With Robert Redford, Buck Brannaman, and Rex Peterson in charge, this could be one of the best horse movies ever made.

Written by Pat Close, December 1997

Redford Pilgrim
A troubled Pilgrim stands quietly while Redford works with him. Several horses played the role of Pilgrim. Photo by Elliott Marks, Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures

In 1995, a novel by Nicholas Evans shot to the top of the bestseller list and stayed there for months. There are nearly 1 million hardcovers and 2.5 million paperbacks in print. The book was a lead-pipe cinch to become a movie, and now film buffs and horsemen are anxiously awaiting its release, which was scheduled for the Christmas holidays, but will now be delayed.

Robert Redford directs the movie and also stars as Tom Booker, the “whisperer.” Well-known as an actor, producer, director, and environmentalist, Redford is also a horseman and Utah rancher.

As we all know, many horse films produced by Hollywood are poorly done and riddled with inaccuracies in terms of how horses should be properly ridden and handled. Evidently Redford was determined to not let this happen with The Horse Whisperer because he recruited two of the best trainers in the horse business, Buck Brannaman and Rex Peterson, to help with the film. Buck, who lives near Sheridan, Wyo., ranks as one of the very best equine clinicians today and could certainly be called a horse whisperer. In fact, author Nicholas Evans spent a great deal of time with Buck while researching horse behavior and horse handling for the book. Evans, who lives in England, also visited with Ray Hunt and Tom Dorrance.

Buck’s official title for the movie is technical advisor. He coaches Redford on how to work with Pilgrim so the horse overcomes his fear and hatred of people. How this is accomplished, and how Pilgrim’s recovery helps with Grace’s recovery, makes a marvelous story. Seeing it unfold on screen with first-rate actors, both two-legged and four-legged, and with the horse handling done skillfully and accurately, should be a real treat for horsemen. Combine that with the wonderful love story between Tom and Annie, toss in the magnificent Montana scenery, and the movie should surely get two thumbs up from Siskel and Ebert.

Rex Peterson, who lives in Acton, Calif., is a superb Hollywood horse trainer, perhaps the best since the late Glenn Randall, for whom Rex worked for 6 years. Rex is probably best known for training Docs Keepin Time, also known as Justin, who played the title role in Black Beauty. Justin makes a brief appearance in THW as Gulliver.

In THW, four horses are used for the role of Pilgrim, Grace’s horse who becomes so dangerous after the accident. Rex Peterson owns the three horses – High Tower, Cash, and Maverick- who play the traumatized Pilgrim who rears, strikes, and bites at anyone approaching him. One of Buck Brannaman’s horses, a registered Thoroughbred gelding named Kentucky Pet, is the “gentle” Pilgrim.

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