The Horse Whisperer (1998) quickly became one of the most well-known horse movies in the world. Still popular today, the movie holds a rating of 74% on Rotten Tomatoes and has earned $186 million in total.
In this American Western drama, a girl called Grace and her horse Pilgrim are severely injured and traumatized after an accident. When nothing else seems to help, Grace’s wilful mom takes her and Pilgrim to a horse healer in Montana. However, what she finds there goes beyond her wildest dreams.
This incredible movie has wowed millions of viewers worldwide, both equestrians and laypeople. According to the critics’ consensus on Rotten Tomatoes, “The Horse Whisperer is typically graceful, well-crafted Redford—on both sides of the camera.”
Here are 9 things you didn’t know about The Horse Whisperer movie!
1. The Horse Whisperer is Based on a Best-Selling Novel
The Horse Whisperer is a movie adaptation of Nicholas Evans’ best-selling novel of the same name. First published in 1995, the book quickly became the 10th best-selling novel in the United States that year. With over 15 million copies sold, “The Horse Whisperer” is also one of the best-selling books of all time.
While the movie adaptation is mostly loyal to the book, there are some important plot differences. These mainly concern Annie and Tom Booker’s affair and the story’s ending.
In both the movie and the book, Grace’s mom Annie has an affair with the horse healer Tom Booker. However, while this quietly forms between the characters in the movie, the affair is presented with a much higher intensity in the book.
When asked about this change by Western Horseman, movie publicist Katherine Orloff shared her theory. As the movie’s director Robert Redford once told her “… people want to believe there is such a man in the world as Tom Booker.” Orloff thinks the character Tom Booker is more subtle in the movie to live up to people’s expectations.
The end of The Horse Whisperer’s story represents the biggest difference between the movie and the book. On the screen, we see Annie and Grace drive away while Tom is watching from the top of a hill. Grace knows nothing about the affair her mom had and is excited to see her father again.
In the book, however, Grace finds out about the affair and rides away on Pilgrim in the heat of the moment. They run into a herd of panicked wild horses and get mixed up in the tumult.
Tom, of course, follows them into the countryside. He finds Pilgrim fighting with a wild stallion and somehow manages to save both of them. However, out of guilt for letting Grace down, he doesn’t save himself.
But the drama doesn’t end here. When Annie, Grace, and Pilgrim return to Grace’s father in New York, Annie realizes she’s pregnant. The book ends with Annie giving birth to Tom’s baby, who’s inherited his sparkling blue eyes.
2. Buck Brannaman Inspired the Character Tom Booker
Nicholas Evans might have written one of the best horse books of all time, but he wasn’t a horse expert himself. While researching for his book, he spent weeks learning from three exceptional horse masters: Ray Hunt, Tom Dorrance, and Buck Brannaman.
Out of the three horsemen, however, it was Buck Brannaman who truly inspired Tom’s character. Nicholas Evans publicly described him as “… the Zen master of the horse world.”
He even partook in the making of The Horse Whisperer movie as an “Equine Technical Advisor”. Together with the famous horse trainer Rex Peterson, they made sure scenes involving horses were correctly executed.
According to the Western Horseman, Brannaman explained to Redford how to work with a traumatized horse. However, because of the constraints of movie-making, some important training elements had to be edited out.
If you want to learn more about Buck Brannaman, you can watch the documentary Buck (2011) featuring his past.
3. Robert Redford Both Directed and Acted in the Movie
Robert Redford is the director of The Horse Whisperer movie and also plays the character of Tom. He bought the movie rights for around $4 million in 1995, before the book was even published.
The Horse Whisperer was actually the first movie Redford both directed and acted in himself. Being an experienced horseman and actor, Redford was perfect for the role of Tom Booker.
As many expected, the movie became a hit and received a nomination for Best Motion Picture – Drama at the 56th Golden Globe Awards. Oscar-winner Robert Redford was also nominated for Best Director at the same event.
Interestingly, The Horse Whisperer was the second Montana movie Redford directed in the same location. His 1992 movie A River Runs Through It also takes place south of the small Montana town Big Timber.
4. Kate Bosworth Turned Down the Role of Grace
The Horse Whisperer was the movie debut of the successful actress and model Kate Bosworth. But while she was offered the role of Grace, she chose to play Judith instead.
According to Abc News, Bosworth was 14 when the casting call was sent out for teenage girls who rode horses. Even though Bosworth had no experience in acting, she was a good rider and so auditioned for the role. To her biggest amazement, she got it!
In her interview with Abc News, the actress admitted that being on set with Robert Redford and Scarlett Johansson was intimidating. However, Bosworth rose to the challenge and also discovered a love for acting in the process.
She went on to appear in several big movies and is now established in the industry. The role that rose her to fame was playing a young surfer in the hit movie Blue Crush (2002).
5. Pilgrim is a Morgan Horse
In the original story, Pilgrim is a Morgan horse. The Morgan is one of the first horse breeds to develop in the United States. All Morgan horses today can be traced back to one foundation sire called Figure.
Morgans are usually smaller horses with very fine and elegant features. They are most often chestnut, black or bay, but can be of any color.
The Morgan breed has influenced numerous American horse breeds that are still around today. These horses are extremely versatile and will excel in any discipline.
Read our Morgan Horse Breed Profile to find out more.
Interestingly, in “The Horse Whisperer” book Pilgrim is dark bay, while Gulliver is chestnut. The movie, however, portrays Pilgrim as a chestnut and Gulliver as a black horse for reasons unknown.
6. Four Horses Doubled for Pilgrim
According to the Western Horseman, no less than four horses played Pilgrim in the movie. This is typical in the film & television industry as each “double” is a horse trained for a specific purpose.
In The Horse Whisperer, three horses played the aggressive and traumatized Pilgrim: High Tower, Maverick, and Cash. They all have racing Quarter Horse bloodlines and belong to the legendary trainer Rex Peterson.
High Tower was the movie’s #1 fighting horse. His special ability was to attack and shut down on cue. When Peterson signaled, the gelding would charge, bite, rear and paw at anyone who stood in front of him.
High Tower was one of the most famous equine actors of the ’90s. He’s been in numerous movies and performed a variety of roles, from rach horse to dressage and driving horse. He also played Ginger in Black Beauty (1994).
The fourth horse that played Pilgrim was a Thoroughbred gelding owned by Buck Brannaman. He was the “calm” Pilgrim in the movie.
7. The Horse Playing Gulliver also Played Black Beauty
Another famous equine actor of the ’90s and early 2000s was Docs Keepin Time. As revealed in Western Horseman, he played the role of Gulliver in The Horse Whisperer movie.
Docs Keepin Time was another one of Rex Peterson’s talented Quarter Horses. He appeared as Black Beauty himself, as well as The Black in The Adventures of the Black Stallion series (1990-1993).
A 5th generation descendant of War Admiral, Docs Keepin Time even won a Silver Spur Award in 1994. He also had a career as a breeding stallion, and one of his sons Keepin Charge made an appearance in Appaloosa (2008).
Docs Keepin Time is a legend in his own right, who rose from ex-racehorse to Hollywood star. He knows a variety of tricks and even has his own profile on IMDb.
8. Actress and Singer Betty Buckley was Cut From the Movie
As it turns out, Robert Redfort shot several scenes with actress and singer Betty Buckley. She was supposed to appear as Tom Booker’s ex-girlfriend in the movie. However, since the final version was nearly four hours long, her scenes had to be cut out along with many others.
However, that didn’t hold Buckey back from becoming a multi-award-winning theater and musical actress. As a tribute to her work, she was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2012.
9. The Movie Popularized the Word “whisperer”
Since The Horse Whisperer came out in 1998, the word “whisperer” gained a secondary meaning. According to the Google Dictionary, “whisperer” can also mean “a person skilled in taming or training a specified kind of animal, typically using body language and gentle vocal encouragement rather than physical contact.”
Nowadays, the word is often used as a slang term to describe people able to make a special connection to any living being, not just horses. There are “dog whisperers”, “cat whisperers” and even “plant whisperers” out there. This only shows what a major effect Robert Redford’s movie had on our culture.