November 1958: the National Horse Show at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Into the rarefied atmosphere of wealth and tradition comes the most unlikely of horses-a drab white former plow horse named Snowman-and his rider, Harry de Leyer. They were the longest of all longshots – and their win was the stuff of legend. The Eighty-Dollar Champion by Elizabeth Letts tells their extraordinary story.

Harry de Leyer first saw the horse he would name Snowman on a bleak winter afternoon between the slats of a rickety truck bound for the slaughterhouse. He recognized the spark in the eye of the beaten-up horse and bought him for eighty dollars. On Harry’s modest farm on Long Island, the horse thrived. But the recent Dutch immigrant and his growing family needed money, and Harry was always on the lookout for the perfect thoroughbred to train for the show-jumping circuit-so he reluctantly sold Snowman to a farm a few miles down the road.   But Snowman had other ideas about what Harry needed. When he turned up back at Harry’s barn, dragging an old tire and a broken fence board, Harry knew that he had misjudged the horse. And so he set about teaching this shaggy, easygoing horse how to fly.

One show at a time, against extraordinary odds and some of the most expensive thoroughbreds alive, the pair climbed to the very top of the sport of show jumping.   Here is the dramatic and inspiring rise to stardom of an unlikely duo, based on the insight and recollections of “the Flying Dutchman” himself. Their story captured the heart of Cold War–era America-a story of unstoppable hope, inconceivable dreams, and the chance to have it all. Elizabeth Letts’s message is simple: Never give up, even when the obstacles seem sky-high. There is something extraordinary in all of us. (provided by publisher)

April 3

We Bought a Zoo – Matt Damon, Thomas Hadden Church

When his teenage son gets into trouble, Benjamin Mee gives up a lucrative newspaper job to move his family to the most unlikely of places: a zoo! With help from an eclectic staff, and with many misadventures along the way, Benjamin embarks on a fresh beginning to restore the dilapidated zoo to its former glory, while uniting his family. PG

War Horse – Emily Watson, David Thewlis

Set against a sweeping canvas of rural England and Europe during the First World War, this movie begins with the remarkable friendship between a horse named Joey and a young man called Albert, who tames and trains him. When they are forcefully parted, the film follows the extraordinary journey of the horse as he moves through the war, changing and inspiring the lives of all those he meets; British cavalry, German soldiers, and a French farmer and his granddaughter. PG 13

April 10

Happy Feet Two – Eljah Wood, Robin Williams

Mumble, the Master of Tap, has a problem because his tiny son, Erik, is choreo-phobic. Reluctant to dance, Erik runs away and encounters the Mighty Sven, a penguin who can fly! Mumble has no hope of competing with this charismatic new role model. But things get worse when the world is shaken by powerful forces. Erik learns of his father’s ‘guts and grit’ as Mumble brings together the penguin nations and all manner of fabulous creatures. PG

Iron Lady – Meryl Streep

A surprising and intimate portrait of Margaret Thatcher, the first and only female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. One of the 20th century’s most famous and influential women, Thatcher came from nowhere to smash through barriers of gender and class to be heard in a male-dominated world. PG 13

April 17

Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol – Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner

Blamed for the terrorist bombing of the Kremlin, IMF operative Ethan Hunt is disavowed along with the rest of the agency when the president initiates ‘Ghost Protocol.’ Left without any resources or backup, Ethan must find a way to clear his agency’s name and prevent another attack. To complicate matters further, Ethan is forced to embark on his mission with a team of fellow IMF fugitives whose personal motives he does not fully know. PG 13

April 24

Contraband – Mark Wahlberg, Lukas Haas

Chris Farraday long ago abandoned his life of crime, but after his brother-in-law, Andy, botches a drug deal for his ruthless boss, Tim Briggs, Chris is forced back into doing what he does best, running contraband, to settle Andy’s debt. Chris is a legendary smuggler and quickly assembles a crew with the help of his best friend, Sebastian, to head to Panama and return with millions in counterfeit bills. Things quickly fall apart with only hours to reach the cash. R

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Tom Hanks, Thomas Horn

Oskar is convinced that his father, who died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, has left a message for him hidden in the city. Feeling disconnected from his grieving mother and driven by an active mind that refuses to believe in things that can’t be observed, Oskar begins searching New York City for the lock that fits a mysterious key he found in his father’s closet. His journey through the five boroughs takes him beyond his loss to a greater understanding of the world around him. PG 13

 

 

By turns humorous and heart wrenching, the documentary Buck is far more than it  first appears. Sure, it’s about horses and how to treat them, but it’s also about people and facing adversity and being the best person you can, no matter what you’ve faced in the past.

Buck Brannaman (who was the inspiration for and consultant to the movie The Horse Whisperer and even worked as Robert Redford’s stunt double) travels across the country giving workshops on “Natural Horsemanship”, a method of training horses that rejects cruelty and “breaking”, and instead teaches understanding and finding mutual benefits for both horse and rider. People often bring “problem” horses to Buck, horses that refuse to be saddled or follow commands; invariably Buck has the horse calm and obedient within minutes, all done with gentle, persistent direction. Buck points out that most of the time the problem lies with the rider; he doesn’t treat people with horse problems, he treats horses with people problems.

What’s most riveting about Buck though is Buck Brannaman himself. Raised by a tyrannical father that regularly beat and abused him and his brother, Buck has actively chosen to leave that legacy in the past. He has an empathy for horses – and people – that only someone that has known what it’s like to be afraid and helpless can have. He’s found that the way that he’s learned to treat horses – by giving them a chance – bleeds into your life and how you treat your fellow humans. Buck is exactly the kind of person you’d like to invite over for barbeque and a beer – funny and smart and thoughtful, a true modern cowboy. This documentary is beautifully photographed and edited. Buck’s story informs the film, but doesn’t overwhelm it. And despite the past suffering, what you’ll remember and feel is hope for the future.

beyondthehomestretchFor most people, horse racing only appears on their radar in May when the Kentucky Derby is run, or maybe later in the summer during the Triple Crown races. These races showcase the stars of the sport – incredibly valuable, highly trained athletes, supremely talented and owned by the very wealthy. In the real world, the majority of the sport is in action year round, mostly on smaller, lesser known tracks, populated by work-a-day horses earning a living on a smaller stage.

Racing can be hard on a horse, and their career is often limited by injuries and age – a racehorse is considered old at 7 or 8 years old. What happens to these horses when they can no longer race? Many make a career change to polo ponies or jumpers, or as riding horses but there’s always the danger that they’ll end up in slaughter pens or with an inexperienced or abusive owner. Matching up the right personality and ability to the right owner takes patience and understanding and this is where Lynn Reardon steps in.

In 2002 Lynn created the non-profit LOPE (LoneStar Outreach to Place Ex-Racers) on her small ranch in Texas. Hundreds of Thoroughbreds have come through the ranch for retraining, rehabilitation and a chance for a new life. Lynn is no blue-blood, but a hard-working escapee from cubicle-land who didn’t learn to ride until she was an adult and who scrapes for donations and advice for her organization. Beyond the Homestretch is her story and the stories of the horses. Full of humor and insight and peopled with the unique characters that make up the world of racing, this is a can’t-put-down book. Never sentimental, Lynn describes the unique histories and personalities of each horse – their humor, their fears, their courage, their intelligence. And even as Lynn saves their lives, the horses become her best teachers and save her in return.

Be sure to visit LOPE’s website where you will find lots of extras including pictures of many of the horses featured in Beyond the Racetrack, a list of horses awaiting adoption and information about the ranch and the program goals.

pet-projectsThey never snicker behind your back about that unfortunate outfit you wore, or comment on the couple of extra pounds you put on over the holidays; they’re always happy to see you, even if you’ve only been gone 20 minutes. The pets in our lives give so much and ask so little – why not make something special for them?

Pet Projects: the Animal Knits Bible by Sally Muir and Joanna Osborne is packed with all kinds of ideas for special gifts for your pets. They run the gamat from practical (dog coats and collars) to fanciful (a tent for your turtle) Dogs get the most attention, but there are toys and pillows for cats, a blanket for your prized horse, even a tiny (adorable) knitted house for your hamster. Most patterns are for knitting or crocheting, but there is also some embroidery and a section on re-purposing old sweaters into dog coats. All of the projects have a touch of humor, for instance there is a rug for your cat except instead of a bearskin, it’s shaped like a mouse-skin as if your mighty hunter had slayed a giant rodent. Or take a look at the “Anti-Firework Dog Balaclava”, a snood-like hat with extra earmuff protection to muffle loud, scary noises.

It’s all charming, adorable and whimsical – much like your favorite four-legged friend.