In which an endurance movie might be good...or really, really bad

This is one of those, "could be good news, could be bad news" situations:

Somebody (no, we don't have names yet) wants to make a feature film about endurance riding. The goal is to film on location here in the Pacific Northwest in July or August this summer. Production plans include setting up a ridecamp populated by local endurance riders and their horses, rigs and crews, and filming action in the vetcheck and on the trail.

So far, not bad news. Possibly even good news. The sport can always use good new recruits, and a movie might be a good way to "spread the gospel" about riding long distances on horseback.

I remember the huge influx of karate students at local martial arts academies in the 1980's, when this movie was released:

At the time of this film, I was a karate student in an Okinawin-style dojo. We were swamped with new fact, we had enough new people joining the school that we were able to afford a new roof for the building that year. New recruits can be a good thing!

Plus, there's the marketing opportunities. I think we all remember this movie:
...and I think that most of us also remember the boom in sales of Australian-style drover raincoats that resulted from watching those riders flap through rainstorms and rivers with their horses, emerging dry and sexy on the far side.To this day, I no longer have to order a drover coat from Drizabone in Australia--my local feed store stocks them. Product placement can be a very useful thing. Horse folks who watch a movie about endurance riders might just start buying biothane and helmets--and thus, indirectly support the sport by supporting our vendors.

The bad news? Because there is some, of course.

* The plot appears to have been written for an after-school special, complete with utterly predictable good guys, bad guys, revenge and redemption. In fact, it's the same plot as The Karate Kid, but with horses. Juvenile, simplistic, and not very interesting. There is also a strong implication, as in Karate Kid, that skill, training, education, and years of practice are not necessary to win. All you really need to win is a strong will to beat the bad guy and a pretty girl at the finish line.

In real life, of course, one of our "Golden Years" riders like Mona Thacker or Julie Suhr would beat the tailfeathers off these yabbos, and she would be back in camp and showered and shiny by the time they made it to the finish line--assuming that their need for vengence didn't lead them to override their horses early in the day and be pulled from competition before the 45-mile mark.

* The writers thus far seem stuck on the idea of a 200-mile, two-day race. This makes no sense, and is truly the major tripping-point for endurance riders. There were such races in the Pacific Northwest in the early days of endurance, as mentioned by Lew Hollander in his landmark book Endurance Riding: from beginning to winning.

However, by the time the American Endurance Rides Conference was organized in 1972, rides were limited to 100 miles in 24 hours with mandatory vet checkpoints along the way. 100 miles is now regarded as the "outer limit" for a single-day humane riding. If the producers ever read this post, my single point of advice to them is to make their fictional ride a single-day 100, or even a 5-day 250-miler. That one change will break down most of the resistance thrown up by endurance riders who know and care about the sport as it actually exists in the real world.

* The two main characters are going to be the primary contenders in this endurance ride, although both seem to be newcomers to endurance competition. The lead character's wife was an endurance rider before she was horribly killed by indirect action of the badguy. So now the surviving spouse is going to get on her horse and take up where she left off? I'm pretty sure that even a really good rider couldn't just grab Merlin away from Sue Nance and go win a ride.

There's a major disconnect here that needs to be addressed: an endurance ride is a competition of the horse and rider team against the trail. Horses aren't like motorcycles, and they are not interchangable. In most cases, a good rider has travelled hundreds (thousands!) of training miles with the horse before entering into a competition. Of course, this is a movie, not real life. But still.

* The villain in the film sabotages other horses and riders along the trail in order to win the ride. Apparently, that's how you know he's a villain, and not an endurance rider. Endurance riders can, will, and frequently have sacrificed their own win or placing in a ride to help another rider who needs help. It's not a requirement, but it is a strongly-held expectation in the group. I know that many local riders are distressed at the implication that people might watch this movie and think that this behavior is normal and acceptable.

* The protagonist is a deeply-depressed man who wants to win a bet against his age-old rival, and in doing so prevent the rival from making heaps of money by clear-cut logging the beautiful, poetic, soul-healing forest. (for new readers: that is sarcasm in the sentence right there).

Clear-cutting is not the way to harvest trees in order to maintain the health and beauty of the ecosystem. However, here in a logging-dependent region, we don't place bets on a horse race to settle land-use rights. We use the legal court system. It's kind of a "grown-up" way to solve problems, but it seems to work pretty well for us. It doesn't make for dramatic cinematography, though. Again, this is a movie and not real life.

So, now what? Several of our regional riders have written to the production company, and gotten back a poorly-written, all-caps email reply. As a group, we are not impressed (for new readers: that is irony in the sentence right there).

This project has potential to be a good film, with a strong story and an accurate portrayal of "extreme" distance riding. It wouldn't need a lot of changes to make it better.

It does need some changes, however, or the finished product will be so pathetic that endurance riders will never have to worry about it portraying us inaccurately because nobody will ever watch it.


  1. My gut feeling is, they won't get the funding for the film. They are pretty closed minded to some of the emails that have been sent to them by endurance riders, and with that attitude, I bet it won't go far.

  2. 200 miles in 2 days? Are they CRAZY?
    I hope endurance riders as a group keep up the emailing, heck I'd email them.

    If they really understood the reality of endurance riding, they'd get real drama that might have a stab at being interesting, because it's complex. Good for you, calling them on this.

  3. Very interesting....keep us posted!

  4. I really liked the alternate script proposed on Ridecamp. I'd go see that one!


Post a Comment

To err is human. To be anonymous is not.

Popular posts from this blog

In which we take (metaphoric) coals to Newcastle by boat and barge

In which it's that time again: we're headed for Sawmill Flats to build trails