“MUSTANGS AT FIRST SHOULD ONLY BE HANDLED BY EXPERT MUSTANG TRAINERS, AND NOW THEY’RE HANDING OUT MUSTANGS FOR THE CONTEST TO ANYONE WHO ASKS.”
EQUUS FILM FESTIVAL 2015
BY PATRICIA N. SAFFRAN
ew Yorkers, international film makers and guests breed from the mid 1400s. These horses were originally the most were fortunate to attend the fantastic third annual prized pure bred Andalusians, hidden in a monastery by a royal paEquus Film Festival. Founded and directed by Il- tron to avoid cross breeding for military service. At one point, Nalinois horse breeder, Lisa Diersen, the festival was poleon dispersed them, as he was anti-clerical, and shut down the held on November 19-20th at the historic Village churches and monasteries during the Peninsula War, but the horses East Cinema on 12th St and 2nd Ave. A boisterous well-attended were eventually brought back to resume the breed’s valuable bloodkickoff party took place at Manhattan Saddlery, one of the sponsors. lines. I met film makers Marc Smedema and Mario Dirkx, from the The number of films was overwhelming with 145 full length fea- Netherlands, and told them, “I loved it.” They said, “We’re thrilled. tures, shorts, music videos and ads. Some of the films were partially That’s the first professional review we have.” They explained, “The funded by Kickstarter, the new megaforce in the arts. A festive atmo- film took five years to make, and this is the first time that we’re seeing sphere was provided by art, photo and book displays at the theater the finished film ourselves.” and at the Equus Pop Up Gallery at the nearby Ukrainian Village Get Your Heart Jumping, winner of the Mini-documentary, features East Banquet Hall. Many of the artists, photographers and authors a fast action ad made for The Jockey Club, UK, by Equine Producwere on hand for discussions. Equus Magazine Directors’ Panels on tions with six famous jump jockeys and their equine stars practichorse issues took place concurrently to the screenings, with top experts speakWINNER OF THE BEST INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY, HORSE OF ing about horse health, abuse, therapy, KINGS, IS AN ODE TO THE GORGEOUS CARTHUSIAN ANDALUSIAN legal issues and much more. After each HORSES . . . ‘THE FILM TOOK FIVE YEARS TO MAKE.’ panel, in the theater lobby, it was possible to ask the experts and film makers to further explain their views. ing at Lambourn Training Grounds. The film makers made a short The Whinnie Awards, equine equivalent of the Oscars, topped off documentary following the ad, to explain how they did their remarkthe action on Saturday night. On Sunday, ticket holders visited Clin- able cinematography. Nathan Horrocks, visual director and former ton Park Carriage Horse Stables on West 52nd Street. Some festival jockey, and cameraman Sam Fleet explained during the panel dishighlights follow: cussion that the ad was made to stimulate young people to go to the Winner of the Best International Documentary, Horse of Kings, is race track. They used as a model a snowboarding video that aimed an ode to the gorgeous Carthusian Andalusian horses — a very old to raise the pulse. For some scenes, cameramen had to position them-
selves right next to the jumps, and horses flew past them with only inches to spare. In the lobby, after the panel, I told Mr. Horrocks and Mr. Fleet and a pet peeve of mine, that TV historical dramas and movies with horses very often show inept actor/riders, and the directors leave in those awkward scenes. Mr. Fleet said, “We’re well aware of that. It’s not just riding that’s a problem, other sports like soccer and grand prix car racing are amateurly represented in films.” Mr. Horrocks handed me his card and said, “Tell your actor friends to call me when they want to be filmed without riding mistakes.” Equine Productions also won in the Director Short category for Emma Massingale, No Reins, No Rules, No Limits, in which she does Roman riding and gently trains a small team of Connemara ponies. Unbranded, winner of Full Documentary, is the brainchild of Ben Masters, a graduate of Texas A&M in wildlife biology. He recruited three of his college friends, who along with two cinematographers, journeyed 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada with 16 mustangs to focus attention on the 50,000 mustangs and wild burros in Bureau of Land Management (BLM) captivity waiting for adoption. It is important to note that even though Ben Masters and his friends are experienced horsemen, they still relied upon professional mustang trainers for the first two weeks to start their chosen adopted mustangs from BLM pens. The film’s cinematography was first rate, and the professional musical score by Noah Sorota, at times with a full orchestra, sounded like a big budget Western movie. This film about how the groups’ wild bucking mustangs became wonderful riding horses by the end of the adventure won “audience favorite” in a number of film festivals, not just those focusing on horses. A burro named Donquita, who was full of personality, joined the ride, and provided entertaining moments. There are many interviews with BLM staff, scientists, ranchers, animal activists and others. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report from 2013, “Using Science to Improve the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program: A Way Forward,” is mentioned. A panel discussion on mustangs included new information from Suzanne Roy, Director of American Wild Horse Preservation, about their efforts to get ranchers supplying Whole Continued on next page.
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“THE SHORT DOCUMENTARY, THROUGH MY EYES: THE BIG LICK/FRANKLINVILLE, NY, GIRL SCOUT TROOP #44. PROVIDES A SHOCKING LOOK AT SORING, PURPOSEFULLY INFLICTING PAIN ON LEGS AND FEET, AND THE USE OF HEAVY WEIGHTED STACKS AND CHAINS, AND OTHER BARBARIC METHODS USED ON GAITED BREEDS TO INDUCE AN ARTIFICIALLY HIGH STEPPING ACTION.
“A SUNDAY HORSE COST $9 MILLION TO MAKE. WE WERE FORTUNATE TO HAVE WILLIAM SHATNER APPEAR IN THE FILM, AND WE’RE DELIGHTED TO HAVE IT HERE AT THE FESTIVAL BEFORE ITS OFFICIAL RELEASE.” Foods to stop asking the BLM to remove mustangs to make room for their cattle. Also on the panel was Carol J Walker, author/wild horse advocate, who photographed and wrote the beautiful large book Galloping to Freedom: Saving the Adobe Town Appaloosas. Some of these horses now reside at the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, Hot Springs, SD. Another panelist was Sonny Garguilo, author/horse trainer who wrote SONNYISMS: The Horse Lovers Guide to Common Sense. He said, “I used to enter the Mustang Extreme Makeover Challenge to help get BLM mustangs adopted, but now I won’t do it anymore. Mustangs at first should only be handled by expert mustang trainers, and now they’re handing out mustangs for the contest to anyone who asks. Then the horses get returned by the amateurs and they’re labeled ‘unadoptable.’ This places the mustangs in danger of being resold and possibly getting slaughtered.” I spoke to another panelist, author/trainer Mitchell Bornstein. He said, “The way the BLM is removing so many mustangs, gelding them, and preventing them from reproducing will eventually make them extinct in five years.” Mr. Bornstein’s new book is Last Chance Mustang, The Story of One Horse, One Horseman, and One Final Shot at Redemption. A lawyer from Wheel-
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ing, Illinois, Mr. Bornstein also trains problem horses and mustangs. He was called in to work with a mustang named Samson who had been severely abused by his previous owners. He found Samson to be highly intelligent, even with a sense of humor, which made the extremely difficult task of training him worthwhile. I read the book and found Samson’s story truly touching. Harry & Snowman won Peoples’ Choice Full Length. This documentary tells the story of how Dutch immigrant horseman Harry deLeyer’s chance encounter with an Amish farm horse headed to slaughter in Pennsylvania transformed both their lives. DeLeyer rescued the horse, named him Snowman, and eventually started training him where he was the riding instructor at the Knox School on LI. The horse turned out to have amazing jumping ability. The two went on to win many show jumping championships, including at Madison Square Garden. Ron Davis, director, spoke to me from Wellington, Florida. He said, “I tried to read Eighty Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts about Harry and Snowman, but couldn’t get past page 50. It wasn’t my kind of book, but I really liked the story and decided to make the film. During interviews with Harry, the most interesting part was when he was 14-16 during WWII. He helped his parents in the Dutch underground. It was very dangerous. They hid Jews in their basement waiting for a way out of the country, and they searched for downed Allied flyers.” Today, at age 86, the charming Mr. deLeyer still teaches and trains horses on his farm in Virginia. The festival featured activities for children on Saturday morning at the Ukrainian Village East Banquet Hall, and also movies for them at the theater. One book display in the banquet hall was about a fictional foal, Dinky The Nursemare Foal by Marta Moran-Bishop. The author said she wrote the book to focus on plight of the 23,000 foals that are mostly killed or discarded annually so that other foals, of champion racehorses and show jumpers, can nurse while the valuable brood mares resume breeding. Another book display featured the novels and training books of author/trainer Dutch Henry, visiting from Appomattox,Virginia. Mr. Henry sent me his It’s for the Horses. This book teaches horse owners to pay attention to what their horses find interesting, as a better way to communicate. He also describes simple effective suppling exercises using a carrot to make horses stretch their necks. Mr. Henry noticed that therapeutic riding horses were stiff and anxious from being too careful, so he devised a complete exercise program to help them. The screenings for families included the winner of Equus Film Full – A Sunday Horse. Director
Vic Armstrong, who worked on such movies as Indiana Jones and the horses. The sisters claimed that the Treaty of Ruby Valley from Temple of Doom, told me, “A Sunday Horse cost $9 million to make. We 1863 gave the Shoshone millions of acres that were never ceded to were fortunate to have William Shatner appear in the film, and we’re the Federal government. The BLM claimed that encroachment by delighted to have it here at the festival before its official release.” The whites eroded the treaty. Since 1973, the BLM brought a series of inspirational story is based on true events of how rider Deb Walden, legal actions against the sisters, ultimately winning thirty-five years played by Nikki Reed, recovers from an accident. She’s a great talent later. Throughout American history, over five hundred treaties have with no funds to buy a top horse, but she still manages to become a been broken with the Indians. championship show jumper. Paolo Boriani’s Saga, about Giovanni Lindo Ferretti and his com The winner of the Equus Film Student award was Through My pany, the Corte Transumante di Nasseta, won Equus Art Film Full Eyes: The Big Lick/Franklinville, NY, Girl Scout Troop #44. This short Length. The movie features a fusion of music, spoken word and documentary provides a shocking look at soring, purposefully inflictvisuals of Maremmano horses from Northern Italy as liberty and ing pain on legs and feet, and the use of heavy weighted stacks and mounted dressage horses. I met Mr. Boriani in the lobby who exchains, and other barbaric methods used on gaited breeds to induce plained, “I was asked to film a short promotion for the opera and an artificially high stepping action. The film focuses on Tennessee found the production, with the tall, beautiful Maremmano horses, so Walking Horses, the breed where soring, which is illegal but rarely interesting that I wound up filming much more footage than I had punished, is the most common. Their exaggerated leg motion is planned, and with only one camera.” called the “Big Lick.” It is all in a failed effort to make their egotisti Talking to the Air: Horses of the Forbidden Kingdom by Horsefly Films cal riders and owners look grand in the show ring. After the short and Rare Equine Trust won Festival Director’s Choice. Co-direcfilm, there was a panel discussion with a report from the All Ameritors/producers Jen Miller and Sophie Dia Pegrum traveled to the can Walking Horse Alliance who are targeting Congress to pass a remote kingdom of Mustang to film its colorful vanishing horse sweeping reform act called PAST, culture and festivals. This small for Prevent All Soring Tactics. HORSEFLY’S OF GODS AND KINGS, ABOUT THE high mountain area is techni Their Last Ride, a short docuRARE ANCIENT ISLAND BREED SKYROS HORSE cally in Nepal on the border of mentary by Neta Rhyne and Nepal and Tibet, but culturally IN GREECE, WAS PART OF THE FESTIVAL. Michael Aku RoDriguez, focuses they follow Tibetan Buddhist THESE SMALL, PERFECTLY PROPORTIONED on using art to educate chiland Bo beliefs. There, an arisHORSES MAY HAVE BEEN THE SAME BREED dren about the 250,000 horses tocratic/theocratic society relied MODELED IN THE PARTHENON.” and burros that are shipped for heavily on horses in the past for slaughter annually to Canada agriculture, sport and procesand Mexico. After seeing the film, which shows trucks of horses kept sions. The region is under threat more recently from a road built by in dreadful conditions as they are transported, I spoke to Michael the Communist Chinese, ostensibly for better trade, but also with the Aku RoDriguez. He told me, “No one pays attention to the huge express purpose of destroying Mustang traditions. Horsefly’s Of Gods number of horses and burros shipped for slaughter.” and Kings, about the rare ancient island breed Skyros horse in Greece, True Appaloosa is a stunning documentary by Conor Woodman, was part of the festival. These small, perfectly proportioned horses UK, about Scott Engstrom, an Appaloosa horse breeder living in may have been the same breed modeled in the Parthenon. I spoke New Zealand, who travels with the filmmaker to a remote area of to Jen Miller by telephone who said, “An EU wind farm proposal Central Asia to locate what she believes to be the original source of shown in the film that would ruin the horses’ mountainous grazing Appaloosas. The film also discusses their possible origins in Europe, area has been put on hold due to lack of funds. So, the horses are as spotted horses coming over with the Spanish. Not mentioned in safe for now.” Ms. Miller sent me another of their films, The Path to the film is a theory that Appaloosas are truly native to North AmerGlory that chronicles the Polish state and private horse owners’ long ica, and that not all horses here went extinct, as re-evaluating Equus history of breeding top Arabian horses. Another fascinating festival fossils is revealing. Mr. Woodman answered my question about leavfilm is Horsefly’s Tarpan, about reviving a breed in Eastern Europe, ing out this theory, “No, I never mentioned the native theory. Althat had been extinct since 1879, with a similar looking European though, even by the native theory I believe that Appaloosas came cave art type horse. These Tarpan-like horses learned to be wild to from Asia originally.” Another theory says that Appaloosas may have survive wolf attacks, and now successfully protect their foals. • • • been the first horses since their characteristics cannot be developed Photos: page 30:True Appaloosa, photo courtesy of Conor Woodman; page 31, top: Unbranded, courtesy of Ben Masters; middle: Skyrian horse, courtesy of Horsefly by man, but only deleted to create uniform colored horses. Films; bottom: Horse of Kings, photo courtesy of Mario Dirkx; page 32, left: Nikki American Outrage, a documentary by Beth and George Gage about Reed in A Sunday Horse, photo courtesy of AKM-GSI; right: Lisa Diersen, Diana De the Western Shoshone sisters Carrie and Mary (deceased) Dann, Rosa, LA Pomeroy, Suzanne Kopp-Moskow at the festival, photo courtesy of Janice shows their efforts to keep their land and its over 1,000 cattle and Fischer; contents (page 5): Snowman, photo courtesy of Bill Ray.
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