One of the main reasons why I love living where I do is because, any time I get in my car, I have a choice to make. I can drive for 20 minutes in one direction and soon find myself in downtown Dallas. Or, I can drive 20 minutes in the opposite direction and find myself out in the country, driving past horse ranches. I’ve always had a weakness for horses, which are not only majestic in appearance but also very loyal in personality.
Considering that, it probably shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’ve always had a weakness for movie about people who learn about responsibility by taking care of a horse. Apparently, I’m not alone in that because there are like hundreds of movies that feature that exact plot. These films always seem to tell the same basics story, i.e. out-of-control teen is sent to a horse ranch and spends the first half of the movie trying to run away and the second half of the movie learning how to ride. And I have to admit that, despite how predictable they may be, I end up enjoying just about everyone of these films that I see.
For example, consider the 2015 film, Spirit Riders. 17 year-old Kacie (Alexandria DeBerry) is a rebellious teen who gets in trouble with the law and who is sentenced to a work-release program at Spirit Riders, an equine therapy camp for disabled and physically challenged young people. At first, she struggle with all of the rules. She wants to smoke. She wants to fight. She wants to sneak off with her boyfriend, who is a total loser despite bearing a slight resemblance to Eric Balfour. She doesn’t want to make friends. She certainly doesn’t want to take care of a horse.
However, she soon meets Rex (Lance Henriksen), who is the owner of the ranch. Rex is tough but compassionate. He’s been around for a while and he’s heard all of the excuses. Rex tells her to stop feeling sorry for herself and to take care of her horse. Rex is stern but it’s obvious that he cares. Rex, in short, is the type of character that Lance Henriksen was born to play. A lesser actor would have just played Rex as being a serious-minded hardass but Henriksen does a good job of projecting the compassion that lurks underneath Rex’s no-nonsense exterior. Henriksen is one of those actors who sometimes seems as if he’ll appear in any film that’s offered to him. I mean, there aren’t many actors who can brag about appearing in everything from Pumpkinhead to Dog Day Afternoon to Near Dark to Spirit Riders to countless direct-to-video actions films. And yet, no matter what the role or the film, Henriksen always gives a good performance. Along with his undeniable physical presence, he just projects a certain integrity, the type that we usually associate with actors from Hollywood’s Golden Age of westerns and war films. Even when he’s playing a villain, you respect him. In Spirit Riders, he’s playing a good man and he makes that compelling.
I don’t want to oversale Spirit Riders, of course. It’s a fairly predictable film, one that will play best with people who already like horses and who can tolerate some occasionally heavy-handed plotting. But Alexandra DeBerry gives a good performance as Kacie and Lance Henriksen turns Rex into a monument to decency. The ranch itself is lovely to look at and so are the horses. It’s a pleasant film, one that’s won’t change the world but which I still enjoyed watching.