‘Down the Fence’ documentary increases reined cow horse exposure
October 16, 2017
Reining, cutting or herd work, and cow work: reined cow horses are the triathletes of the equine industry. Two big events happened in the reined cow horse industry recently: the National Reined Cow Horse Association hosted its Snaffle Bit Futurity Oct. 3-14 in Fort Worth, Texas, and the movie Down the Fence has premiered in theaters and cinemas throughout the country.
Reined cow horses are a specialized athlete requiring a trio of distinct skills. No other equine sports feature three skills, though cross country requires two: a dressage pattern and cross country course. Those three skills are herd work, rein work and cow work.
Down the Fence is produced, directed, and written by MJ Isakson, who has "spent nearly a decade researching the topic of this film — a journey that has taken her from Santa Ynez Valley, Calif., to the south of Spain," the movie website, http://www.downthefencemovie.com, said.
The film tracks the journeys of several reined cow horse trainers, exhibiting the grit and determination it takes to be successful in the competitive equine sport.
"Reined cow horse is a discipline of horsemanship that was born out of a practical need for partnership, but the bond between horse and human and the community that grew around that bond is so strong that, defying the odds, it has not been broken by the force of the modern world," the website states.
Doug Williamson, one of several profiled in Down the Fence, is a National Reined Cow Horse Assiciation Hall of Fame horseman and two-time Snaffle Bit Futurity champion. He is the ninth NRCHA Million Dollar Rider.
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"There's a few cow ranches that have cowboys, you know, but, boy, they are getting far and few between," he said in a movie trailer. "The cowboy has become an athlete and we're competing for money rather than just being a regular cowboy."
Jecca Ostrander, of Gordon, Neb., was at the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity and qualified for the limited, intermediate, and open finals with her stallion Opus Cat Olena, shown by Clay Volmer, her niece's husband. She showed one of her home-raised geldings BoxO Heavens Blue in the non-pro bridle class, and Volmer had another client horse in limited finals. Volmer's wife and Ostrander's niece Carrie Volmer qualified in the non-pro finals aboard her personal horse.
While she has yet to see the movie, she has heard positive reviews.
"From what I've heard, the movie highlights how hard it is to break into this industry as a whole," Ostrander said, describing her own experience. She explained that they had been at the show for five days and hadn't had time to eat out. We eat pizza at stall, or grill hamburgers at the trailer at 10, then we go to bed and start all over the next day. I don't think people realize how difficult and intense the atmosphere is to get where Clay is today. He gets up at 2 or 3 a.m. to ride all summer long."
So many equine sports require long hours in the saddle and continuous expenses in order to glean knowledge to stay competitive in events.
"These men and women work at three different disciplines; they would argue it's extremely hard," Ostrander said. "Clay has gotten a lot better at reining because he has been working with a reining trainer. That's what these guys do; if they have a weak spot they find someone to help them fix it."
"It's a hard, hard business to teach a horse to do all three events, and it's a special thing. It's a special thing, and I've done all the rest of it, but this is the hardest of all the horsemanships, is the working cowhorse," Williamson said in a movie trailer.
Amanda Dikoff, vice-president of the South Dakota Quarter Horse Association, watched the movie during its Rapid City, S.D., premiere this month.
"I think the movie was wonderfully done. I wasn't sure what the story line was when it first started but it hooks you and you just want more," she said. "The videography is incredible and it's obvious they spent hours upon hours gathering footage. I love how they showed the determination and grit and hardships but also the camaraderie between the contestants. In the end I could see the story line as never give up, work hard it will eventually happen."
A WORTHY DISCIPLINE
Dikoff primarily shows in ranch riding, reining and cow horse and felt reined cow horse was an appropriate and worthy discipline to feature in Down the Fence.
"I hope the industry gains even more momentum and supporters. It's an exhausting and humbling sport," she said. "It's exciting to watch a horse be able to do all three events and do them well. There are movies about cross-country eventers, jumpers, dressage why not more about western heritage?"
Many of the competitors featured are familiar faces to Dikoff. Those within the sport become a community of sorts, while remaining competitive in a discipline that for most is more than a hobby.
"I know as a competitor — I have never futurity'd or derby'd one yet — that I could relate to on so many levels. When I go to a show everyone asks if we had fun on our vacation," Dikoff said. "It's not really a vacation; it's a congregating of like-minded people to show off what they've been able to teach their horses, and most days start or end at an ungodly hour. Everyone is exhausted. As Chris Dawson said in the movie those people become family. The movie also lit a fire under me and I'm sure for others as well."
Down the Fence may be pre-ordered for $21.99, with purchases expected to be filled this month, though no firm date has been set, or purchased on iTunes for $14.99. A collector's book, offered at $75, is brimming with more than 100 pages of vibrant photos and the poignant words of producers and competitors highlighted within the film. The collector's book is also offered in a boxed first-edition for $250. ❖