I love horse movies, mainly because I love watching the the horses, but I also love watching the riding. And as every equestrian knows, sometimes the riding is laughably bad. A Gift Horse was no exception.
When I first heard about this movie, I really wanted to like it. It looked like it could just be a cute little horse movie, maybe like National Velvet. But I just can’t get over the bizarre, non-realistic horse-isms. Also, the unintentional funny situations.
The movie starts out at one of the most gorgeous stables I’ve ever seen. It seems as though it’s owned by the antagonist’s father, but it wasn’t really clear to me. The antagonist, a rich teenage girl, is introduced by showing up in a helicopter. She walks into the barn, where she’s there for a lesson. Her trainer, a young woman named Charlotte, who wears cowboy boots with breeches the whole time, and a small girl named Amanda, our main character, are there grooming a horse. The scene is set for the hilarity, and my first annoyance.
Amanda tells rich girl that her saddle is near the horse, and her bridle is apparently down the hall. Which begs two questions – why would they only bring her saddle over? When I grab my tack, I usually grab both bridle and saddle at the same time, in the Pony Club suggested way. Also, at this fancy barn, do they not tack up by the tack room? Second question, and I know this sounds snotty, but since trainer is already grooming the horse and getting it ready, why doesn’t trainer already have the horse tacked up? Usually rich people pay for this kind of service to be done. As the antagonist proves moments later as she screams at the trainer, “My father pays you! You work for me!”
What sparks her to scream this isn’t her outrage that her employee doesn’t have her horse ready, it’s because the trainer asks her to get off her phone. It went from zero to screaming in .1 second. Things escalate quickly in this movie.
So rich girl stomps off, and the plucky hero volunteers to “work” the horse. Now we get to see this horse in action.
She’s an older gray mare. I know this, because many grays turn flea-bitten as they get older. This horse looks like a mid-teens mare. I’m telling you this because this horse is apparently super hard to work with, despite all appearances of being a docile, middle aged, lesson horse. The theme of “Misty” being difficult is repeated throughout the whole movie, as well as how fancy and expensive this horse is, and how it has so much potential because her sire (called “the father”) was an amazing champion horse. The horse looks and acts like a gentle school horse with a heart of gold, calmly taking care of the idiots who ride her. It irritated me greatly to hear them complaining about how she just needs more time (without saying what they will do with this time) and that she has so much potential to be great. It was extremely obvious to me that what this apparently lazy, stubborn horse needs is for the “trainer” (or really any rider above complete beginner) to get on and make her work. Instead, both Amanda and rich girl ride Misty, and they both seem to have no idea what they are doing, but Amanda especially so. She has the look of someone who is on their very first lesson, hands way up in the air, completely unbalanced, bouncing all over the place. But no one mentions this as the reason why Misty is having “issues” keeping a trot. Instead it’s blasted in your face about how Amanda is going to make this horse a champion.
After she’s done riding, she has an emotional scene cleaning tack with Charlotte. It’s there we learn that Amanda’s mom died of cancer, in possibly one of the most heartless ways. They start by chattering on about something completely pleasant, and then Amanda quotes something her mom said (I don’t remember what it was).
Charlotte says: “Your mom sounds like a very smart woman.”
Amanda: ” But not smart enough to beat cancer.”
So according to this young girl, if her mother had been smarter, she could have been able to outsmart cancer. Way to trivialize all the cancer sufferers out there. I guess if they’d all be smarter, they could have kicked cancer’s behind.
Rich girl gets completely sick of Misty at some horse show where she knocks down, not just a rail, but a rail and the gate under it. Which is hilarious to me, because the sound byte indicated that it was just a clip, but both drop like hot potatoes, straight down. Not at all knocked forward, which would be the direction they would head if the horse had hung its leg low enough to have smashed into both of them.
But, Miss Overreaction stops Misty mid course, jumps off, flings the helmet aside and screams “I HATE THIS HORSE!!” and stomps out of the arena. Her father demands she gets back on the horse, but she ignores him.
But I laughed at a part they actually intended to be funny in this scene. A little boy comes up to Amanda in the bleachers and tries to talk to her. He then spills her snow cone thing all over her. She becomes angry and storms away. He calls after her, completely sincere, “Hi, I’m Thomas!” He’s already learning to pick up girls. Spill stuff on them, and introduce yourself. Take note, this boy will be a lady’s man in a few years.
Now that rich girl is sick of Misty, rich girl father will be selling her. This is the part where he threatens several times “I’ll give her a week to improve!” while Amanda cries and asks for more time. Amanda has a lesson on Misty, where she apparently “pulls the reins too hard” causing Misty to “sprain her ankle”. Rich girl’s father threatens to sell (and taxidermy her) again, while Amanda begs for more time. Luckily for Amanda, her own father’s girlfriend decides to buy Misty for her, probably because she’s sick of Amanda whining so much. I’m happy about this, because it means we can move on from the “I’m selling her!” “No please! She needs more time!!” However for some reason this is kept a secret from Amanda. Possibly they just like to see a little girl become emotional about a horse that could leave at any moment.
Although I’m actually not sure if it was intentional that this is kept a secret. They never actually say it’s a secret, but there’s no scene where Amanda is informed she now owns the horse, nor does she give any indication that someone told her off camera. It isn’t even brought up again until the very end when someone tells Amanda that it was her father’s girlfriend who bought the horse for her. Amanda doesn’t seem surprised she owns the horse, so maybe she did know the whole time?
Eventually Misty recovers, with everyone declaring this is due to Amanda’s good care. I guess no one else would have stepped in to ice Misty’s leg if the small child had been unable to. I laughed at the vet constantly being called “Doc”. I should try that the next time my vet is out.
Now, with minimal riding time on Misty due to her injury, everyone decides that Amanda should take Misty to a show. In my unprofessional opinion, the girl needs to at least be able to maintain a trot at a straight line before showing, but I guess this is why I’m not in the horse movie business. Still no one mentions that Misty’s “problems” are actually due to being ridden by a complete beginner. As far as I can tell, the horse is still acting like a typical beginner school horse.
Meanwhile, rich girl gets yet another horse, because she goes through them like pringles. This next horse is actually quite gorgeous, so I think they may have finally picked a winner. I’m team rich girl’s horse all the way. However, it’s obvious (to me) that rich girl still isn’t going to succeed with this horse, because she lounges it in a lesson, and her method to get it to move is to throw sand at it. That is what her trainer tells her to do. The horse is walking nicely, and the trainer says something like “Get it to move out, throw some sand at it,” and rich girl kicks sand at it, and it trots, probably in alarm. Then trainer starts picking up sand and flinging it at the horse. The horse begins cantering, probably confused, while the trainer says “Good! trot! trot!” and it makes me wonder if she knows the difference between a trot and a canter, since she throws sand at it every time it’s not cantering.
Then rich girl gets a text message and stops kicking sand to answer it. Trainer gets annoyed, and then the situation escalates again. Rich girl screams how this horse isn’t good enough, and something about riding since she was 6, and blah blah blah. Meanwhile, I wonder how she’ll ever learn to ride if she’s never actually riding, and instead longing. Longing has it’s place and all, but rich girl wants to ride so I feel like her lesson should involve riding.
I guess rich girl is now jealous of Amanda, or more likely jealous of everyone being obsessed with how great Amanda is, because she decides her next course of action is to go to the barn late at night and hit Misty with a shovel. She gets a text message midway through her mission, but even that doesn’t deter her. She is unsuccessful at her shovel venture because the man who is a horse trainer, and has been dishing out wisdom and complaints about his ex-wife, but has not been involved in training the horses the whole movie shows up and stops her. Rich girl has an emotional breakdown, and promises no more assault attempts on any horses as long as trainer doesn’t say anything. Also, she has to tell her father she doesn’t want to compete, because her disinterest in showing has been the reason for her surly behavior the entire movie.
Finally its the day of the big show. Other than a mounting montage that accidentally shows Amanda mounting, but then she’s not actually mounted yet, it was nice to see all the pretty horses trotting around. But this seems like a really small show, as in schooling show small. There’s barely anyone there, and the jumps are maybe 2’3″ or 2’6″. I bring that up because they are all acting like this is a super huge, AA show.
Rich girl goes first, and she has a near perfect round, except she clips another fence and the rail falls. At this point, I think she is doing this on purpose for a reason to explode. And like clockwork, she leaps from the horse, shrieking that she hates this horse, too. She storms out, abandoning her horse in the ring, and there’s no indication anyone retrieves it. I like to think it stood there for the rest of the show, absorbed into the course as another obstacle.
But rich girl has her moment where she makes up with her dad and mom and the little family decides they love each other. Another instance where it escalated quickly. From screaming and anger to hugging and love in about 3 lines of dialogue. Now the parents are no longer divorced, and everyone can live happily ever after.
Then Amanda immediately starts her round (with not enough time for other horse to be retrieved). In the zoomed out camera view, she looks like an average riding going over jumps. Then it zooms in and her hands are about chest high while she bounces all over the place. Oh, what sly camera trickery.
After the round, the entire cast has a little love fest when Amanda is abruptly announced as grand champion. They go into the ring, she’s presented with a huge award, and everyone hugs and loves on each other.
That’s basically the whole movie. There’s a few side plots I didn’t really care about, I was just interested in the horse part.
To the screenwriter’s credit, Amanda does seem genuinely in love with Misty, and that was sweet to see. It’s hard to hate on a movie where the girls doesn’t just care about showing, she seems she’d be happy with Misty if all she did was groom her all day. But, like all horse movies, I wish they had someone who actually knows horses to advise them. From what I could tell, it seems they went into a tack store, and bought a bunch of horse tack and rider apparel and that was the extent of their research. The clothing seemed accurate and a lot of the other riders wore helmets and clothes that people do wear.
Although thinking about it now, they probably had an open casting call for people who wanted to be in a horse movie, and people just brought their own horses and wore their nice clothes.
I really wish someone who actually knows horses would make a movie similar to this one with believable details about horses. Is that too much to ask?