Film review: a brutal relationship between horse and rider

  • Horse & Hound gives its take on Sybil H. Mair's film 'The Equestrian', a short tale about the intense relationship between a dressage rider and their horse — with a cameo appearance from Carl Hester

    Whatever level you have competed at, you can relate to that feeling of often intense anxiety prior to an event — and the elation or disappointment that follows.

    But Sybil H. Mair‘s short film The Equestrian — which tells the story of a young dressage rider at the start of his career — amplifies those emotions with artistic licence. The result is at times fairly gruelling viewing.

    A talented and ambitious young dressage rider Freddie Forester is set to compete in his biggest championship yet with his talented stallion Gaius (played by Sandro’s Dancer, a son of Sandro Hit), but when he finishes second to Carl Hester (who makes a cameo appearance), Freddie threatens to ruin a partnership that is on the verge of a blossoming career.

    As night falls, we see Freddie in the stallion’s stable reflecting on the day’s competition.  Things take a dark turn when Gaius and Freddie come into conflict, culminating with Freddie lying on the floor with a bleeding noise.

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    Footage turns to Freddie furiously riding the stallion in the dark of the indoor school, before being thrown out of the saddle as Gaius careers around the arena.

    The cinematography is intentionally intense throughout the film — cameras were used centimetres away from Freddie as he inserts his stock pin before the competition, so that you can hear the material break. And during breakfast on the day of the competition, we see the father — a successful former dressage rider — bite into a boiled egg with acute purpose.

    While Sybil has researched the dressage world extensively for this film, spending time with multiple Olympians, you swiftly realise that dressage is merely a vehicle used to throw light on Freddie’s journey to manhood, his relationship with his father and ultimately himself.

    Dressage was carefully chosen by Sybil to carry the overriding themes of this film — she considered it “more intense and mysterious” than other equestrian sports.

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    Equestrian-minded viewers may struggle to forget that Freddie (played by Layke Anderson) is an actor rather than a rider (much of the higher level dressage is stunt work), but as the film delves into the realms of fantasy, is important to remember that this is an artistic film rather than an accurate portrayal of dressage training and competition.

    The Equestrian, with its spellbinding filming, is a production that leaves you thinking — and the same can’t be said for a lot of other equestrian films.

    The private screening of The Equestrian was held in aid of The Brooke, which works to improve the lives of working horses, donkeys, mules and the people who depend on them. For more information visit www.thebrooke.org

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