Disclaimer: I wrote this review shortly after season 1 of Netflix’s Free Rein was first released. (I have not watched seasons 2 or 3.) I don’t remember much about what happened in the show, but I found this review on my laptop and thought I’d post it for a laugh. My opinions are my own and feel free to disagree.
REINING IT IN: Netflix goes all in with the equestrian cliches
The recent release of Netflix’s new series Free Rein was a masterclass in equestrian fiction clichés. The tropes were all there – inexperienced girl tames wild horse that nobody else can get near (in this case by raising her arms and crying “Hey! Shhhhh!”), snobby rich girl treats her horses about as well as her parents treat her, overworked yard manager loses the plot, mother refuses to let daughter ride because of a traumatic experience in her own past, the hotshot male rider that all the girls are in love with, the shy stablehand that only our protagonist appreciates, the horse-crazy best friends, the nasty horse thieves, etc, etc…
Her friends were fun, even if they confused me when they first turned up, because although Becky actually looked like a teenager, the other one (I forget her name) appeared to be close to thirty, and it took me a while to get my head around the fact that they were supposed to be teens. Much like, I presume, our protagonist Zoe.
This main character was fawned over by the two requisite male leads – the “hot” stable star Marcus, who fluctuated during the show between being an instructor and one of the pupils, and surly stablehand Pin, who would have been a far more likeable character if he hadn’t insisted on being a complete a-hole to Zoe more than ninety percent of the time.
The guy who played Marcus had clearly offended the wardrobe department, as he appeared onscreen looking like a walking Ken doll, complete with garish shirt, excessive hair gel and far too much pink lipstick. Pin, at least by contrast, resembled an actual human being, albeit a slightly vampiric one with sunken cheeks and a suspicious squint.
Pin was a character that I was predisposed to like, because the misunderstood young man with the impoverished background is a character that I always have a soft spot for. There were times when he reminded me of Jonty (from my Pony Jumpers series), but neither Jonty, nor any character that I would ever write as any kind of potential love interest, would be as much of a jerk as Pin was to Zoe. There’s misunderstood and surly, and then there’s just being a dick. He had his redeeming moments later on, but for the first few episodes, every interaction he had with Zoe was unnecessarily rude, and I couldn’t work out why she even kept going back to talk to him. The only real explanation given was a throwaway reference to his cheekbones, but listen up girls – a boy’s good looks are not enough reason to pursue him when he insists on treating you like crap. We need to stop perpetuating that old trope.
On the upside, there were things to like. Aside from the guilty pleasure of the whole experience, Charlotte Dujardin’s guest appearance was a nice touch, and there was some equine eye candy to be had. The riding itself was pretty borderline – is it that hard to cast people who can act and ride? I didn’t need everyone to be Olympians, but if someone is supposed to have a special ‘way with horses’ then perhaps they should ride as though they’ve had more than ten lessons in their life.
The sick moor pony would have been well and truly dead, given that it appeared to spend literally weeks lying flat on its side. Horses are not designed to lie down for long periods of time as it crushes their internal organs. That’s why they sleep standing up, most of the time, and why horses with broken legs who are rehabilitated will often be put in a sling. Unless it was crippled with laminitis or some other hoof issue, it should have been standing. Miraculous how it leapt to its feet at the end though, right on cue. Marvellous.
Okay, let’s talk about the tack for a moment. What was up with all those pelhams with single curb reins? Haven’t they heard of forked reins or roundings? I cringed for the horses on numerous occasions, and it sets a dangerous precedent for young riders who may think that is the correct way to use a pelham. I did appreciate the nod to safety that made sure riders always wore helmets, although the notion that Zoe was wearing her mother’s old helmet (“how vintage”, as one of the snobby girls commented) was stupidly unsafe. Replace your helmet at least every five years, or after a bad fall, people. Head injuries are no fun.
Mia was your classic snobby rich girl with next to no endearing qualities, and an “explanation” for her behavior which was as simple as “Daddy won’t pay much attention to me so I shall be horrid to everyone I meet.” I’m not saying girls like that don’t exist, but generally they are less one-dimensional and obnoxious, particularly to their only friend. It would’ve at least carried more credibility if Mia had been nice to her bestie, but she treated her like a slave, and her best friend just took the abuse on the chin, over and over with about as much spine as a wet dishrag. Of course, at the very end the friend showed “character development” by abruptly changing her mind and ditching Mia, but at that point it was totally out of character and there is a high chance that they will be back in their same roles next season.
I’m not even going to get into the fashion, which looked like they robbed it off a TV show made in the mid-90s – surely nobody actually wears that many sequins in the real world? The whole show was relentlessly bright, and I’m not just talking about the lipstick. (Though I was intrigued to see that the boys wore twice as much lipstick as the girls. They must have been more diligent about reapplying it.)
The ‘twist’ at the end regarding Sam, the stable manager, was pretty weak. Sure, nobody saw it coming, but that’s because it didn’t make sense.
They put up cameras to track Pin’s movements, videoing the horses’ stalls and the stable yard, but nobody thought to check those cameras after Firefly was stolen? Then they went to the effort of spending thousands of pounds installing CCTV?
And as usual in horse features, the horses whinnied far more than any actual horse ever does.
Some of the stupidest moments:
- Bob being ‘entertained’ by watching a slideshow of horses on the iPad (if that worked, no-one would’ve had to invent Likits).
- Basically every second that Zoe spent ‘taming’ Raven.
- The fact that thieves were stupid enough to ‘mistake’ a fleabitten grey for the jet black horse they were meant to be stealing.
- Anything to do with the Ghost Pony – although Becky’s enthusiasm was mostly endearing, the fact that she supposedly genuinely believed in it strained credulity.
- The girls being so excited to have crisps at their sleepover and then opening the packets and throwing the crisps into the air – firstly, don’t get crisps in the hay, you’ll attract rats and mice, and secondly, if you’re that excited about having crisps, eat them!
- Pin stealing sedatives to sedate a pony that was supposedly so sick it couldn’t stand up anyway – unless he completely overdid the sedative and temporarily paralysed it, which frankly was entirely possible.
- The party decorations for the barn dance. Sure, that was Rosie’s doing, but it was ridiculous. Where did they get fake palm trees from on their tiny little British island?
- The fact that Zoe got named as Reserve for the show jumping team on Raven, despite the fact that a) she didn’t try out; b) she’d only ever jumped one crossrail before, on a different horse, and without permission; and most importantly, c) she’d never jumped Raven – in fact we don’t know that he has ever jumped as he appeared to be completely unbroken until she started riding him – and the one time she had ridden him, he’d bolted on her and thrown her off (well to be fair to Raven, he halted and tossed his head and she tumbled off, but the story goes that she was thrown).
- And, of course, the entire ending. We all saw that ending coming, right? Anyone who has ever read a pony book in their life knew they would eventually discover that Raven was a valuable racehorse, even though he’s clearly not a Thoroughbred. Not to mention how easily everyone believed the woman who “owned” him, and just handed him over to her. What about Mia, who supposedly actually owned the horse? What about her father, who paid Pin’s dad good money for the horse? And then boarded him at a yard for a year without the horse getting any training whatsoever, because everyone there was afraid of him? Which begs the question – if Pin’s family picked Raven up as a foal, then sold him to Mia a year ago, even if the horse was only a four year old (which is implied when his “owner” turns up and says he went missing four years ago) they had three years to get that horse safe and sane to handle. So why was the horse such a psycho? Are Pin and Ted really that bad with horses? (Moor pony says “Do you really have to ask?”)
In the interest of balance, here are the best bits:
- Ben, Becky’s little brother. Cute kid, solid acting, and didn’t get enough screen time to do anything too ridiculous.
- Rosie, Zoe’s little sister. One of the best actors in the show, somehow pulling off the ten-year-old Valley Girl character believably (a genuine feat).
- Bob all dressed up for the dressage competition (let’s ignore the fact that his dressage test basically consisted of him halting, shuffling backwards a couple of steps, and attempting a half pass at walk).
What did you think of Free Rein? Did you enjoy it? Am I right or wrong in my opinions? Leave a comment below!