Watching the story of some of horse racing’s most famous animals unfold can’t help but make you feel inspired. Such is the case with the 1983 Australian film “Phar Lap,” based on the early 20th century horse of the same name. Phar Lap was born in New Zealand and eventually moved to Sydney to be a potential race horse. The film portrays the animal’s upbringing and racing career, specifically focusing on the incredible bond between the horse and its caretaker, Tommy Woodcock. Upon Phar Lap’s arrival, his trainer, Harry Telford, was instructed to immediately sell the horse, due to its extremely lean appearance. However, Telford convinced the owner to keep the animal, and eventually, a trusting relationship formed between Woodcock and the horse. The film also questions the intensity of training racehorses have to endure, especially back in the sport’s initial stages. While the ending is certainly a tearjerker, “Phar Lap” is a powerful film that illustrates just how compelling the art of horse training can be.
While many might be familiar with dramatic portrayal of horses on the silver screen, documentaries are often overlooked as examples of showcasing the compelling stories behind horse training. Every trainer should watch the documentary “Buck,” released in 2011. The film centers around a man named Buck Brannaman, a professional horse trainer and handler who teaches a unique method of communication with these animals. Brannaman served as a main consultant to the 1998 film “The Horse Whisperer,” and his training styles are based upon more sensitive approaches rather than disciplinary tactics. The documentary also goes more in-depth into Brannaman’s personal life, from his traumatic childhood with an abusive father to how his current family is affected by his life training horses on the road. “Buck” is arguably one of the most intriguing portrayals of horse training in cinema history, and the film was acclaimed by critics, even winning the U.S. Documentary Competition Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. “Buck” is one of the few documentaries about horse training that dives into the psychology of it, and it shows how Brannaman’s dedication and patience has made him one of the most influential trainers today.
There are plenty of biography films that revolve around the iconic racehorses, but only a select few truly analyze the lives of the jockeys who ride them. An excellent picture that focuses on one of the most fascinating horse jockeys is “Champions,” a 1983 film about the life and career of Bob Champion. The jockey is played by the legendary actor John Hurt, and the film portrays Champion’s career during the good times and the bad. Champion was one of the elite horse jockeys in racing, winning countless tournaments in the United Kingdom and other top races around the world. However, at the height of his racing success, Champion was diagnosed with testicular cancer, and his career and life were soon in jeopardy. “Champions” shows the jockey’s struggle coming to terms with the disease, eventually becoming determined to beat the cancer and get back to the racetrack. After a few years of treatment, Champion overcame his cancer, and his comeback included winning the 1981 Grand National horse race in Liverpool. Hurt was nominated for several acting awards for his powerful performance, and the film remains one of the few authentic biographies about horse jockeys.