Making hay

I never liked horses. I have my reasons: The massive height and rippling musculature. The crazed eight-ball eyes, rubbery mouths and domino choppers. The lurching giraffe necks and screeching neighs. The rearing, kangaroo-punching hooves and kicking hind legs. The bratty obstinacy. The abundant, free-falling poop. 

Frankly, horses scare me. I’ve rode horses. It’s like riding a displeased minotaur.

For all that, I don’t hate horses. But I know someone who does. That’s the person behind the website I Hate Horses, which is now, sadly, just a lowly Facebook page. The writer launches with “I hate horses. They are stupid, fat, nasty, brainless wasted space in this world.” It doesn’t get much more erudite than that, I’m afraid, though some of the rants are funny despite the inescapable barnyard humor.

What spurs this little blog post is a line by journalist extraordinaire Susan Orlean in her new essay collection “On Animals.” She writes that as a child she experienced “that golden moment when I, like millions of young girls throughout human history, fell into an adolescent swoon over horses.”

Why is this? It’s a fact that many young girls become smitten with those glossy, galloping pasture pets. Growing up I knew girls who collected pricey model horsies that stood in regal poses and, if lucky (or rich), actually owned one or two of the animals. I, who was busy burning model airplanes and catching snakes and listening to KISS records, never grasped the fascination with the big snorting beasts. Dogs, yes; horses, nay. 

And yet horses exude an undeniable majesty, a strange, ravishing nobility that can only be summed up in the fancy word equine. They are shiny, demonstrably wise (watch them buck dimwit riders), tough, fast, strong, with billowing manes and dancing tails, despite an overwhelming perfume of hay and horsiness. 

I’ve ridden these gorgeous monsters, these mythological creatures that might have sprung from Homer or Ovid. It was not pleasant. In Egypt I rode a dumb, galumphing camel that gave me more delight. I found the horses disobedient and nearly uncontrollable. I cursed them and dug my sneakers into their ribs. I am surprised they didn’t hurl me off onto the dusty plain and stomp me to death.

I’m no cowboy, and farms are as foreign to me as, say, the opera stage, or a Lamaze class. Horses may not be my thing — there are horsey people and sane people — but I appreciate them for their might and mystery. They are wondrous but weird, and they definitely have a demonic streak, but I kind of like them for that, too. Giddyup.

Tough and tearjerking, ‘The Rider’ might be the best movie of the year

If you want to have your heart gently removed from your chest and dropped softly into a Cuisinart that’s switched to purée, go see the quietly devastating rodeo western “The Rider,” now in select theaters, mainly arthouses, which are so often repositories for rich, challenging, downcast dramas reeking of raw humanity so true it sears.  

Chloé Zhao’s lo-fi drama — the Dakota prairie lushly shot by cinematographer Joshua James Richards — moves at a painstaking pace, the clip of everyday life in action. But little is everyday here: Twenty-something Brady is a local rock star of rodeo bronc riding whose skull, we see in the opening shots, is stapled shut and oozing blood. A terrible accident in the ring has left him slightly brain damaged. He’s forced to give up the rodeo, the only life he knows, outside of breaking colts, which he does with a calm, tough-love Jedi mastery. His skill and sensitivity with the beasts are sublime to behold.

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Brady Jandreau and pal Apollo in “The Rider.”

Brady (played by crisp, affectless non-actor Brady Jandreau) lives with his drinking and gambling father (gruff Tim Jandreau) and mentally challenged little sister Lilly (an extraordinary Lilly Jandreau, who is actually disabled) in a ramshackle trailer. It’s a hardscrabble existence with scant room for creativity or reinvention.

“The Rider” is a fine-grained portrait of the pains of getting back on your feet after life-altering disappointment, about rebuilding your spirit after it’s been body-slammed and shattered. This is Brady’s task, and he goes at it with gimlet-eyed resolve and a proudly perched ten-gallon hat.

th.jpegWe see Brady drinking beer with his cowboy bros, working valiantly in a drug store and, most exquisitely, visiting his best friend Lane (Lane Scott), another former rodeo luminary, who, now severely paralyzed from a car accident, lives at a rehab center. Scott, who is really paralyzed and non-verbal, is spectacular in a turn of heartbreaking clarity. He’s hard to watch, but you can’t take your eyes off him.

Elegiac and painful, wreathed in dusty, grassy beauty, the film wears a gritty, documentary patina. It’s been called “American regional-realist,” which sounds about right.

“The Rider” is easily one of the best movies of the year — it has a 97% Fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes — partly because it doesn’t rub your nose in sadness; the emotion just organically, effortlessly surfaces. It’s driven by an ensemble of untrained actors behaving like actual people — people so achingly authentic, it sort of tears you up.