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Behind the Scenes of Dreamer

Horses that have battled the odds to achieve something that seems impossible capture our imagina­tion and hearts. John Gatins, the writer and director of Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story, knew that, because he spent much of his youth around horseracing. “I was only 10 when I went to the racetrack for the first time,” says Gatins. “The way the New York papers described the horses—they gave them personalities; the race horses came alive as actual characters. I thought it would be great to make a movie about those characters. I started going to the racetrack and following them like athletes.”

For Dreamer, Gatins wanted to write about a who overcame the odds, so he started researching stories of horses who came back from what should have been career-ending—if not life-ending—injuries. It was then that he came across the true story of one remarkable filly, named Mariah’s Storm.

Mariah’s Storm was quickly building points towards a bid in the 1993 Breeders’ Cup and would have been one of the favorites, when she suddenly fractured a left front cannon bone. The cannon bone (as pictured) is the part of a horse’s leg that carries the greatest amount of the animal’s weight. It is delicate and hard to heal.

Mariah’s Storm sustained a cannon bone facture that was so severe that it could have ended her career as a race horse, or even her life, but her owners and trainers did not lose faith. With patience and good care, the fracture of her cannon bone eventually healed, but whether or not Mariah’s Storm would ever race again remained a big question.

This question was soon answered. In September 1993, before her injury, Mariah’s Storm had won the Arlington Washington Lassie, a Grade II stakes race for two-year-old fillies. After her recovery, nearly a year later, Mariah’s Storm came back to win the Arlington Heights Oaks, a Grade III stakes race for three-year-old fillies. By September 1995, she had won another and was the only horse ever to win all three stakes races for her age class at Arlington. Her achievement was so incredible that there is now a race at Arlington Park named for her, it is called “The Mariah’s Storm Stakes.”

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Other than her injury—a fracture of the cannon bone—and her recovery, the life and career of Mariah’s Storm bears little resemblance to that of the horse at the center of Dreamer. However, Gatins was so impressed by her courage and success that Mariah’s Storm became the main inspiration for his screenplay, in which a phenomenal filly named Soñador (which means “Dreamer” in Spanish) breaks her cannon bone, but is able to heal and have an unbelievable come back to race again.

There was a team of horses that played the part of Soñador, made up of five real horses and three trick horses. Of the trick horses, two were mechanical and one was a stuffed “dummy.” The film’s head horse wrangler, Rusty Hendrickson, and expert horse trainer, Rex Peterson, worked as buddies and picked the right horse for each scene.

Some of the behaviors needed for the character of Soñador were hard for the horses. Some­times they did not like to do certain actions, like laying down, carrying Cale’s backpack, eating popsicles, or being lifted off the ground in the rigging. Rusty and Rex had to work gently and patiently with all of the different horses over many weeks to master these actions.

Sometimes even a simple goal can be difficult. But, they managed to train the horses to han­dle every action required by the script for Soñador’s character, except for one thing: Soñador is supposed to eat chocolate cake! “Not one of the thoroughbreds wanted anything to do with chocolate cake,” according to Rex, “they wouldn’t touch it.” Finally, after many tries, they found a quarter horse that ate the cake! What a relief to be able to film every scene needed to complete the movie. And, everyone was happy.





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