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My Favorite Horse Movie – Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken Review and Synopsis

I was the girl who read every horse book in the local library and rented every horse movie at the local video store. I didn’t have real horses in my life, so books and movies had to do for my horse fix. Today, I want to share my favorite horse-related movie with all of you!

“Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken” is a movie I loved as a child and still love to this day. I had this movie on a VHS tape as a kid and I nearly wore the tape out watching it over and over again. A few years ago my best friend bought me the movie on DVD for my birthday and I got to watch it again for the first time in years.

This is a “based on a true story” live-action Disney move that was released on May 24, 1991. I don’t remember ever seeing this movie in a theater, so I probably found it in the video rental store months later and rented it, and then a copy was made and that was the tape I had.

The movie is set during the Great Depression and stars Gabrielle Anwar as the main character, Sonora Webster. Sonora and her little sister live on their aunt’s farm, and that is where the movie opens up. Sonora is supposed to be getting ready for school, but she is looking at a magazine ad for Atlantic City that features an illustration of a stylish lady with short hair. Sonora cuts her hair short like the illustration, and her aunt makes her wear a bag over her head when she leaves the house to hide her new haircut.

Sonora and Lightning the Draft horse

While she’s on the way to school, a group of bully kids see her with the farm’s horse and start goading her into trying to jump the fence on Lightning. Sonora tears off part of her dress to use as reins and tries to jump the fence on the big draft horse, but she ends up breaking the fence and letting the cows out. This makes her late for school, getting her into more trouble. By the time Sonora gets home from school, her aunt is selling Lightning to two men who are taking the horse down the road. Sonora gets upset about the loss of the horse she loves, and later her aunt informs her that she is going to send Sonora to live in a state home, but Sonora’s little sister will continue living on the farm.

Sonora runs away that night and sets off to find a job and to get to Atlantic City “Where all your dreams come true”. She comes across a carnival and seeks out Doctor Carver because of a job posting she sees, looking for diving girls. Sonora ends up with a groom position and goes with Doctor Carver, his son Al, and their diving girl Marie. She puts up with groom and farmhand jobs, but what she most wants is to train to be a diving girl- a young woman who rides a horse off the top of a huge tower and dives into a tank of water at the bottom.

As with most horse movies, Sonora ends up training and taming a horse no one else can even get close to, but she has a special connection with this gray horse. Once she proves she can ride the wild horse (who she names Lightning), Doctor Carver agrees to let her train to be a diving girl. Eventually, the show gets a space on the boardwalk at Atlantic City. During the first dive there, however, Sonora’s horse spooks because of the noise of the band and trips as he goes off the tower into the water. Sonora has her eyes open when she hits the water, and ends up with nerve damage that causes her to lose the sight in both her eyes. I won’t ruin the rest of the movie for you if you haven’t seen it, because it’s worth watching for the costumes, setting, and acting. Plus the amazing diving horses, which were a real act back in the time period the movie is set in! Photos of the real Sonora Webster on her diving horses occasionally circulate on Facebook, and I am always amazed when I see the real thing because I grew up with this movie.

Vintage photo of Diving Horses

Watching “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken” now, I can definitely see the issues with it. The plot is fairly simple, and the movie just kind of “ends” without a very strong conclusion. But I always love watching Gabrielle Anwar in the role of spunky take-no-shit Sonora Webster. The things that she goes through to accomplish her dreams and the obstacles she overcomes have always spoken to me on a personal level. I guess when I was younger I wished I could be that strong and that’s why I watched this movie so much?

There is a part of this film where Sonora’s horse comes down with colic, and for the longest time it gave me the impression that you could never get hay wet because the horse would get sick immediately if you fed them hay that had been wet. Imagine my surprise when I finally was able to be around horses in my 30’s and I discovered that many horses ate hay that had been soaked for up to thirty minutes! It was only after watching it again that I realized the horse in the movie colicked because of MOLD in the hay. It makes me laugh now that I had such a misconception thanks to a movie, but I also had no practical experience around horses (and I was pretty young, to be honest. I was only eight years old when the movie came out!).

So, that’s my favorite horse movie of all time! If you haven’t seen it but you like movies with horses in them and period pieces, I definitely recommend it. It’s also based off a true story, though of course Disney took some liberties with the story. In my opinion, any library of horse movies should have “Wild Hearts Can’t Be Broken” in it, especially now that it’s available on DVD!

Wild Hearts Movie Poster

What is your favorite horse movie?

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