War Horse – A Cowboy’s View

January 8, 2012

By R.W. Hampton


War Horse Movie PosterWell, it’s not often that I see a movie worth commenting on, much less recommending, but the family and I drove about 200 miles round trip the other night to go see War Horse and it was well worth it.  My wife and eleven yr old are studying WWI currently in his home-school studies and had just read the book so it didn’t take much to convince us all to load up for the trip. I think I can say without reservation, the whole family enjoyed it as much as I did.  (*note to parents – it is rated PG 13)

Now hoss folks, take note; yes, you will notice that they use about six different horses to depict the equine star “Joey”.  This is common in movies and forgivable. I’ve done quite a few movies with horses and it’s almost impossible to find one horse that can pull off all the gags, so doubles must be used. 

As a ranch hand/cowboy it would be easy for some scenes to be perceived as corny but what the heck, Roy & Gene’s horses came when they whistledJoey and Albert too. We must also forgive some of the more ignorant tack and equipment idiosyncrasies that happen on almost all horse movies. On the other hand, I was impressed that they used a true to the story “European looking” Thoroughbreds and not an Americanized Quarter Horses (which are often preferred for work with on movie sets because of calmer temperaments). 

Part of the intrigue to me is that this movie follows the life of a horse born to a farm family in rural England, it moves through a boy’s youth and then with the horse into service in France during World War I. 

The countryside scenes are breathtaking and the battle scenes are graphic, intense, realistic but not gruesome or gory.  

I found it facinating that it was a war movie where there were no “good guys vs bad guys” sides taken as the horse ends up on both the English and the German’s front lines, because, as the author puts it in the book, everyone loves and respects a good horse.

It is obvious that horses of all types play a vital role in Europe during the period of time depicted in War Horse, but while the horse still played a role in warfare; tanks,War Horse Scene machine guns, trucks and airplanes were being used to full advantage also. Through the film it is easy to visualize that this is a turning point in history.

Favorite Scene:

There are many fine and exceptional moments in War Horse but this one got me, (as well as many other people, my wife tells me).  The location is a devastated apocalyptic stretch of land between the English and German trenches called “No Man’s Land”. The fighting has been long and fierce, the men are impeded in miserable trenches and the conditions can be described as cruel. Yet thru the smoke of this living hell both sides notice a lone horse badly tangled in the razor wire.  Touched by his plight white flags go up from both sides and we watch as the fighting stops in the eiry quiet as two soldiers climb out of their respective trenches and work their way towards the trapped animal and towards each other. Both men meet and after some discussion go to work together, enemies joining forces to free an injured animal out of love for a good horse. The irony is that upon accomplishing their goal they must shake hands and return their separate ways and once back to the relative safety of their trenches their brutal fighting must resume.

Now, if that doesn’t get to you, ya better check your pulse!

If you like big, old fashioned epic sagas like the Searchers or the Quiet Man, your gonna love War Horse. This movie, the story, and its cinematography harkens back to the work of Ford & Selsnick. Every frame is stunning and creates a spectacular backdrop for an amazing story. 

I hope you enjoy it and if you’ve seen it or read the book already tell us what you thought.  I’d also love to know, what is your all-time favorite horse movie?


13 Responses

  1. Kristy says:

    So many to choose from, but I think “Phar Lap” is my favorite horse movie. That and “Smokey the Cowhorse” (both versions).

    Going to see the film “War Horse” today. The play will be coming to California this summer, and I am anxious to see it! How they make those horse props (puppets?) look and behave as though they were the real deal is pretty amazing…they really captured the equine from what I can see.

  2. Lisa Hampton says:

    Thanks Kristy! We always love a good horse movie, R.W. and I haven’t watched Phar Lap but will put that on our list to rent soon!

  3. GT Hurley says:

    R.W., I thought the movie “War Horse” was everything you said and then some. My favorite horse movie hasn’t been done yet. It is about a horse and a Marine. If you haven’t already read about her, you need to read about Reckless, SSgt USMC. Korean War Decorated Vet. Check into it.


  4. connie says:

    R.W. thanks , I have been thinking of ging to see it and now I think I will. LOved the Searchers and Quiet Man you mentioned. I think it will be good to see a story as you depicted. thanks

  5. Anita Lowery says:

    I am glad I read the book first or I would have cried my eyes out when I saw the movie. Loved the movie and want to take my husband to see it soon.

  6. Lori says:

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this movie—I’ve heard nothing but very positive reviews from everyone that’s seen it. lol…You put me to shame, you live 100 miles from the theatre and I only live about a mile and I still haven’t seen it!
    This is #1 on my list to go see

  7. SammyD says:

    I agree that it was definitely worth seeing, not only for the horse aspects but because of its graphic description of trench warfare.
    My only reservation was that Spielberg gave no credit to the 200 or so horses used in the movie and didn’t make any note of the fact that over 480,000 British horses died in WWI.

  8. R.W. & Lisa says:

    SammyD – thank you so much for the information on the horses! Yes, we took a stab at 6 horses playing Joey and have since heard the number was much higher than that. I agree that Spielberg should have given them all credit as well as the many others seen throughout the film. It is a shame that he didn’t take the opportunity to address the losses at the end of the film, would have proved very educational for not only our youth but for many of us who have an interest.
    Thanks for the movie selections. We are going to have to watch Phar Lap, per several selections. Already love your other two favorites as well.

  9. R.W. & Lisa says:

    Thanks GT – I looked it up and you are right I am going to have to learn more about this!

  10. Jay & Glenda Stewart says:

    Hello R.W. and Lisa! Yes, we saw War Horse the other day and loved it. It’s a great story told in a great way. As you’ve said the cinematography was spectacular, acting by both horse and human was great. One other great scene that comes to mind is the bond between the captain and Albert when Albert’s father sells Joey to the horse buyer in the military. The captain assures Albert that he will be his horse and he will take good care of him. I won’t go on and spoil the story but you know what I mean. Yes, we have to forgive some of the details of the movies like just how bad ‘ol Joey would look it he’d ran through that much wire but, hey, it’s a great movie just the same! Heck, I even forgave Tommy Lee Jones for portraying Huey Callaway in “The Good Old Boys” while in the opening scene came around the line shack leading Biscuit and sporting a brand new hat, duster, leggings and Biscuit was topped off with a brand new kack! Acting, cinematography, and story can make up for a lot! Sorry, guys we haven’t seen Phar Lap either and will mark in down as one to see.

  11. Lori says:

    Never saw this at the movies but did purchase and watch it with my girls the other night. What a powerful film! If you ever watched the animated film ‘Spirit’ there were story line similarities. I preferred to watch this at home after hearing so much about it and reading your blog when it first came out.
    I was able to get up and take a little breather when it got too intense or hard to watch—this way I didn’t miss any of it. It’s amazing how exhausted I / we were when it was over – not physically but psychologically.
    I feel a bit badly because I was more upset toward the callous, expendable attitude toward horses than about the men in the war but then again it was focused on the atrocities toward the horses involved on the war (and the UGLY side of some men).
    So all n all I agree with you whole heartedly on this film!
    Never been able to whistle but my horses have always come when I called them; well almost always. lol

  12. Lori says:

    I’ve read about Reckless too! Is there actually a movie in the making???
    One heck of a horse and would make a awesome movie.

  13. Well, I think you can’t hardly beat Hidalgo…..a little unbelievable, but then all movies ask you to suspend belief for a couple of hours!

Leave a Reply