It isn't easy for a documentary to capture what it's like at the height of equestrian competition.
But the new documentary "Down The Fence," which follows a handful of horse trainers through one season of reined cow horse competition, does it perfectly.
The unique discipline of reined cow horse finds its roots in western cowboy culture and beyond, even stretching back to the early days of the Spanish missions in California.
Modern-day reined cow horse enthusiasts, who compete for prize money, look forward to five main shows in a season, culminating with their biggest event of the year: the Snaffle Bit Futurity in Reno, Nevada. "Down The Fence" takes viewers through the ups and downs experienced by five trainers -- Brandon Buttars, Kelby Phillips, Erin Taormino, Jake Telford and Doug Williamson -- on the road to this important competition.
Impressively, it does this without getting bogged down in too much history of the little-known sport, and without falling into the common horse movie trap of anthropomorphism. It is a real look at a sport that takes true partnership between horse and rider, as well as the support of family and fellow competitors, to make it to the top.
The film, directed by MJ Isakson and produced by Lori Adamski-Peek and MJ Isakson was released in 2017 to great acclaim, winning the Audience Award at the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival and Award Of Excellence at the IndieFEST Film Awards.
While it includes stunning cinematography, it may be the musical score that best captures the equestrian experience in the modern world. As director Isakson said in a 2014 interview with The Horse:
"As riders, we know that the visual part is probably the least prominent of the senses. When riding, sound and feel are the sensations we notice the most. In 'Down the Fence' we hope to utilize sound [including music] to evoke the feeling of what it's like to be in the company of horses."
Those unfamiliar with the discipline of reined cow horse will come away from the film with newfound knowledge and respect, and reined cow horse enthusiasts will marvel at this beautiful portrayal of the sport they love.
"Down The Fence" runs 93 minutes, and is available on Netflix, Amazon, DVD, and on demand. You can learn more about it here.
What did you think of "Down The Fence?" Share your thoughts below!
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