We had a great time writing our recent article, Most Famous Horses of all Time. Not only did we get to learn some fascinating “horse-storical” facts, but it also gave us the idea for today’s post. This time, we’re going to explore movies about famous horses.
Movies About Famous Horses
There aren’t too many movies about famous horses specifically, but there are plenty that feature famous horses. This post is going to include a little bit of both. We’re also going to dig into the history of each horse and its owner. Let’s kick off with a movie about a very famous racehorse.
Warning: This post may contain spoilers!
1# Phar Lap (1983)
Phar Lap is a movie based on the life of the champion racehorse of the same name. His life story is shown as a flashback after Phar Lap’s death.
We first see Phar Lap in a sling, undernourished, neglected and covered in warts. Trainer Harry Telford convinces Phar Lap’s buyer, Mr. Davis, not to sell him due to his bloodlines. Phar Lap descended from former champion Carbine, so Mr. Davis agrees to take a chance on this apparent underdog.
The movie continues with the story of Phar Lap’s bond with a kind-hearted stable boy called Tommy Woodcock. Tommy’s gentle encouragement develops Phar Lap’s confidence and he is soon entered into the races.
Although Phar Lap centers around this moving bond, it also brings into focus the harsh reality of the racing world. Deceit, corruption and underhand maneuvers are often at play in this Australian classic.
Who Was the Real Phar Lap?
The real Phar Lap was a New Zealand chestnut thoroughbred racetrack champion. To this day, he is widely considered to be New Zealand and Australia’s greatest racehorse. Phar Lap was born in 1926, sold to David J. Davis and was trained by Harry Telford, just like in the movie.
As the movie showed, the real Phar Lap was in terrible condition at the time David purchased him. The real Tommy Woodcock indeed looked after Phar Lap as a stable boy and their friendship is legendary. He was not expected to succeed as a racehorse.
Phar Lap won many races — nineteen out of twenty-one in 1930 and often beat out other competitors by several lengths. The ultimate underdog, he is an Australian icon to this day and his taxidermied body is on show at the Melbourne Museum, where it is the most popular exhibit.
#2: Alexander (2004)
Okay, so while this movie is more about Alexander the Great than his horse Bucephalus, Bucephalus is still very much present in the story. In this epic historical drama, Bucephalus is introduced to the young Alexander and the scene seems to stay true to what is written in history.
When Alexander first spots Bucephalus, a stunning black stallion, he is about to be written off and sold for meat. Nobody can control him, but Alexander quickly understands the horse’s behavior. Everyone doubts that Bucephalus can be ridden and Alexander proves them wrong. The two ride off together with the sun at their backs.
Bucephalus later accompanies Alexander in battle, including the Battle of Gaugamela and the Battle of Hydaspes.
Who Was the Real Bucephalus?
Alexander’s love for his Thessalian stallion was so great that he named a city after him. History writes that Bucephalus was afraid of his own shadow, something Alexander spotted when he first saw him. Alexander’s father, King Phillip, tried to dismiss the horse, but Alexander offered to pay for and tame him himself.
To everyone’s surprise, Alexander was able to ride Bucephalus. All he had to do was turn the animal toward the sun so that he wouldn’t be afraid of his own shadow anymore. In terms of appearance, Bucephalus was very large and black with a white star on his forehead.
Bucephalus and Alexander were said to have remained devoted to each other for the rest of their respective lives. They fought in many battles together. The reason for Bucephalus’s death is uncertain — some believe he died in battle and others, of old age.
#3: Seabiscuit (2003)
Seabiscuit tells one of the most famous horses in history’s story. Set in the early twentieth century, Charles. S. Howard purchases some horses for racing. Among them is a descendent of renowned champion Man o’War — Seabiscuit.
Howard is initially unimpressed with Seabiscuit, whom he considers idle and unfit to race. Nevertheless, trainer Tom Smith gets to work and Seabiscuit’s performance improves. John “Red” Pollard, a former jockey who has lost everything, comes on board as Seabiscuit’s new jockey. Smith deliberately pairs the two, believing they will make a good team.
Seabiscuit goes on to become an incredibly successful racehorse. He even beats celebrated racehorse War Admiral by four lengths in the “race of the century”.
Who Was the Real Seabiscuit?
Seabiscuit’s story in the movie is pretty close to the real Seabiscuit’s. He was born in 1933 in Kentucky and was quickly marked as unlikely to succeed in spite of his stellar bloodlines (it’s true that Man o’War was his grandfather).
This was partly down to his small stature — he stood at only 15.2 hands high — and in part due to his personality. As shown in the movie, he was initially written off as lazy and incapable. In terms of appearance, he was bay in coloring with no white markings.
Despite performing not-so-well in his early races, Tom Smith worked his magic and Seabiscuit went on to become a champion of the race track. He ran in 89 races and won 33.
His most famed performance is when he triumphed over fellow champion War Admiral at the Pimlico race course in Baltimore. Seabiscuit died at age thirteen in 1947 after a well-earned retirement.
#4: Dream Horse (2020)
Dream Horse is based on the true story of a Welsh barmaid, Jan Vokes, who organized a racing syndicate in her mining town. The money given by the community went towards raising and training a thoroughbred foal called Dream Alliance.
Jan has no racing background but doesn’t let this deter her. Dream Alliance goes on to face highly-trained, aristocratic rivals and triumphs. Starring Toni Collette and Damien Lewis, Dream Horse holds an 88% tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Who Is the Real Dream Alliance?
Those who have been touched by Dream Alliance’s story will be pleased to know that he still alive today. He is now twenty years old, retired and living in Somerset. Despite coming from a humble background, Dream Alliance went on to win the Welsh National in 2009.
The community of a Welsh mining village chipped in to purchase Dream Alliance as a foal. Together, they raised enough money to hire a professional trainer, Philip Hobbs. Dream Alliance had many wins under his saddle before his victory at the Welsh National.
Many people found Dream Alliance’s story touching – it was a little community that stuck together and ultimately triumphed together. In an article by The Guardian, Jan is quoted as having said “I’ve loved every moment of it. It’s never been about money, it’s always been about the horse and the friendships.”
#5: Secretariat (2010)
Disney’s Secretariat is another movie based on the life of a champion racehorse. When her father becomes too ill to run his farm, Penny Chenery takes the reigns. She wins Secretariat, a thoroughbred foal, in a coin toss as part of a deal made previously by her father.
Secretariat’s team consists of his jockey Ron Turcotte; trainer Lucien Laurin and groom Eddie Sweat, who takes care of him. After a shaky start, he goes on to cross many finish lines victorious, including the coveted Triple Crown.
Who Was the Real Secretariat?
Secretariat was born in 1970 and was bred and raised by Penny Chenery. He was a thoroughbred, very large at 16.2 hands high. According to his jockey Ron Turcotte, he “never had a mean hair on him” and was “a pleasure to be around” in spite of his occasional displays of moodiness and temperamentality.
Secretariat was the ninth winner of the Triple Crown and secured 16 out of 21 wins in his racing career. A fun fact: Secretariat was found to have a surprisingly large heart. It weighed 22 pounds, though the average thoroughbred heart is 8.5 pounds.
He is widely regarded as one of history’s most victorious and greatest horses.
Movies About Famous Horses: Sum-Up
- Although horses play a prominent role in many movies, there aren’t that many movies about famous real horses. Most movies based on the lives of real horses are about racehorses.
- Check out our other horse movie articles for more movie ideas! They are: Best Horseracing Movies of All Time, Best Horse Movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime and Best Horse Movies of All Time.
Movies About Famous Horses: Final Thoughts
As sad as we are that there aren’t more movies about famous horses in history, we’re pleased to have found the wonderful movies on this list. We hope you have enjoyed this post and are feeling inspired by all the fascinating horse stories out there. What’s your favorite movie about famous horses?