I’ve always admired horses. Usually from afar, as I’m allergic to them. But occasionally I’ve got up close and personal with one, thanks to the temporary tolerance gained from drugs. Non performance-enhancing ones, obviously.
My wife Gill was the proud and incredibly loyal owner of a lovely Cleveland Bay horse called Whizz. Although his name turned out to be completely inappropriate, as he suffered a few injuries in his younger life and ended up being an expensive, indolent, hungry pet for most of the 20+ years Gill had him. I told you she was loyal.
I rode Whizz once. He took me through some low-hanging trees on Elstead Common, and also made my nose and eyes stream for 24 hours.
Gill and I have ridden horses together on honeymoon in Ireland, and on holidays in Canada, Corsica and – very recently – the Camargue in southern France.
So it was an easy decision to go and see Dark Horse last night at the Yvonne Arnaud Film Festival.
Expecting a good old far-fetched plucky underdog (underhorse?) story, this magical movie turned out to be a documentary. And how much more moving it is, being about a real horse and real people, rather than pumped-up feel-good fiction.
Beautifully written and directed by Louise Osmond, it tells the scarcely believable story of how Jan Vokes, a barmaid and Asda store cleaner, decides to breed a racehorse. She, her tattooed and toothless husband Brian and local tax accountant Howard Davies become the main players in a 23-man syndicate from the local village of Cefn Fforest, dying on its feet since the coal pits were closed in the 1980s.
They cough up £10 a week to send the newly bred Dream Alliance to a posh training yard, after he spent the first part of his life in a make-shift stable on scrub land in the stagnating village.
What follows is an incredible journey for the horse and everyone associated with him. It’s partly portrayed as a rags-to-riches story, the working class villagers and the scrap-heap horse taking on the wealthy owners and their thoroughbreds in the sport of kings. But mostly it’s a tale of tenacity and unremitting passion, from both Dream Alliance and his motley human syndicate.
The characters involved are what makes the film come to life, and I defy you not to shed a tear or two as the story of Dream Alliance unfolds.
And I didn’t need to take an antihistamine tablet.