There are some times when I sit back and think about what could have been. My life is, as most of our lives are, a result of innumerable stars that mysteriously aligned. One can hope and dream for things to work out in a certain way, but like the poignant chorus of the old song “Que Sera Sera”says “whatever will be will be,” planning and hoping notwithstanding things just come to be. Coming out of the Metropolitan 4 Theatre after watching Andrea Nevins’ “The Cowboy and the Queen” at the 39th Annual Santa Barbara International Film Festival it was hard to not chuckle at the odd ways in which the world works. 

As the first shot of the film rolled onto the screen the audience was taken back to a line in horse trainer (and the focus of the film) Monty Roberts’ book “The Man Who Listens to Horses” where he recounts the end of his first meeting with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II saying, “I had a sudden vision of what this scene would look like … the Queen of England strolling in one direction and this cowboy from California walking the other way,”

The film, although more accurately described as a feature length documentary, explores the unlikely relationship Salinas born horse trainer Roberts had with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Roberts, a horseman and world championship winning rider, is a pioneer in the field of non-violent horse training and the audience is taken through the trials and tribulations that he is faced with as he desperately tries to bring forth a departure from the barbaric traditional methods of horse training. Nevins and ediotr/writer Graham Clark put forth a solid foundation for the film cleverly intertwining Roberts’ life with milestones in the Queen’s life, all the while staying true to what brought the improbable pair together: a deep love for horses and perhaps an even greater love for kindness and peace. Through and through the film is visually stunning, shot beautifully by Geoffrey Franklin and filled with intimate moments captured on a handheld camera, tastefully interspersed with hues of sepia when harkening to moments in the past. 

If there was one thing apparent through the entirety of the film, it was the fact that the film is simple. It is quiet. Rarely are there moments in which an attempt is made to hyperbolize. For a film that speaks of atrocious violence against both man and beast there is never a frame that betrays a sense of sensationalism. At its core it stayed fiercely true to its title. The film is the story of a cowboy and the Queen, of two individuals who could not possibly be more different, separated by vast mountains and oceans yet reaching out to the world together, with a message of kindness. It was difficult for the audience to not shake their heads in humorous disbelief at the seeming miracle of Roberts, the cowboy who had hidden his work from the world for fear of ridicule and skepticism, getting a life changing call from the Queen that would thrust him into a whirlwind of praise and recognition. 

In a story that speaks of violence, hardships, skepticism and unlikely friendship, it is glaringly evident that “The Cowboy and the Queen” is far more than a mere tale of triumph. The story lies beyond Roberts’ success as a trainer and beyond his friendship with the Queen. It lies in the collective need to subdue and enslave, it calls on viewers to think of what the dizzying highs of power can push them to do to those around them. As the horses’ eyes rolled in pain and the whips slashed their backs, it became evident, perhaps more than ever before, that it may just be the daftest thing to destroy a being’s willingness to work and force them to try hard, not out of eagerness, but out of fear. 

“People want to kill me for saying that I can communicate with horses,” a tearful Roberts said in a conversation with the audience., “But the horses know,” he said, smiling. Maybe the thousands of horses Roberts has worked with may not have spoken to him as we do to one another, but surely there exists a connection between them. Maybe they too understood a language without words, a language rooted in kindness, compassion and trust. They understood the very same language that pushed the Queen of England to call a lone Salinas cowboy and persuade him to tell the world his story.