Considering that author Nicholas Evans had little or no horse experience before writing the book, he did a masterful job of getting most of the “horse stuff” accurate. However, there are a few incidents that do not ring true. For example, a Montana cow ranch having an equine swimming pool (a pond is used in the movie), and how Booker is killed.

One might also wonder if a horse who was kind and gentle before a tragic accident could be so traumatized that he turns vicious, as Pilgrim does. When asked if this could happen, Rex replied, “Oh, yes. The trauma of a wreck and being severely injured, sewn up, and doctored can certainly cause a horse to turn bad. I’ve seen a lot of horses mishandled after being treated get so bad you could hardly do anything with them.”

The Story Line

Although the movie closely parallels the book, Redford has made a couple of major changes. One involves the love that slowly and quietly grows between Tom and Annie, and which is an integral part of the story. Although the romance plays an important part in the movie, it isn’t interpreted the same as in the book.

Annie Tom
Kristin Scott Thomas, who stars as the hard-driven Annie, with Redford. Photo by Elliott Marks, Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures

I asked Katherine Orloff, publicist for the movie, why Redford changed it. She replied, “I’ve never directly asked Bob why. But my feeling is that he believes the story as we tell it in the film is a little bit more consistent with his vision of who Tom Booker is. What Bob did say to me at one point, and I think he feels very strongly about this, is that people want to believe there is such a man in the world as Tom Booker.”

And such a man would perhaps handle things a little bit differently than what takes place in the book.

We are not divulging the specific changes because, as Katherine said, “If the audience knows these things (changes) going in, it will take away from their experience of seeing the film.”

She also added, “I think that this is probably one of the most important horse movies made in a very long time. There have been some wonderful horse movies, such as The Black Stallion, but this one is completely different. It’s very much about human relationships with horses. Its message is very positive about the respect and trust between man and horse, and what incredible rewards that can bring.”

More on the Horses

Pilgrim bolts from the stall when Redford tries to approach him. Photo by Elliott Marks, Courtesy of Touchstone Pictures

As mentioned earlier, several horses play the difficult role of Pilgrim, and Rex Peterson provided three of what he refers to as “fighting” horses. On cue, such a horse rears, charges, paws, or bites … whatever the scene calls for.

Rex’s No. 1 fighting horse is the 14-year-old gelding High Tower. A race-bred Quarter Horse, High Tower is not registered because he was a catch colt, the result of a teaser stallion getting loose one night and breeding an expensive mare. Rex bought High Tower years ago and has used him as a ranch and movie horse and for dressage, open jumping, driving, team penning, and roping wild bulls. “It’s easier to tell what we haven’t done with him,” Rex grinned.

For this movie, High Tower’s greatest attribute is the ability to instantly “fight” on cue and instantly shut off on cue. He can be likened to a police K-9 dog who charges after a bad guy on cue but stops dead in his tracks when so ordered. Rex said teaching a horse to fight is easy. “It’s teaching him to stop when you tell him that’s the hard part.”

High Tower excels at this, and Rex said, “I’m not afraid to let him get right in your face because he’ll quit when I tell him.”

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