Horses

Fri, 12/17/2021 - 9:13am

There’s not much that grabs me via the tube these days; I’ll take a good book over vacuously staring at the screen and trying to get interested in the characters and the narrative. However, there are exceptions and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is a said exception. Even though I consider Larry David a lightweight geezer, I still dial into his gig because the guy and his ensemble are pretty funny. Moreover, I do lots of rewatching. Hey, we get our yuks wherever we can find them. Regarding television in general, life is just too short for punching in and out of programs until we find one we like. Furthermore, if I’m going to commit to a series it needs to grab me right from the rip. If there is any ambivalence whatsoever, it’s over for me - done. A couple of years ago on a friend’s suggestion I hit up a show called “Yellowstone.” This gig had me for the simple delivery of a few lines and beats of one particular cast member. The reason this show grabbed me was because of the character played by a Brit actress named Kelly Reilly
who plays the principal character’s daughter. Kevin Costner is the main guy and he plays a tragically flawed rancher named John Dutton and Reilly plays his flawed daughter, Beth. In my view this woman can act and after three lines by her character, I was all in. Reilly, ahem, is also rather easy on the eye. Just sayin.’
This story has many winning elements. The acting is solid and the story is set in Utah, Montana and Texas, which all film beautifully. Most important, the writing is very credible in that it deals with a transformative time of clashing cultures in Montana. One example of this current period
is that Costner’s John Dutton can fly in a helicopter to check out his vast holdings of cattle and land. The show has all of the elements that fuel a narrative. It slams of cowboy machismo, smart writing, family tragedy, father, daughter and son conflicts, greed and human frailty. The Dutton ranch is called “Yellowstone,” and has a main house, corrals, a bunkhouse and barns that give the series Western authenticity and a great aesthetic.
Furthermore, in addition to the aforementioned elements there are horses, who at times are the real stars and, who at times completely upstage everyone in the cast. In reality, the Dutton Ranch is actually The Chief Joseph Ranch in Ravalli County, Montana. Season four was shot primarily there, and we can practically feel like we’re at the location.
“Horses have been forever in my heart for nearly 70 years. I’ve rescued, bought, slept in barns to welcome babies and loved each soul with my whole heart,” says former Rhode Islander Laura Wilcox-Roberts. Wilcox-Roberts, who is also a “Yellowstone” fan, is a friend who told me that she first saw a horse at the age of five. She was at Fort Sill in Oklahoma where her father was stationed during the war; cavalry mounts were once
stabled there. “I stood on a fence rail awed by the beautiful animal in front of me. He arched his neck to rest his head on my shoulder and sighed.” The passion this woman has for horses is revealed in her art, and her knowledge of horses is informative. Conversely, I’ve never ridden a horse in my life, but as a young kid I bet on them after school at Narragansett Racetrack. (My wife’s grandfather was the starter at Narragansett back in the
day.) Moreover, I worked at the racetrack on weekends while in high school, and on Sundays I’d watch the exercise riders working their mounts. What was very clear regarding the horses and riders was  that they worked as a team. There was a rhythm and it was quite a thing to see and hear. It also looked dangerous given the size of these thoroughbred horses.
The team nature of riding horses began when man first figured out how to mount and ride them. I’ve been fascinated with how the Pueblo and Apache tribes became expert riders after acquiring horses from the Spanish back in 1600. What I’ve learned of Native American tribes and their horsemanship informed me of the teamwork involved with riding these wild and powerful animals. It appears that there must be a strong and intuitive bond between the horse and rider. In the “Yellowstone” series the guys and girls who are riding the horses make it look easy. Of course these are all professional horsemen and women who are adept in doing this very dangerous work. Nevertheless, filming these horses to work on
cue requires blocking, precision in execution and safety. In this series, as I stated earlier, the horses will sometimes take center stage and can be very informative for the viewer who asks questions. There are scenes in season four involving a particular type of horse known as a cutting horse. Not only have I rewatched the scenes involving the performance of these incredibly agile and wily horses, but I started researching what I was seeing in these particular scenes, which were perfectly edited with some great background music. Furthermore, these horses play an important part of the narrative and are not there to simply jazz up the scenes.
Quarter horses are quick, and agile. Cutting horses are usually quarter horses who are bred and trained to isolate a cow from a herd of cattle. The skill of the horse and rider are evident in this discipline. I had a border collie once named Tinker who had herding baked into her DNA. While watching the cutting horse scenes in “Yellowstone,” I thought of how fast and agile Tinker was back in the day; however, the big difference between the collie and the cutter was about one thousand pounds. What’s extraordinary about these horses is how their flexibility, strength and weight distribution of their riders are constantly in play. Finally, with the “Yellowstone” series we not only have romance, cowboys, a flawed protagonist, and weekly cliffhanger suspense, but we have a glance at inner workings and nature of the sometimes real stars -the horses. ‘Nuff said.