This 2022 documentary is made in Australia and focuses on the work of Scott Brodie, who is a former policeman who runs a self-created therapy course. He takes horses that can no longer race and he re-trains and re-homes them. Brodie sees the horses as so highly trained, that they can’t merely be retired when their racing days are over. He believes they need to be taught how to live like a normal horse. These formerly elite animals need time, education and space so they can learn to be themselves. According to Brodie, they have been treated like “machines” which makes it difficult for them to find a purpose when they’re no longer required to win races.
Brodie has applied a similar analysis to the lives of ex-military, ex-police and former first-responders who have found the pressures of their jobs have led to them leaving these careers. These men and women want to re-integrate themselves into everyday living after suffering some of the worst traumas humans can go through. Not every course participant reveals to the camera why they have signed up for the five days, but those who do, reveal some harrowing details of the events they lived through; such as violence, tragic death and even sexual assault from within their own units.
The photography throughout the film is excellent and it delivers the greatest impact as we watch the faces, and look into the eyes, of these former service men and women. These confessional moments require an extraordinary level of vulnerability and sheer guts to share in a film that will be shown to the public. From the outside, the course participants seem like tough and practical individuals who have the skills and temperament to handle difficult situations that would challenge most of us. They have learned to put up a convincing exterior shell for their co-workers, but what lies beneath this, is a person who needs to rediscover a meaning for their lives.
We hear their stories and get a clear sense that every individual has been damaged and wounded psychologically. However, here on a property in the NSW Southern Highlands, surrounded by its stunning natural beauty, these women and men have undertaken this novel method of re-balancing and re-inventing themselves.
It’s one thing to read about someone else’s tough times, but seeing the recollection of pain, fear and humiliation pass across someone’s face reminds us that everyone’s mental and emotional health is precious and crucial. This is how a documentary can snap us out of our everyday bubble and get us to listen and feel for the lives of others.
The former cops and soldiers have all been through the more usual forms of therapy and for them the talking cure hasn’t worked. The language of the course is purposely straight-forward and the idea is that that learning how to work with the horses will bring forth meaning, confidence and eventually healing.
The horses’ images are wonderfully captured with first-rate cinematography and supported with top-notch post audio and music. Obviously, they can’t speak for themselves, but through Brodie’s spoken observations and the direction of filmmaker Nick Barkla, we understand how the thoroughbreds and the course-goers are on the same journey. The script by Barkla and Robert Drane is excellent and the overall shaping of the story, which covers some years, is always engaging.
Brodie works out what each individual horse needs and then trains the course-goers to re-train the horses. His patience, observational skills and experience are impressive. He knows what makes horses and humans tick and his mission is to guide everyone back to health and to discover the ability to help themselves. He is good at positive reinforcement and pep-talks, but ultimately the power of his methodology is in the action and the doing. One woman talks about her elation in getting her confidence back and feeling it increase daily. A man speaks about eventually discovering a oneness between him and his horse. You get the feeling that for him, this was unexpected. The term “energy” is often thrown out during the training and it’s the only sign we get of the undefined, next-level, aspect of this healing that is there for those who seek it out.
Or to put it another way, some will discover a different life and others will connect with the universe. Either way, we witness people and horses recover and seeing this process unfold is an uplifting experience.
THE HEALING runs for 54 minutes and is about to screen around Australia in late October and into November 2023. A percentage of the proceeds will go towards funding Brodie’s program and helping more horses and veterans. Hit the link to check venues, session times and tickets.