(Not) Horse People on Television

By Terry Golson


I’m a big fan of BBC mysteries, especially the “cozy” dramas that aren’t too bloody, but are more Agatha Christie-like character puzzles. I’m currently catching up on the last season of Endeavor. One of the reasons that I love these shows is that the production values are high and that the period details are accurate when they’re set in past eras.

Which is why, at first, I was filled with happy anticipation when in the first scene of the show there was a fox hunt. I was relieved that the horses weren’t all Freisans (as seem to be all the rage in all television and movies these days) and that the tack looked appropriate for the year of 1969. Back then, they didn’t use saddle pads, and there were almost none in sight.

But then… this parlor scene came on. It’s directly after the fox hunt. The man on the left had been riding, and then got off and walked a lame horse home. The other man in pinks, and the woman seated on the right, had both ridden to hounds for hours. I paused the show and started shouting at the television. Do you see what I see?

First of all, none of the three “riders” has helmet hair.

Now look at the man’s breeches. They didn’t have stretch white breeches in 1969! The only material available back then was stiff twill. Who’s old enough to remember wearing those??? With the button closures at the calves? Two-way stretch arrived in the late 1970s, and they were bulky and had real suede knee patches.

In any event, even if there were stretchy white breeches back in 1969, after a few hours of riding and then walking, would those breeches still be that white? This is England. There was, surely, mud.

AND LOOK AT THOSE BOOTS! (Okay, I’ll try not to shout at you like I shouted at the television.) Perhaps his valet wiped them clean when he arrived home? While everyone else was grieving for the father shot dead in the hunt field? Look closer at the insides of the boots. No one polishes the insides of their boots black – it would rub off on the tack and horse.

I was able to calm down and enjoy the rest of the show. It helped that Steve made popcorn. Or at least it kept me from making comments.

I remember, forty years ago, seeing The Electric Horseman in the movie theatre. Robert Redford’s horse was supposed to be a thoroughbred, but for most of the scenes it was obvious that a quarter horse was being ridden. Actually, there were several horses used, and if you knew anything about conformation it was obvious which was which. I went with an equestrian friend. We were shushed.

Have you had to be shushed when you saw an egregious equestrian error on the television or at the movies? Tell me about it in the comments!


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14 thoughts on “(Not) Horse People on Television

  • Tracy

    Oh, you have struck a nerve with me! What is even worse, is watching actors actually ride. Every so often, you see a rider (I’m thinking of Michelle Dockery, in Downton Abbey, for example) gather their reins and canter off. Lady Mary, I was so relieved to note, absolutely knew what she was doing and showed her stuff not only astride in later episodes, but side-saddle —and over fences, no less! I rode side saddle once, just a fun trial, and it was so awkward, so unsettling. Lady amary riding was such a relief to this riding-familiar viewer. But the majority of the time, you see an actor grimly look to the horizon, clamp the reins in their fists, yank their horse’s head around, kick their horse brutally and almost get yanked right out of the saddle as their poor mount bolts for the hills, rider flailing away and bouncing harshly on their back. Ruins the entire film for me.

  • Jan

    Not so much horsey scenes but sometimes we get so cross at programmes that we have to change channel otherwise a brick would go through the screen. We also do not like films which have to much violence and swearing.Two gentle mystery series you would probable enjoy if you can find them are BERJERAC which is set on the island of Jersey and has fantastic scenery and the original MIDSOMER MURDERS, both of these are very easy to watch and star John Nettles. 🙂

  • Laura Allemand

    Our favorite (least favorite?) is when they use different horses. As you said, using different breeds is glaring enough to us horse people. But how about when they use horses with different face markings? Are non-horse people so awed by the amazing horse that they don’t notice a different marking?

  • John Schaller

    I wouldn’t call it egregious, but in the new Wonder Woman, which overall I thought was fun and surprisingly thoughtful, the Amazons were riding with stirrups if I recall correctly? Seems they should have been stirrupless just like the ancient Greeks, but I guess as superheros they can do what they want. I’d just started riding when it came out, so would be curious to go back and watch it now to see what I think of the riding.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      I watched a video about the training and riding of those horses. It was eye-opening. At least they don’t still use the barbaric bits that the Romans used. Have you seen those in museums?

      • John Schaller

        I have never seen them in person, but was curious at one point and did a Goog on shoes and bits back then. Really fascinating, they apparently had a version of hoof boots as well as, for a time, nailed shoes, and seem to have had everything from straightforward snaffles to what looked to me like a spade (though I am pretty tack-challenged). It’s interesting to compare them to XC photos of today or to watch vaquero riders and their bits and realize that someone in Rome may have ridden similarly.

  • Gin

    I agree with all the above. I get upset when the yank the horses heads around, etc. I really get upset when they can’t even put a blaze on a horse to match the other horse the actor was riding. My husband always tells me “it’s only in the movies”.

    • Terry Golson Post author

      It’s the thwacking the horses’ sides that upset me. It’s become an unnecessary part of riding culture. There was a study of barrel racers – videos were evaluated – the fastest horses were the ones that weren’t kicked.

      • Gin

        So true, if you ever watch really close, when they whack the running horses there is a slight hesitation and that would count when fractions of a second are counted.
        And how about the women in the old west going around with perfect, curly, impossible to do by yourself hair styles.

        • Terry Golson Post author

          Whips are counter-productive.
          What about the men in the clean white, ironed shirts with no sweat marks under their arms! The women with the plucked eyebrows and make-up! But what really gets me are the dirt roads with no horse manure on them. And how do the movie sets get rid of the flies?