ken coming down the path, see the softness of her flax main and he brushed it, and feel Ken’s angst in trying to please his father — and never quite measuring up. I knew the intimate details of the McLaughlin household, the breathtaking beauty of their ranch, and all the quirks of every family member as if they were my own. Even today, Mary O’Hara still (from the grave, no less!) still has me in the palm of her hand with this story — and my mental images formed by her words are as fresh and strong right now as they were the first time I read them. This story also brought about my first experience of the deep anxiety of never wanting a story to end, and no matter how many times I re-read that tattered paperback, turning the last page still brought a rush of sadness and yearning for more.
“I hope there are a hundred more books like this,” my 11-year-old self said, of course with the follow-up, “I want to have a horse just like Flicka someday.” And today, having made this soul-level connection with not one but two horses (yes, both somewhat like Flicka, each in a different way — but don’t tell them), it is the rare and wonderful experience I imagined it to be — and so much more.
What is your most compelling horse story? When did your connection with your dream horse begin? Where did it take you? I want to hear from you. Let’s share our stories and start our own list of favorite horse books and movies. Let me hear from you on Twitter, Facebook, or at MelindaFolse.com. I never realized until writing this post the power of these early attractions — and how they influenced my thoughts, perceptions, focus and interest.
And of course, there are a couple more where this one came from. Stay tuned.