Dec 28, 2008

Inspirational tale or horse abuse? You decide!

Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken
1991

Tagline: The inspiring true-life adventure of a courageous young rebel who defied the odds...and won.

So the deal is this: either you like this movie, or you think it's an evil promotion of horse abuse. I guess this is a common occurrence with Disney, given that they tend to inspire love or hatred in everyone, but to truly get to the heart of the matter, one would have to really research horse diving. I don't have the time or patience for that, so I'll just chat about what I know after a cursory glance.

Horse diving. It happened. Lots happened, folks. People are easily entertained, and if a horse will willingly jump sixty feet into a pool of water, I guess this counts as entertainment. The thing is, this act was conceived in the 1880s and it took until the 1970s to legally bring it down. More to the point, it's still going on in a less severe form. I have read Ranch of Dreams, a book about an animal rescue farm and written by a preachy killjoy, about a former diving horse that wound up in an animal rescue after the act was shut down. The author was very snotty about horse diving, asking readers to imagine being trained to jump into a pool of water (amusing, considering professional divers have been trained to jump into a pool of water...hell, I have been trained to jump into a pool of water) and then be sold at auction when you're no longer useful...an auction where you could go to slaughter! Gasps all abound! Look. At least the horse had a job before people like that guy freaked out and made its job illegal, forcing the poor horse into auction where the kill buyers are looking for horses that have no purpose anywhere else. Good going, guy. That said, I don't think asking horses to jump sixty feet into water is a fantastic idea. It's certainly something I wouldn't be interested in paying to see. But if people are responsible about training the horse to do the trick, fine. Whatever. I watch horse racing, so I'm not throwing stones.

Now that we've resolved that, let's get to the movie. Sonora Webster and her sister, Arnette, are orphans living in Georgia. It's the Depression, and Sonora's an orphan living with her aunt, who is not doing too hot seeing as how they live in Georgia and it's during the Depression. In fact, Sonora's aunt is probably about ready to freak out, given that she's got too many kids around and for all we know she's a single mother. Sonora's inability to do anything other than stare at an advertisement for Atlantic City isn't helping matters, especially when she decides to chop off her hair in an attempt to appear fashionable. Her aunt flips out and smacks her around, then forces her to wear a paper bag over her head to school. Ah, tough love. Or no love. Whatever.

Sonora gets rid of the bag pretty quickly, and notices that the family horse is limping around in his paddock. She goes out there and removes a giant rock from his hoof, and proceeds to fondle him in a way only horse loving girls can. Then the classic horse story antagonist shows up, a girl who not only ridicules Sonora's hair, but puts down Lightning, the family horse. Sonora isn't having that, and starts to mouth off about how Lightning is the fastest, bestest jumper in the whole county! Well, horse story antagonist girl can smell that lie and dares Sonora to prove it. Not only that, she double dares her. You know things are serious now, so Sonora rips her hem off her skirt to fashion reins on Lightning's halter, leaps up on him, and heads him to a fence that he completely demolishes because he's a draft horse, for Christ's sake. The cows get out, and Sonora is late for school. She gets detention. Antagonist girl has the nerve to moo at her, and Sonora makes an attempt to pull one of the girl's braids before apparently deciding it would be much more satisfying to punch the girl in the nose. Sonora is suspended, but refuses to leave the school. Therefore she is ignored the rest of the day.

When she returns home, her aunt has discovered what has happened all ready, and has acted out by selling Lightning. Then she smacks Sonora again and tells her that she's sending her away to the state. She cannot handle this anymore, people. She is done. Sonora then makes the executive decision to run away, and does so after seeing an ad for diving girls in a local paper. So she runs off to a local fair, where Doc Carver has his diving horse show set up. There Sonora meets hot dog boy (I can't remember his name, but he later becomes important as Sonora's groom, ignored fanboy, and later the inventor of the motorcycle cage of death) before running into her true love, Al Carver, whom she saves by hiding his hidden ace right when some nitwits try to beat him up after rightly discovering he was cheating at poker.

She meets Doc Carver after Al indicates that the only thing fun in his life is gambling and whoring (oh, Al). Doc is not impressed with Sonora, and it's indicated all around during this meeting that he's not impressed with her because her breasts aren't large enough. Of course, maybe I'm reading into his lecture about strength, but when he points to the picture of his current diving girl, Marie, his pointer goes straight to Marie's much larger chest. And he looks flustered. Very flustered. Sonora refuses to go, so he picks up the chair she's clinging to and tosses her outside. She eventually finds Al, and guilts him into showing her around when she gives him back his ace. Then Doc gives her a job as stable hand and they go to Virginia, where Al gets a new horse from a poker game and convinces Sonora to help train him. Sonora names the new horse Lightning, and he's this gorgeous gray. If I'd bothered to screencap this movie, I would have been screencapping him constantly.

Eventually Lightning is trained, following classic horse story guidelines to romance while horse training (lunging together, check). Al eventually makes his move while they're swimming, kissing Sonora, and she freaks and swims off. Then Doc lays down the gauntlet, telling Sonora that if she can mount Lightning while he's moving, she can train as a new diving girl. After many, many, many falls, Sonora finally does it, all the while concerning Al to the point of flipping out at his dad, who smacks and then punches him. There is a lot of family dysfunction in this movie...way more than the normal amount. Anyway, Al decides to leave and tells Sonora he will write her. He does, but Doc burns all of his letters but one before Sonora can get to them.

Anyway, eventually Marie dislocates her shoulder and Sonora gets to be the diving girl. Marie quits in disgust at not being the center of attention, and Sonora is the main attraction for a while as they go from small state fair to small state fair. Eventually there are no more state fairs, given that the Depression is so bad and what all. Al comes back and miraculously saves Lightning from colic (or something like that), and asks Sonora why she never answered his letters. But, she did not receive any letters! But this doesn't matter. He has secured a contract at Atlantic City for the diving horse show, and on their way there Doc dies.

They arrive at Atlantic City. Al and Sonora get engaged, and then she has her disaster dive and hits the water with her eyes open. She hemorrhages and eventually goes blind, becoming increasingly pissy and annoyed with her life until Al decides to let her try to train again. It doesn't work out, and he gets Marie to come back to the show so they don't get kicked out of Atlantic City for breach of contract. But then Sonora decides to spend a night with Lightning, fondling him all over during a thunderstorm. I recall several years ago when I was watching this one day, that at this very scene my father passed by, paused, and asked me if I was watching The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. No. No, I was not.

Anyway, then the classic horse story kicks in full gear. Groom/hot dog/motorcycle boy locks Marie in her dressing room, switches the chestnut Marie normally uses with Lightning, and Sonora climbs up the ladder. Lightning is released just before Al realizes what's going on, and Sonora makes the jump despite being blind. Everyone is relieved and happy when both come out of the water unharmed. Then sappy voice over starts about how Sonora was a diving girl for the next eleven years and how she and Al lived happily ever after.

When Sonora Webster saw this movie, she indicated that the only thing true about it was that she dove horses for eleven years while blind, and she married Al. I guess she wasn't very much into the sentiment that this movie laid on pretty thick in places, but that's creative license for you. It's an okay movie, pretty typical Disney from that era. What I find the most interesting is that it's Michael Schoeffling's last movie, and I never realized that he was even in this until recently. And I just now realized he's the guy in Sylvester, another horse movie I loved when I was little (and there was teen sex in a stall in that one...I'll have to watch it again for sure). Apparently Michael Schoeffling lives in northeastern Pennsylvania and makes furniture now. This I find unfortunate, because if two of the ten movies he made were horse movies, imagine what he could have been typecast as. He could have been Brad Townsend. This saddens me.

So what's next, guys? I have a very impressive Netflix queue waiting me (141 dvds), but I can add new ones or send a specific title to the top of the list easily enough. More Wildfire? Another movie? What do you say?

Okay, so I'll finish this entry with a photo of real horse diving.

5 comments:

Jessica Burkhart said...

That movie sounds SO familiar. I think I might have seen it years ago. But that photo of horse diving DISGUSTS me. Sigh.

sundae_mourning said...

the Magic Forest! that place is only about twenty minutes from where i live and i spent many, many summer days there growing up. how cool to see it again...i haven't been there in at least ten years. my mom's got a photo of me sitting on a fiberglass Pegasus that surely was right near Lightning's pool, although i was so young that it was probably Rex's pool at the time. it was a fun place to go, though even as a child, i could never quite work out how i felt about horse diving. though for what it's worth, the horse really did seem to be happy. he climbed out of his pool, went over to his paddock and immediately rolled in the dirt as soon as he was done.

Molly said...

My dad took me to see this movie when it first came out. I couldn't have been more than eight, though I'm too lazy to look up when exactly it came out. Gabrielle Anwar definitely gave me some funny feelings though. I could be my own comic strip...The Li'lest Lesbian. God, I wish I could draw. That'd be fun.

Anyway, as far as horse diving goes, I see it on a similar level as racing, steeplechase, eventing, rodeos...some horses like their work. Some horses don't. Some horses get hurt or killed doing their work, and that's unfortunate and often implies that safety changes need to be made. That doesn't, however, inherently make it horse abuse. Sonora Webster insisted that the horses she worked with did indeed love it, and you know, people have accused me of being a monster for riding my horse. They believe that asking a horse to do ANY sort of work is cruelty and abuse. I think they're full of crap. I'd also like for them to go back in time and tell my horse that he HATED jumping and being a national-level competitor, because he seemed to think that he fucking LOVED IT. He loved jumping, and he LOVED the attention he got for it. He did eventually
die of knee problems that were hereditary but almost certainly exacerbated by years of hard work. But you know what? He had a reasonably long (he was about 20 when he died, not old for an Arab, but not young either) and VERY happy life where he was doted on and spoiled and loved. I hope his previous owners have no regrets, because I sure don't. Yet, people who never knew or even laid eyes on my happy, friendly, cheerful horse would immediately decide that I (and his other humans) was an abusive monster. So how can I make that snap judgement about any other line of horse, uh, careers? What the hell is the word to use there anyway?

Cleveland Amory is a douche. LOTS of horses end up at auction...no, it's not a great thing, but it has nothing to do with the horse's, uh, career. It has to do with owners who either don't care or are desperate.

Of course, I'm not entirely opposed to slaughter either. I wish it weren't necessary, but until dillweeds stop breeding their horses for the fun of it and churning out ugly, useless, worthless babies by the truckload, it's sadly going to be a necessity. Where do the OMG SLAUGHTER IS EVIL people think these horses are going to end up, exactly, if not slaughtered? There's not enough rescue space for them all, especially now, with the economy being what it is.

Okay, rants over.

Zoe said...

I've never heard of horse diving. If the horses are treated right and they are happy doing this i wont bust on the people who invented it, but I really dont agree with it. That picture of the horse diving gives me the creeps. sort of weird and creepy if you ask me.

88Keys said...

Holy crap; I looooved this movie as a kid (and I was not a horse girl.) I thought no one else remembered it but me. I always thought it was kind of sad that Sonora ended up with Al instead of the groom guy that seemed to like her (and to actually be her age).