Thursday, December 29, 2011

War Horse...the movie review

famous image by Fortunino Matania (1881-1963) owned by the Blue illustrates the extraordinary bond that existed between soldiers and their horses.

Below is an accompanying poem by poet Henry Chappell (1874-1937) called A Soldier's Kiss:

When the movie was husband and I were the last to leave our seats.  The movie credits rolled for almost 5 minutes naming the hundreds of people who came together in the project of bringing to the screen the tale of War Horse, written by Michael Morpurgo in 1982. 
The play by the same name won a prestigious Tony award.  I have not seen the play as yet, but know it must be an equally powerful statement of the bond between horses and mankind.  

I did read the book beforehand, and did not know how they would be able to tell the tale (as is told by the horse Joey in the book).  Well...they didn't; but the horses were amazingly expressive in showing in their eyes the feelings of trust and obedience that horses can show and give to those who earn that trust.  

What noble creatures horses are, and have been throughout history.  It is about time that people were touched by art depicting what these animals have done so willingly for us.  Steven Spielberg has made a wonderful movie that gave us an emotional ride through the horrific battlefields where so many fought and died, horses and man alike.  

There is a dramatic scene where Joey escapes into "no man's land" ...that hellish place between the two lines of battle.  The fighting stops because both sides can't believe there is a horse running loose in such a terrible place.  I won't spoil it for you, but right the crux of the war thing...where it all boils down to what horses do for the soul of mankind.    

The movie was beautifully filmed and the attention to detail was greatly appreciated.  There was no need for blood and guts to be graphically shown.  There were no animals harmed in the filming, and a few seconds of animation were used in Joey's run through barbed wire.  

There is a happy ending because after all, this is a children's book Mr. Morpurgo wrote.  I just wish that the "war to end all wars" was true.  We seem to forget the terrible cost to everyone and are quick to fight, rather than find other ways to come to common ground with our fellow man.  

I found the movie's sound effects the most horrifying.  I caught sight of my self in a mirror on leaving the movie house and the whole experience was written on my face.  Everyone around us felt the same, men and women alike.  When we got up to leave, there was a man, about the same age as my husband who had waited just to meet eye to eye with my husband and say what a great movie that was.  My husband agreed and choked back sobs for the common emotion that he and the stranger felt.  
Mr. Spielberg was able to create art from all those people and animals in the project and bring together a great visual and emotional experience from Mr. Morpurgo's great homage to the war horses.  Go see it if only for the sake of the noble creature...the horse.

 The Blue Cross organization of the UK has been helping animals since 1897 and cared for sick and injured horses during World War One. They have kindly opened up their historic archives to the public online where you can explore images, memorabilia and stories from the front line…

read about my grandfather's war horse

Blog update: January 24, 2010

War Horse at the Oscars:

Great year for movies....The Artist leads the field of 9 for Best Picture with 11 nominations in the different categories.

War Horse has 6 nominations for:

Best Picture

Art Direction


Music-Original Score

Sound Editing

Sound Mixing

I doubt it will win Best Picture, but am happy a young generation knows of the role horses has played in human history.  I have read comments from some that had no idea, or gave no thought of how horses have served us. 

Joey, authentically tacked, and handler, authentically dressed on the red carpet at premier of War Horse in from the Toronto Gazette

Saturday, December 17, 2011

God Bless us...everyone

My all time favorite Christmas movie is the 1951 adaptation of Charles Dickens A Christmas Carol .
I faithfully watch it every year because for me, it embodies much of human goodness and redemption of spirit.  At this time of the rolling year...I like to reflect on the best of family, and strive for kindness and good will.  I am not religious, but do feel the spirit of being kind and good to my fellow man, woman, child, and all living creatures.  I wish it for all.

In just a few days, Christmas day movie goers will be able to see War Horse.  It is not a Christmas story, but rather a children's story of an extraordinary bond between boy and horse, told through the horse's point of view.  It is set on the stage of World War 1's battlefield.  I'll wait a few days to see it, but I look forward to the tale and will write about it.  I have already told, from my own family story, about my my grandfather's horse that went to WW1.

Riders Aside in their traditional riding habits
In my previous post, I told about training my horse to wear a strap of bells on our annual Christmas drive that was held two weeks ago.  It was a large turnout of horses and drivers and even included a group of side saddle enthusiasts who came dressed in carefully recreated riding habits to keep that tradition alive. I sure would like to try that someday as Romeo is saddle horse bred and would be well suited as a mount for this discipline.  As it was, Romeo did a fine job bucking headwinds of steady 30-40 miles per hour.

String of brass cast bells on an antique lap robe which we were glad to have for warmth
I brought the bells for him to wear but my husband and  passenger outvoted me in having him wear them due to the adverse conditions in which we were going to drive.  As "captain of my ship", I bowed to their apprehension, wanting to make them feel good and not anxious about our drive.  Romeo would have been just fine; and, in looking at the performance of all the horses and ponies that did venture out in the high winds, they all did a magnificent job with no foolishness...just work.

Me on the box seat with my passenger niece Pam...Romeo in his warm fur coat

I talked with Tom Simmons, my horse trainer, afterwards and he confirmed that under adverse conditions, horses are amazing in buckling down and giving what is asked of them.  No fuss...even the 3 year old green driving pony brought by one of our best drivers in the west, happily did his job in his first time out in public.

Romeo's tail being blown horizontally by the steady olive orchard to the left

It makes me again think of war horses, and all the horses through our history that have served mankind.  We have a lot to admire in these fine creatures.  We owe them much respect and kindness.

 So once again...give gentle thought to all creatures this Christmas...and everyday.  As Tiny Tim said:  God bless us...everyone

Friday, December 2, 2011

'Tis the season for bells

Lance wearing the bells in North Carolina

My niece knocked herself out to make a memorable Thanksgiving for our small family; and so in return, I was thinking I'd take her along on our driving club's Christmas drive at our favorite vineyard (it is now an olive orchard) to drive the perimeter ranch roads and enjoy company of others at the high tea that will be served afterwards in the barn.

She asked if we would have bells on the horse and I said: "hummmmm, maybe"...Romeo has never driven with the strap of bells attached.  So, to see if this was possible, I wore the 15 lb. strap of bells around my body as I walked to the barn to feed yesterday morning.  There they were all lined up like curious kids at the closest point of the arena to our house, waiting to see what the noise was all about.  So cute with their ears perked up.  I thought I'd see some horse antics as I drew nearer, but no...they were more interested in the upcoming hay.  I went about my preparations and before entering the paddock with the hay wagon, I grabbed my whip (as usual) to keep them from crowding me.  I really don't have to do anything but remind them by pointing at them if they get in the "no crowd zone".  The three of them at the barn made no recognition of the bells while I continued my chores making passes by the munching horses to pick manure and top off the water tank. 

 Off for another walk to the outside pasture where another three live and the scene was very different.  The spotted herd is composed of a Saddlebred mare, her DHH cross daughter, and an aged pony gelding.  It had rained the day before so the hillside was a bit muddy keeping their antics more subdued.  I went about my usual routine (dang those bells are heavy!) and surely didn't need the whip to keep them from getting too close to me while I dispensed the feed into piles.  I picked their manure in their run-in shed and topped their tank and decided to just go and stand to see if anyone would come investigate my noisy body.  The young DHH cross mare was the first to come and nose the bells.  She is a pocket horse anyways, and after rubbing her a bit and jingling a bit, she ignored the bells and went back to her feed pile.  Her mother was next, but the pony never did want to come see...that's ok...his only job in life is to look out after the girls and run any stray dogs out of the pasture.  

I went back around lunch time to drive Romeo (still wearing those danged bells). I led him out of the paddock, tied him in the sun, brushed a path for the harness and tacked him.  I  brought the carriage to him and hooked as usual.  We make a point of standing for a while with me futzing around making sure all is copasetic.

I had buckled the bells around the back rest with the bulk of them in the boot so I could control the amount of jingle.  Off we went as usual in the arena and when I could see that Romeo wasn't affected in anyway with the noise...I asked for a trot.  No surprise at the increased level of noise (with me giving the strap a good shake).  Good!  Tomorrow, I'll tie the bells onto his surcingle and put him on a lounge line for a trot in the round pen a bit before I drive.  He'll get the full force of the noise as he'll hear it in harness.  If all goes well, the next day, I'll hook him with the bells in their usual place just behind the saddle and run over the shafts and buckled underneath the horse near the girth.  I use a shoe lace to attach to the girth (also to the water hook on the saddle top) so the bell strap does not work it's way back to the flank or a hind foot does not get involved accidentally.  More later...
Romeo (goofus maximus) wearing my scarf

Romeo did fine, by the way, in today's wearing of the bell strap (tied to his surcingle) and on a lounge line in the big round pen. I hand walked him on some of the ranch trails prior to the round pen. I used a lounge line with a chain that went through the side ring on the halter, under the chin, out through the other side ring and then snapped to the start link of the chain. I did this in case he surprised at the full force of the sound of the bells (the biggest of the bells are humongous), I could have enough reminder of "listen to me" and not have him get out of hand.

He was fine with walking, stopping, slow trot, fast trot, stopping, in
both directions. Boy...were those bells making a ruckus in the fast trot! The only reaction I got was in asking for a canter from the fast trot, he did his accordion move and compressed fully, hopping into a canter for a few strides before settling into his trot again. I call Romeo my rubber band man because I have never seen a horse able to expand and compress as much as he can....rubber band man. 

So we are good to go full dress rehearsal tomorrow in the carriage.  Dress rehersal over and successful, it is time to clean harness and shine brass.  Where are my servants?  Sigh...guess I have to do it myself....again.  

Today, my hands show the effects of all the shining of the brass.  We'll look good though even if I am stove up.  I put a shoe lace on the end of my lines so that I can keep a loop on my wrist in case I drop my lines which I am prone to do nowadays...getting old causes one to make adaptations!

Haflinger drivers heading out for last year's tea drive
The good thing about driving is that one can continue to enjoy their horses, with passengers also, well into old age as long as the desire is there.  Don't get the idea driving is a boring sport though... One weekend in 2003 at Fair Hill International in Maryland, the eventers gathered there for their CCI Pan American Games, the drivers were there for an international CDE, endurance competitors were there for a 100 mile international competition, dogs were there for national agility trials, and there was  a massive trade fair and carnival.   The drivers were walking their hazards prior to marathon and the eventers were doing their course walk with coach Mark Phillips...they shouted at us that we were crazy, and we laughingly shouted back that they were crazy...I think we are all crazy.  

Hopefully next post will have adventure report and photos of my shiny brass...